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The Kansas City Chiefs did what was necessary Monday night. They beat the New York Giants 20-17 and got back to a .500 record, keeping alive the hope they might somehow return to the kind of excellence that made them such a dynamic team not too long ago.
But are things right?
The Chiefs remain in survival mode now because even though they still have quarterback Patrick Mahomes and receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce, they don’t currently have the same offense that instilled fear in defenses the past few years.
The Chiefs through eight games this season have yielded 19 turnovers, including 17 in the last six games, and that includes the two they had against New York. And that’s the most turnovers in a season of any team Andy Reid has coached in Kansas City.
Turnovers hurt, and so do penalties. The Chiefs had 12 of them for 103 yards this night.
And Kansas City’s a team other teams have kind of figured out. No one is letting the Chiefs throw deep and turn games into highlight reels anymore.
So the Chiefs don’t look quite like the Chiefs you’re used to.
“Listen,” Reid said after the game, “everything’s not beautiful right now, but we’re fighting through that…There’s great competition in this league, which I think you know if you saw the games [Sunday] where teams that are supposed to win by x-number of points get beat, and there’s so much parity.
“So you have to fight. And that’s the part I’m taking out of this game. Our guys battled. They didn’t give up on each other, they kept working through what could have been a time where you just throw your hands up and say, ‘Oh my God, things aren’t working the way they’re supposed to work.’
“Guys didn’t do that. So we’ll build on that.”
Let that marinate for a moment.
Because that’s a legitimate NFL offensive mastermind talking. And Mahomes remains his quarterback. And the Chiefs have been the NFL’s most dominant team on offense, if not overall, for three years.
But now they’re kind of grasping for whatever rumor of good news they can find as a building block for the remainder of their season.
A team that feasted on big plays, huge wins and a Super Bowl championship not too long ago is feeding on crumbs right now.
Some of the crumbs we’re talking about are startling in that they come disguised as good news but actually speak to Kansas City’s struggles.
Consider that Mahomes was applauded for taking a fourth-quarter sack inside his 20 yard line Monday night rather than throwing a pass that might be intercepted.
Yippie, he took a sack!
And the reason that’s seemingly good news is because Mahomes has made a terrible habit of throwing the ball up recklessly, which is one reason he leads the NFL with 10 interceptions.
Also consider the quarterback’s modest stats: Mahomes completed 29 of 48 passes for 275 yards with 1 TD and 1 interception. It sounds good but really isn’t because Mahomes completed 15 of his passes behind the line of scrimmage for 121 yards, according to Next Gen Stats.
That’s the most completions behind the line by any QB in a game since 2016.
Hill, the scary fast deep threat defenses fear, caught 12 passes this game. But 6 of those were of the behind the line of scrimmage variety.
So the Chiefs’ explosive offense has been whittled into something of a pop gun attack.
The reason the Chiefs are now forced to take this measured approach is defenses are playing two-high and even three-high safeties, protecting themselves from bombs over their heads.
That means KC has to run the football and be patient with short passes.
“When you get a penalty and get pushed back, that kind of ruins drives,” Mahomes said. “It comes down to execution in this league and if you don’t execute, if teams are going to make you drive the entire field, then you have to show you can do that and score touchdowns.”
Another problem is that while the Chiefs are figuring out how to overcome new defensive strategies, they’re still hurting themselves with those turnovers and penalties.
“What you’ve seen in every game pretty much is there’s been times where we kind of stall out or don’t execute or I throw the ball and don’t hit the right spot or the receiver doesn’t see it the same way I do,” Mahomes said. “Or we have penalties or turnovers. So, I mean, in this league it’s kind of shown that it’s happened week after week for the past few weeks, but I think we’re going to snap out of it and we’ll find a way to start executing. And when we do, we’re going to be a tough offense to stop.”
The Chiefs, you see, are also fighting their own frustration and anxiety. They’ve enjoyed such quick and seemingly easy success for so long that slogging down the field like mere mortals seems somehow wrong or too slow or not good enough.
“I want to score more points, have more touchdowns, and put more points on the board, but seeing how the defense was playing and they were kind of holding strong and doing things, I was getting the ball out of my hand, getting the ball to the running back in space, continue to hit guys in the flat and let them get up the field,” Mahomes said.
Despite all this, Reid promises his team will “get there” in its search to recapture its magic.
It’s a bold promise to make with Kansas City facing the Packers, Cowboys, Chargers, Bengals, and Raiders twice among its final nine games.
But hope remains and Monday’s victory helped.
“Hopefully,” Mahomes said, “as the season goes along we can correct the turnovers, and I think we can still be a special offense.”
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero