Maybe this is how the Chiefs win games now.
Maybe this is how the Chiefs have to win games now.
A sputtering offense stepped into the shadow of a dominant defensive performance once more, the Chiefs beating the Broncos 22-9 on Sunday Night Football.
The majestic offense took another night off, but a resurgent defense appears here to stay. Heck, they’re even scoring now — Daniel Sorensen returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown to put the game away in the fourth quarter.
So to recap: Sorensen produced as many touchdowns as the entire Chiefs’ offense. In any route, winners of five straight, the Chiefs are 8-4, tied for the best record in the AFC.
Here are five observations from immediately after the game:
1. The Chiefs defense is ... good?
At one point this season, and it wasn’t that long ago, here’s a perfectly reasonable thought: If the Chiefs defense can even be average, they’d really have something.
Well, they’ve long surpassed average.
The Chiefs have held a fifth straight opponents to 17 points or fewer — a feat no other team has accomplished over four straight games this season.
You can no longer cite a small sample size — the Chiefs have totally turned around what once ranked as the worst defense in football. The arrival of Melvin Ingram has infused a pass rush that includes a healthy Frank Clark and properly-positioned Chris Jones. The roles in the secondary have better definitions, aided by the return of cornerback Charvarius Ward and rise of L’Jarius Sneed.
About six weeks ago, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said he could sense his unit was close to flipping the switch — it seemed crazy, even out of touch, then.
Seems prophetic now.
2. The drive that turned the game
If the Broncos were going to pull off an upset in Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, we’d underscore a second-quarter drive that keyed the whole thing.
Instead, it flipped momentum in the opposite direction.
The Broncos chewed more than 11 minutes — 11! — over 20 plays in the second quarter ... and yet somehow came away with absolutely nothing to show for it. They elected to go for it on fourth down from the 8-yard line, but Jarran Reed and Willie Gay blew up the rush attempt, holding the Broncos scoreless.
It was bend-but-don’t-break taken to the extreme and a punch to the gut for the Broncos’ best drive of the night, which started from their own 3. Their next three full possessions? Punt, interception, interception.
3. Are we still worried about the offense? Shouldn’t we be?
For one night in Las Vegas, the offense of old reappeared; Patrick Mahomes threw five touchdowns; and the players talked about getting their swagger back.
A blip, as it turns out.
Not the norm.
The 2021 version of the Chiefs offense remains disjointed and clunky, a quarterback out of sync with his wide receivers and and a contagious case of the drops.
Some costly ones, too. Again. For the third time this season, Hill dropped a pass that found a home in the arms of a waiting defender. Mahomes fired a ball a tad high, sure, but it deflected of Hill’s hands before Pat Surtain II intercepted it. Entering the game, Mahomes already led the NFL in interceptions on passes that had at least a 75% chance of being completed (6, per Next Gen Stats).
But it’s more than a bad bounce. After an opening-drive touchdown, the offense never found a rhythm.
Speaking of which...
4. Opening-drive? Sure. Afterward? Bleh
The script has been word-perfect lately.
For the third straight home game, the Chiefs opened with a touchdown the initial time they possessed the football. Like its predecessors, it was yet another long drive, the Chiefs scripting an effective blend of pass and run that kept the Broncos on their heels. The Chiefs drove 72 yards in 11 plays over 6 minutes, 3 seconds, with Mahomes capping it with a 10-yard scramble for a touchdown.
Which makes the subsequent play all the more confusing.
The Chiefs are rolling to open games and completely sputtering afterward. In the previous two instances — the Packers and Cowboys — the Chiefs found such little success after the scripted plays, scoring only 6 points over the remainder of the game against the Packers and just 10 against the Cowboys.
And again, after covering 72 yards on their opening drive, the Chiefs offense did not find the end zone once over the next eight drives.
5. The Chiefs need more from their receivers
Tyreek Hill dropped a pass that turned into an interception, one of two drops he had Sunday. Travis Kelce dropped a ball that nearly turned into a fumble. Byron Pringle dropped two passes in a span of three plays.
Mecole Hardman’s snaps are dwindling. Josh Gordon’s production is non-existent.
Mahomes didn’t have his best night, and the wind didn’t help him, but he needs more reliability from a receiver group that is far too talented for the kind of production it provided Sunday.
If the Chiefs defense hadn’t dominated in the manner it did, we’d be talking a hell of a lot more about it.