Chiefs Take Care of Business Against Broncos
The Chiefs finished the regular season with a road victory against little brother in Denver — beating the Broncos for the 13th straight time.
It was far from the prettiest performance we’ve seen this year, but the Chiefs survived and await their assignment in the playoffs.
Their path through the playoffs will be determined on Sunday, but we know that they won’t be seeded any lower than 2nd. If the Houston Texans are able to beat the Tennessee Titans, the Chiefs will get the lone bye week in the AFC.
Here are big takeaways from the game…
The Denver Broncos have inspired me with their underdog performance against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos were able to come in as strong underdogs and keep this game close so for the Play of the Game this week, we aren’t going to take the heavy favorite.
That’s right, Melvin Ingram’s game changing tackle for a loss and forced fumble leading to Nick Bolton’s go-ahead Touchdown isn’t going to be this week’s Play of the Game. Instead, we are going to hop over to the other side of the football and look at a play made by a player providing a much needed offensive spark at just the right time.
Play Of The Game
Down four points starting the second half and without much clicking on offense, the Chiefs were able to march down the field and get into the red zone. Facing a 3rd and 7 - in which the Chiefs ranked 27th in the NFL in conversion percentage entering the game - they were at the risk of stalling out another drive and kicking a Field Goal.
The Broncos had been doing a really good job playing with a lot of two-deep coverage shells and getting good depth on their underneath players. This allowed them to defend the deep shots as well as pass off shallow crossing routes and close on them quickly. Even in the red zone, they were playing with a ton of depth in order to keep everything in front of them so the Chiefs called up a quick pass out to the flat.
That pass was hauled in by recently-activated off the IR running back Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon gathered the pass and was working upfield but it was apparent he was going to have to beat a defender in order to pick up a first down. This is where the play turned special.
McKinnon is able to tempo his pace while making eye-contact with Byron Pringle on the crossing route. This alerts the defender that a blocker is coming and that he can’t try to leverage out the ball carrier and wait for help. As the defender tries to attack, McKinnon does a great job slipping out to the side and converting the minor contact into a spin move to maintain his momentum.
Now he has his sights set on the end zone but there is a defender that has worked off a Travis Kelce block that is taking away his angle. No worries, another quick cut to the inside and he’s still rolling but it’s time for the final push. As soon as he comes to balance off the latest cut, McKinnon drops his pads and runs through the final defender to net the Chiefs their second Touchdown of the game.
This was just the beginning for McKinnon in this game as he had his best game of the season for the Chiefs. The Chiefs’ offense never really capitalized on any momentum from this play but it gave them the lead and may have helped lead to an expanded role for McKinnon in the Chiefs’ offense.
Here are 10 observations from Saturday’s game.
Before the game, star wide receiver Tyreek Hill suffered a heel injury during warm ups. Any injuries are a nightmare scenario in the final week of the season. He played in a limited role on Saturday. Hopefully he’ll be healed up and ready to go for the playoffs.
Chiefense Starts Three and Out
The defense got off the field quickly to open the game — surrendering only six yards on the opening series for the Broncos. A good response after some struggles last week.
Methodical Open Offensively
It wasn’t the most energetic performance from the Chiefs’ offense, but it got the job done. The Chiefs went on a 17 play, 91 yard drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock — a workmanlike drive down the field that ended with a Travis Kelce touchdown.
Special Teams Gaffes
Harrison Butker slipped on the kick off following the Chiefs’ first score, and rookie safety Zayne Anderson roughed the kicker to extend the drive for the Broncos — who capitalized with a touchdown following great field position and the penalty.
There were moments during this game that the effort looked Pro Bowl-esque — especially the run defense. The Chiefs didn’t look like they wanted to be there for the vast majority of the game. The effort and energy didn’t exist — and it allowed the Broncos to hang around.
Broncos Run Through Chiefense
The Chiefs have done a fantastic job of eliminating explosive plays recently — that has not been the case the past two weeks. Last week it was the passing game, this week it was on the ground. Melving Gordon and Javonte Williams forced the Chiefs to tackle, and they didn’t feel like it today.
Welcome Back, Jet
Jerick McKinnon put a nice performance together in his return — scoring the first touchdown of the second half on a pass from Patrick Mahomes. With some of the injury issues the Chiefs have experienced recently, he could be a big help.
Darrel Williams Hurt
The former undrafted free agent running back has been a crucial piece to the Chiefs’ backfield regardless of if Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been available or not. He appeared to hurt himself on the final play of the first half — a meaningless pass play to run the clock out. Williams didn’t play in the second half.
Melvin Ingram, Nick Bolton Change Game
With the Chiefs trailing by 1 in the fourth quarter, and the Broncos driving into the red zone, Melvin Ingram busted through the line to meet the running back shortly after he got the football. Ingram popped the ball out of Javonte Williams’ hands and Nick Bolton picked it up for and ran it back for a touchdown. The Chiefs converted the two point conversion to go up 28-21.
Offense Ices Game
After the defense forced a field goal late in the game to cut the lead to 28-24, the offense got the ball back looking to run the clock out on the game. A Mecole Hardman bubble screen got the Chiefs in to Broncos territory — flipping the field. They converted a 3rd and 8 with 2:03 left on the clock when Mahomes hit Travis Kelce to end the game.
4 - Straight Chiefs Regular Seasons with 12+ wins
While it took a Week 18 game to make it happen in the 2021-22 season, the Chiefs closed out their fourth straight 12+ win season with a victory over the Broncos on Sunday. This marks a franchise record for most wins in five consecutive seasons, and shows just how much this team has turned around since the early 2010’s.
Even with the extra game this season, the Chiefs still were able to keep a 70% winning percentage on the season. That also continues a four-season streak of 70% or above, placing the Chiefs at the top of the NFL over that span. This four-season winning percentage streak bests their previous record from 1966-1969, where they held a 64% winning percentage or higher.
58 - Yards rushing on Patrick Mahomes scrambles
On a day where the “non-jet” (Mecole Hardman and Jerick McKinnon) offensive weapons struggled to get it going, the offense had some struggles picking up consistent yardage. However, they were still able to sustain drives on the day, due in large part to the scrambling ability and pocket movement from Mahomes.
The Chiefs quarterback totaled 58 yards on scrambles – excluding end of the game kneeldowns – which is the third highest game of his career. Mahomes is at his best when he’s able to manipulate the pocket, get on the move, and make something out of nothing when there’s tight coverage on the back end. When the offense has really been at its most dangerous with Mahomes at the helm, the threat of him taking off and picking up the first down has been a key element. On a day that was fairly vanilla on offense, seeing this element re-inserted was a welcome sight.
0 - Special Teams return touchdowns in the regular season
Dave Toub has a knack for making contributions in the “third phase” of the game, regularly giving the Chiefs a leg-up on the competition. Toub’s group has once again been one of the league’s best, ranking #2 in Special Teams DVOA on the season, and helping the Chiefs to keep the pressure on the opposition with a strong kicking and return game.
However, the Chiefs found themselves in a rare spot under Toub in 2021: they didn’t score any special teams touchdowns. This has only happened one other time with Toub at the helm, as the Chiefs failed to score in the return game in 2015 as well. The Chiefs turned around and housed the opening touchdown in the playoffs, helping to keep Toub’s streak alive. While the special teams group was still formidable in 2021, it was a rare occurrence that kept them out of the endzone – a Zayne Anderson holding penalty last week took one off the board – so it will be interesting to see if they can punch one in during the playoffs, as they did in 2015.