KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)The Kansas City Chiefs managed to win the Super Bowl last season thanks primarily to their high-octane offense, which so often outscored opponents when a young but fast-improving defense had trouble slowing them down.
Now it’s the defense that is bailing out the offense.
While the Chiefs continue to go through what Patrick Mahomes called “growing pains” after Thursday night’s 19-8 win over the Broncos, their defense has quietly become one of the best in the NFL. They held Denver quarterback Russell Wilson to 95 yards passing, the Broncos to 197 yards as a team and did not allow any points until late in the fourth quarter.
Asked if his defense could possibly be playing any better, Chiefs coach Andy Reid replied: “Not tonight.”
“I thought they did a nice job. The guys played well,” he added. “We’re doing OK.”
That’s an understatement.
The Chiefs (5-1) already had a top-10 defense coming into the game, and that ranking could well improve after the job they did against the Broncos. They piled up four sacks, picked off Wilson twice and forced a clinching fumble in the final minutes.
Part of the success can be traced to the “growing pains” the defense went through a year ago.
Defensive end George Karlaftis is no longer a rookie but a game-wrecking pass rusher who was in on another sack against the Broncos. Second-year cornerback Trent McDuffie forced that late fumble, and fellow second-year defensive backs Jaylen Watson, Joshua Williams and Bryan Cook have joined veteran safety Justin Reid in forming a lockdown secondary.
Throw in some inspired play by Chris Jones, who also had another sack, and the Chiefs defense is downright nasty.
“We’re going in the right direction,” said linebacker Nick Bolton, who returned from an ankle injury to snare one of the two interceptions. “Guys are getting more comfortable playing with each other and executing the game plan. Guys are in the right spot at the right time. Everyone is flying to the football. We keep that up every week and we can be special.”
They at least need to keep it up long enough for the Kansas City offense to hit its stride.
Mahomes threw for 306 yards and a touchdown against the Broncos, but he also was picked off once and was fortunate to have another wiped out by a penalty. And while there were times that the Kansas City offense moved up and down the field as it has in years past, it kept sputtering whenever it got anywhere close to the goal line.
“You ask the guys in the locker room right now, they’re going to say we didn’t play our best, we could do a lot of things better,” Mahomes admitted. “Luckily our defense is playing so well we can still win football games.”
Still win a lot of them. Enough that the Chiefs are the first team in the AFC to reach five wins this season.
“We strive for something better than what we’re doing right now,” Reid said. “But you know, we’ll take the wins. They’re tough to get in this league, and that’s what I told the guys. We’ll get back and work on a few things and get better.”
Many teams are trying to slow down Kansas City’s offense by playing zone defenses, but the tradeoff is watching Travis Kelce nickel-and-dime his way down the field. The tight end’s uncanny ability to find soft spots in the coverage was on display again Thursday night, when he caught nine passes for 124 yards – with Taylor Swift watching, of course.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Chiefs continue to struggle in short-yardage situations, just as they did last season. Mahomes threw an incompletion on third-and-3 before the first of Harrison Butker’s four field goals; they had a “tush-push” out of a fake field-goal formation stuffed on fourth-and-2; and a third-and-1 run by Kadarius Toney was stuffed for a loss and led to a punt.
Butker struggled much of last season after an injury in Week 1, but the big-legged kicker is now perfect through six games. He is 14-for-14 on field-goal tries, including a 60-yarder and the clinching 52-yarder Thursday night, and 15-for-15 on extra points.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, whose contract pays him more than the rest of the Chiefs’ wide receivers combined, was without a catch Thursday night; he only has seven for 116 yards this season. In fact, his most notable play against the Broncos was a flag for an illegal blindside block.
Wide receiver Justin Watson hurt his elbow laying out for a catch in the second half, though Reid said afterward that nothing was broken. McDuffie’s ankle swelled up but he was able to finish the game.
12 – Mahomes is 12-0 in his career against the Broncos, the longest win streak by a starting quarterback against a single team to start a career since at least 1950. The Chiefs have beaten the Broncos the past 16 times they have played.
The Chiefs get a few extra days off before facing the Chargers on Oct. 22.
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