It’s never easy, is it?
On Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs had to go to extra time to beat a win houston texans team that was severely handicapped by injuries. The Chiefs’ offense was able to move the ball both in the air and on the ground. The defense made some stops and forced a turnover. But the offense also turned the ball over twice, and both units were devastated by penalties.
Once again, Kansas City didn’t really look like a champion team, and once again, it may not really matter: the team still won the game.
Here are a few that stood out on Sunday.
Note: The application of the labels “winners” and “losers” is not intended to be a judgment on the talent or character of any of these players. It’s just a simple way to rate your performance in a single game. No disrespect is intended.
Running back Jerick McKinnon: With nuances of Damien Williams in the Super Bowl, McKinnon achieved this victory. After linebacker Willie Gay Jr. recovered the ball in a fumble recovery overtime, McKinnon pushed through the defense and came up the left side of field for a game-changing 26-yard score. It was an exclamation point to another big day for the little guy, who gained 122 total yards and scored two touchdowns.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes: In some ways, this was the polar opposite of his performance against the Denver Broncos. It lacked the awesome highlights, but also the awesome bugs. Mahomes was surgical against the Houston defense, with 20 straight completions to close out this game. His stat line was typical: 336 passing yards, with two touchdown passes and one rushing. Six different receivers caught each of his targets, because Mahomes just didn’t miss (he had an 88% completion rate that day). When the game was on the line, the Chiefs relied on their running game, plus the connection between Mahomes and his two most reliable targets: tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster. The only real blemish was Mahomes’ overtime sack that knocked Kansas City out of field goal range, but otherwise the MVP orchestrated an efficient offensive performance.
Tight end Travis Kelce: With his second catch of the day, Kelce moved up the record books. She now passed Shannon Sharpe to rank fourth in all-time receiving yards by a tight end. She then continued to be her usual choice to sit in the zone, yards after catching, receiving clutch. He finished the day catching all ten of his targets for 105 yards, many of them on drives the Chiefs had to have to win this game. There’s just no one better, well, maybe only three. He now needs 1,692 yards in his career to pass Antonio Gates on the all-time list.
EDGE Frank Clark: In the first half, he earned a relatively easy sack (only his fourth of the season) by chasing the quarterback out of bounds. But he really was working all afternoon. Of his five tackles, the first two were for no gain, his next was a sack, and his next allowed just one yard. Then came the final plate from him. In overtime, he stripped quarterback Davis Mills of the ball after a two-yard gain, allowing the Chiefs to get the ball back (specifically, to give it to McKinnon on the ensuing game-winner). He had the dreaded number-55-aligned-offside flag that gives us memories, but otherwise Clark put in a very good performance, making plays when the defense desperately needed them.
EDGE Carlos Dunlap: Like Clark, the 13-year veteran was also getting saves in the line of scrimmage. Dunlap also had a couple of batted passes and a couple of quarterback hits that resulted in incompletions. The pass rush wasn’t elite Sunday, but the veterans made enough plays to get the job done.
Kicker Harrison Butker: It shouldn’t have come down to a field goal at the end of regulation, but it did. And he didn’t go well. After Butker missed an extra point in the first half, the Chiefs went for two on their next touchdown (which they converted) to make up for it. They then played to set up a long field goal late in regulation to end the game, and Butker missed again. That sent the game into overtime. Fortunately, McKinnon was able to finish it off before they had to rely on another kick, but on the season, Butker now holds a career-high for missed field goals. And he is hurting the team.
Defensive lineman Chris Jones: There are reports that Jones was sick this week, so this isn’t an indictment of his effort on Sunday. But the big guy, typically an inside force, was pretty much invisible against Houston. The team could have used his inside pass and his ability to play big. Assuming his illness has slowed him down, we can expect him to return to his usual domineering state soon.
Referee Carl Chefers: As usual, we remind you that you cannot blame the officials for the outcome of a game. But you can Point out the notable patterns created by a specific umpiring team against Kansas City. Like a Bond villain who just won’t die, Cheffers and his team couldn’t help but score what seemed like every third down play the Chiefs defense had in this game. The Chiefs were tagged ten times for 102 yards, and many of them were questionable decisions. The crew also picked up a few other flags, so it could have been even worse. This is not new, of course. Cheffers has a lot of history where he has ruined what should be fun games with excessive penalties. He was the culprit for the rough call to the passer that cost Chris Jones a sack/fumble against the Raiders. He was also in charge when Kansas City had an unrealistic 12 flags for 120 yards in their Super Bowl LV loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Five years ago, Kelce may have said it better: “Referee No. 51 shouldn’t even be able to wear a zebra jersey anymore. He shouldn’t even be able to work at the fucking Foot Locker.”
The rest of the AFC West: Somewhat lost in the frustration of another hard-fought win over a lackluster opponent was the Chiefs clinching the AFC West for the seventh consecutive season. Given that this was supposed to be a recharge year, with so many rookies and sophomores making significant plays … with the loss of Tyreek Hill, Tyrann Mathieu and others who were such an important part of the team in recent years. — and finally, with the other teams in the division making big offseason moves to challenge Kansas City — it’s a remarkable achievement. For all their faults, the team is 11-3 and is once again a division champion. He will go on to compete for the AFC’s No. 1 seed and another Super Bowl. So don’t forget to appreciate the Chiefs and celebrate the streak they continue. And I also appreciate that Patrick Mahomes is not celebrating. That is because the best soccer player in the world is not still satisfied.