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NFL Draft

How Will Chiefs Respond To Wake-Up Call?

  • The Draft Network
  • October 13, 2020
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Don’t sound the alarm just yet, the Kansas City Chiefs are still the best football team in the NFL. But now, more than a quarter of the way through the 2020 season, there’s just one glaring problem: They know it. In turn, they have been playing as if they can get by winning games in those desperate moments where all they need is one long heave from quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Sometimes—oftentimes—that works, but Kansas City recently found out, against an unlikely opponent, that won’t always be the case. 

Instead of the 20- or 30-point victories the Chiefs were accustomed to serving up any given week in 2019, the reigning Super Bowl champions have been operating at what feels like 75% capacity, waiting for late-game heroics and that beautifully timed deep ball to change the outcome in the final moments. It’s not a sustainable gameplan, and it’s not in head coach Andy Reid’s nature, even if it can power teams through entire seasons. Kansas City got through the first four weeks of the year winning by one or two scores, and while there were still moments of jaw-dropping awe, as a whole, the team had been missing something. 

Mahomes still dazzled in primetime, looking good on opening night against the Houston Texans and in the highly-anticipated matchup versus the Baltimore Ravens. There was, however, a lot to be desired in the games against the Los Angeles Chargers, who started rookie passer Justin Herbert, which ended in a 23-20 overtime victory, and the New England Patriots, who rotated through two backup quarterbacks after Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19, which could have looked much different than the 26-10 win if it wasn’t for 13 fourth-quarter points. 

Kansas City was missing execution; masked by wins, the Chiefs were merely getting by and most people with a watchful eye knew the inevitable would come. It did in the surprising form of the Las Vegas Raiders. After 24 first-half points from Kansas City, Las Vegas won the game in the third and beginning of the fourth quarter by shutting out the visitors 16-0. The Raiders won 40-32, holding off a last-ditch effort by Mahomes and handing the Chiefs their first loss in over a year.

“It caught up with us,” Mahomes said after the loss. “We've got to go back and really look at ourselves in the mirror, me at quarterback, and not rely on these crazy plays where I'm scrambling around and throwing these shots and just execute the offense the way that it's called and run the way it's supposed to be run. If we do that, we'll be a hard team to stop.”

If Kansas City is being graded on a scale to repeat as world champions, its level of play should consistently reflect that, especially with the offensive minds of Reid, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, and Mahomes. There’s no getting by in this league, which has been made abundantly clear by the Seattle Seahawks, who boast a similar awe-inspiring quarterback but have yet to rebuild the infrastructure around him to return to Super Bowl glory. The difference with the Chiefs, and why they’re favorites to repeat, is that they have the structure around Mahomes. He has a number of skill players waiting to be on the receiving end of a miraculous Mahomes pass. The defense, by and large, is one of the better units in the NFL and the offensive line has done well to protect Mahomes, who's only been sacked six times and pressured on a middling 16.4% of his dropbacks.

The Chiefs entered Sunday’s game against the Raiders not giving up 20-or-more points in the young season, and quarterback Derek Carr led Las Vegas to score twice as many, showing off his developed long ball. The Raiders went on a 30-3 run en route to their victory, which in a vacuum can be excused away, but the Chiefs have been showing a pattern. 

If one bad quarter loses a football game, the Chiefs, even with Mahomes, can’t afford to play at anything less than full capacity, especially against a better team with a better quarterback in Week 6. Will the loss derail Kansas City? No. I would imagine it would do the opposite: unlock another level in Mahomes that we have yet to see, which is both intoxicating and frightening. 

What more can this team do than beat teams at the rate and pace it did in 2019? If Week 5 taught the Chiefs anything, we’ll soon find out.

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