KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Even with Tyreek Hill gone, the Kansas City Chiefs have showcased an offense that’s easy on the eyes. They’re explosive. They score a lot of points. Superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes has spread the wealth — from a future Hall of Fame tight end in Travis Kelce to an ascending, new-look receiving room — to put up big numbers. They have the glitz and glam, the juice and the sauce.
But the NFL’s elite, the teams that can go on runs deep into January and contend for championships, also know how to win ugly.
In a playoff atmosphere on Sunday Night Football at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs, just three years removed from a Super Bowl victory, showed that they’re still that team.
“You’ve got to be able to win a game like that,” coach Andy Reid said. “Where everything just isn’t perfect and your emotions are up and down and you have to fight through that, persevere through that. Be able to rally. Somebody has got to be able to step up and rally. We were so close on so many plays. And rather than get frustrated, step up and let’s go.”
That they did.
Kansas City edged Tennessee 20-17 in a seesaw overtime affair. In a game they knew would be a multi-round fight, facing superstar running back Derrick Henry and an elite Titans defensive line, the Chiefs (6-2) won by technical knockout.
It was a 13-play, 64-yard field goal drive that put the Chiefs up with 4:07 left in overtime. Kansas City then held Tennessee (5-3) to a four-and-out, including back-to-back sacks on backup quarterback Malik Willis on second and third down to force a desperation fourth-and-26 attempt, to clinch the game.
“This is a playoff type of atmosphere game right here,” Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said. “We’ll probably see this team somewhere in January, February depending on how this thing goes. That’s what it’s like. That’s what a playoff atmosphere is like. It’s going to be close. … We were able to come together when needed and finish the game.”
For most of the contest, we didn’t see the explosive Chiefs offense we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. Kansas City entered Sunday with a league-leading 31.9 points per game. But the offense mustered only two touchdowns against a strong Titans defense, and place kicker Harrison Butker missed a 47-yard field goal and an extra point. After posting nine points and 167 yards of offense in their first two possessions, the Chiefs went scoreless, had an interception and gained 126 yards on their next six series combined.
But in a tight game to the end, Kansas City delivered in the clutch. It started with Mahomes.
With the Chiefs trailing 17-9 at the midway point in the fourth quarter, facing a third-and-17 from the Chiefs 31 and needing a spark, Mahomes scrambled 20 yards to keep Kansas City alive.
Then he completed four of his next five passes — to Marquez Valdes-Scantling (12 yards), JuJu Smith-Schuster (11), Jerick McKinnon (11) and McKinnon again — to set up his 14-yard scrambling touchdown.
The Chiefs’ third attempt at a two-point conversion, due to Tennessee penalties, was successful — again, thanks to Mahomes using his legs to get into the end zone.
On the game-winning drive in overtime, he hit six of his first seven passes. Mahomes and Kelce, one of the best quarterback-tight end tandems of all time, connected three times on three targets for 30 yards on the series.
“Kind of get spoiled watching greatness every week,” linebacker Nick Bolton said of Mahomes, who had career highs in completions (43) and passing attempts (68) for 446 yards and a touchdown with an interception. “He does it again, then you kind of get more amazed by it. That’s a testament to what he does throughout the week. He works harder than anyone I know, game-in and game-out.”
Kansas City’s defense didn’t have its best game either.
It allowed a Tennessee offense, league-worst in total yardage entering the game, to march down the field with a third-round rookie quarterback in Willis making his second career start. The Titans had two touchdowns and gained 207 yards on more than 9.8 yards per play in the first half.
But the Chiefs found a way to clamp down, starting with their defensive front. They won on early downs, forcing the Titans into third-and-longs they didn’t have the personnel to convert on. They held the Titans to 0-for-8 on third down in the second half. Six of those were from third-and-8 or longer. Willis was sacked three times in the second half after not being sacked once in the first two quarters.
Tennessee had one first down in the final 33:55 of game time and didn’t have a possession longer than five plays after the second quarter.
“We were bringing it, bringing it, bringing it, bringing it,” Reid said of the defense.
The same could be said about the Chiefs’ clutch factor, even though it wasn’t pretty.
“You got to win games [differently] in this league,” Mahomes said. “These are the playoff games. These are games you’re going to need if you’re going to try to win the Super Bowl. Obviously, we want to be that high-flying, scoring [team] every time we’re on the field. But I think with the schedule we’ve played, we’ve won all different types of ways against a lot of great football teams.”
The Chiefs showed again that they are one of those great teams. Maybe the greatest.
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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