The Chiefs were one yard away from making things much easier on themselves in the final minutes of Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins in Frankfurt, Germany.
Oh sure, the Chiefs won the game 21-14, improving to 7-2 and maintaining the AFC’s best record. But it took a defensive stand to seal the outcome because coach Andy Reid, quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense were out-maneuvered by the Dolphins’ defense.
The moment: The Chiefs faced third down, one yard to go, from their own 19-yard line with 2 minutes, 42 seconds remaining. Pick up the first down here, and the Dolphins’ task would’ve been made more difficult. With another first down, the Chiefs would line up in victory formation.
So what happened?
Reid called for a pass. Mahomes dropped back and saw first option Travis Kelce was covered. Mahomes backpedaled to about the 7 before throwing it away.
Even Reid second-guessed himself.
“If we ran it, you’d ask me why we didn’t throw it,” he said later. “But I’m going to tell you I probably should have put in the hands of the big O-line. I owe them one.”
Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco, who finished with 66 yards Sunday on 16 carries, might’ve been the best option in that situation. In the Chiefs’ scoreless second half, he rushed for 25 yards. KC’s passing offense had 38.
Even if a rush didn’t pick up the first down, the clock would have continued to run, forcing Miami to make a decision: burn one of its two remaining timeouts, or let the clock run down to the two-minute warning.
One option that wasn’t available: a Mahomes QB sneak. The Chiefs haven’t had their quarterback plow forward behind their offensive line since Mahomes dislocated a kneecap on a similar play at Denver in 2019.
Short-yardage has befuddled the Chiefs this season. They solid on third down overall, entering Sunday’s game ranked fourth in the NFL by converting 47% of those opportunities. But they’ve been more successful when compared to other teams in longer-yardage situations (third or fourth and 3 or longer) than short-yardage.
On Sunday, yards were difficult to come by. The Chiefs were held to 267 overall and 174 through the air. Those are their lowest totals since a victory over the Green Bay Packers in 2021.
On that day, which ended in a 13-7 Chiefs victory, Kansas City’s defense rose to the occasion. The 2023 Chiefs’ defense did the same on Sunday: After the Dolphins moved from their own 25 to the Chiefs’ 31 on runs by Raheem Mostert, the Chiefs hunkered down.
Tua Tagovailoa threw an incomplete pass on third down and couldn’t handle the snap on fourth down, sealing the outcome.
Not picking up the first down didn’t cost the Chiefs this time. Next time in a similar situation, look for the ball to stay on the ground.