After the Kansas City Chiefs won their first home playoff game in 25 years, it’s time to believe that this version of the Chiefs is unlike any you’ve ever seen before.
“This year will be different.”
For a quarter-century, this has been the chorus of optimists, ultimately proven wrong. It has been disappointment after disappointment for the millions of Chiefs fans who have entered Arrowhead Stadium over the last 25 years, continuing to hope that maybe, just maybe, this would be the year where January brought more joy than heartbreak.
It never was. Until now. Now, the Chiefs have the quarterback that changes everything else.
On Saturday, Patrick Mahomes didn’t even throw a touchdown pass. The only score he was directly involved in was his rushing touchdown, diving for the pylon. But his impact was evident in every element of the game. A 129-yard game from Damien Williams doesn’t happen without a quarterback deserving of the defense’s utmost respect. The much-maligned Chiefs defense delivered its best performance of the season, in their home stadium that has been so beneficial to their production. The Chiefs do not earn that home game – or the next one, against the Patriots – with anything less than the NFL’s MVP at quarterback all season. And by the way, Mahomes’ measly 278 passing yards included roughly a half-dozen highlight-reel throws, countless perfect readings of defenses and a total command of the game.
So, yeah. This year is different.
Noting that Mahomes is the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-style answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, some of the specifics of Saturday’s win over the Colts deserve another look. A lightning-fast start from the offense with a scoreless 3rd quarter and a game-sealing drive in the 4th? That’s pretty much par for the course. Not the most complete offensive showing, but standard procedure for this team. The defense delivered the stunning performance of the day.
A few of the specifics shouldn’t surprise anyone who has watched the Chiefs all year. Chris Jones, Justin Houston and Dee Ford all made big plays. They’ve been the saving grace of this year’s defense. But it wasn’t just the big plays from the best players. The Chiefs brought a complete and total defensive domination against one of the best offenses in the league. Andrew Luck, behind a stalwart offensive line, was a worthy challenger for this top-shelf pass rush and the not-quite-so-top-shelf secondary. And still, dominance. So what was different?
First, and most importantly, the Chiefs continually got the Colts off the field quickly. Indianapolis was 0-for-9 on 3rd down conversions on Saturday. The Colts were best in the league at 3rd down conversions this year, converting 48.6%. The Chiefs allowed conversions of 41.5% of their 3rd downs, eighth-worst in the league. This is an enormous disparity with no statistical way to bridge the gap. So now what? Anecdotes? Sure, let’s do anecdotes.
Even without Eric Berry and Dorian O’Daniel, two of the most high-octane players on this defense (when healthy), the defense seemed to be playing at a higher gear. The only other similar performance came against the Bengals, at home on Sunday Night Football in Week 7. Where has that been since then?
You can make an argument for primetime/playoff Arrowhead, but you’d have to make an exception for the Thursday Night Football meltdown against the Chargers. You can make an argument for some sort of tweak from Bob Sutton, but that feels a bit far-fetched to debut in January after months of defensive struggles.
Instead, credit both sides of the ball for extremely hot starts. Two straight three-and-outs forced by the defense led to two straight touchdown drives from the Chiefs offense. At 14-0, the Colts were immediately playing from behind. If the Chiefs start that way against the Patriots and, perhaps, the Saints or the Rams, they’ll end up Super Bowl champions. Because this year is different.