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Instabreakdown: Chiefs’ defense holds Miami down for Wild Card win

Outside of one big play, Kansas City’s defense kept the Dolphins in check.

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

On Saturday night of Super Wild Card Weekend, the Kansas City Chiefs 26-7 victory over the Miami Dolphins advanced the team to next weekend’s Divisional round.

Offense

Despite the freezing temperatures — four degrees below zero at kickoff — the Chiefs’ offense came out unafraid to drop back and throw. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes captained the unit from the opening drive, where he dropped back on five of the possession’s nine plays; the final one was a touchdown from the red zone.

Kansas City’s main pass catchers took advantage of the team’s willingness to throw. Tight end Travis Kelce did have a few drops, but ended with 71 yards over seven catches; three of those receptions moved the chains, including an important third-and-10 on the first drive of the evening.

The auxiliary pass catchers had an up-and-down game. Wide receivers Justin Watson and Marquez Valdes-Scantling each moved the chains with an important catch at different points. Tight end Noah Gray corralled a downfield throw to gain 20 yards on a scoring drive in the second half.

Wide receiver Mecole Hardman was targeted down the field twice, failing to make a play each time. On the first throw, he didn’t appear to see it in the air; he was unable to track it properly. On a pass later in the game, it looked like Hardman had a chance to run under it or dive for it — but instead, watched the ball hit the grass in front of him.

The offense was fueled by the offensive line — and running back Isiah Pacheco — throughout the game. After 39 rushing yards on the opening drive, the back only earned 50 more for the rest of the game — but he got them when it mattered. So did Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Both were set up by right guard Trey Smith and the rest of the interior offensive line that bullied Miami; the Chiefs did not allow a sack all evening.

Offensive player of the game: Wide receiver Rashee Rice

The rookie wide receiver started his postseason career with a bang. He led the team in targets (12), receptions (8), yards (130), and caught the only touchdown pass of the night. The team took advantage of his run-after-catch ability — but also trusted him on throws over the middle. He even had a touchdown nullified by a penalty. It was a standout day for the team’s top receiver — and if Kansas City plans on making a deep playoff run, he’ll need to continue having games like this one.

Defense

The Chiefs allowed the Dolphins’ offense just one significant play: a 53-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyreek Hill. The underthrown pass threw cornerback Trent McDuffie for a loop in coverage. He interfered with Hill before the wideout caught the ball and ran for the score.

Without that play, Miami totaled 211 net yards. The Dolphins were unable to ride their running game. They chipped away at the Chiefs, but never gained at least 10 yards on any handoff. Kansas City forced 12 third-down situations — but Miami converted only one.

That started with the play of linebacker Nick Bolton, who flew around and collected 10 tackles. One of them was for a loss — but four others gained a yard or less. Linebacker Drue Tranquill also racked up four tackles — including a stuff for no gain.

When the Dolphins did drop back to pass, the Chiefs’ pass rush worked in concert with the coverage. Early on, inside pressure from defensive end Charles Omenihu forced an uncomfortable throw over the middle. That led to safety Mike Edwards’ interception. Cornerbacks L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie each had two passes defended — one of them coming on a fourth down to end a Miami drive.

Defensive tackle Chris Jones got in on half a sack at one point — but his presence (and that of the rest of the defensive line) was felt throughout the game; Dolphins’ quarterback Tua Tagovailoa completed just 51% of his passes.

Defensive player of the game: Defensive end George Karlaftis

The second-year edge rusher continues to put it all together, earning 1.5 sacks and making four other tackles. On a third-and-13, Karlaftis powered through the right tackle’s inside shoulder to collapse the pocket and earn a sack. Later on, a blitz left Karlaftis as a free rusher; he split a sack with Jones. Against a team that doesn’t make it easy to earn sacks, Karlaftis got in on two of them, bringing his season total to 12.

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