Despite a tumultuous season, the Kansas City Chiefs took care of business last Sunday by clinching the third seed in the AFC postseason with a 25-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Unlike in previous seasons, the 2023 Chiefs have struggled on offense — but their saving grace has been their defense, which has been boosted by the significant development of the team’s younger players.
Among them is defensive end George Karlaftis. This season, the former first-round pick out of Purdue University has been a force along Kansas City’s defensive line. He leads the team with 10.5 sacks, getting his first double-digit season in just his second year as a pro — a milestone for which he credits his teammates.
“I think it’s a big milestone just for anyone who does that,” Karlaftis told reporters before Thursday’s practice. “But I couldn’t have done that without my teammates.”
The achievement also earned high praise from the Chiefs’ coaching staff. Defensive line coach Joe Cullen believes Karlaftis’ work ethic and unyielding motor have been the keys to his Year 2 success.
“He’s had a great year,” declared Cullen. “He really works hard. Sometimes [it’s not] a milestone [season] — sometimes you might not get that — but you might have had a better year. George has really worked hard. And he was relentless.”
Cullen also noted the contributions of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo — especially during last Sunday’s game against the Bengals.
“In the flurry of those sacks at the end, Coach Spags made some great calls,” recalled Cullen. “[He] put guys in position — and [George] was relentless in getting after the quarterback.“
During the offseason, we learned that Karlaftis had been learning Jui Jitsu alongside former Kansas City great Tamba Hali. Otherwise, he volunteers only that he is focused on introspection.
“I’m a guy that’s really big on reflecting — and trying to get better every single day,” he explained. “I watch every single practice tape [and] every single game tape. [I] try to figure out how [I] could be better in order to help this team.
“I came up with a plan. I don’t really like to speak about what I do — because I’m a little private with that stuff — but [I] just [want to] figure out ways in order to improve — to help this team win more and more games. And that’s what I tried to do this offseason.”
Now with the postseason just a week away, Karlaftis mindset remains unchanged. He’s tuning out all the outside noise — including doubts about Kansas City’s Super Bowl chances — and remaining focused on helping his team win.
“I don’t feed into all that stuff,” Karlaftis said of the team’s many naysayers. “But I know it’s just one week at a time. It’s one rep at a time. It’s one game at a time. That’s all we can do: just focus on winning the one — like Coach Cullen says.”