The Chiefs clinched a playoff spot with a 27-24 overtime win over the Ravens, and they can clinch the AFC West with a win over the Chargers at home on Thursday.
Their quarterback may or may not be an actual curly-haired wizard, and his specific brand of magic with his franchise’s overbearing history of playoff failure and an emerging kicker problem is a fascinating pairing.
Look, the coming game column will almost certainly focus on Patrick Mahomes, but for about 56 minutes we all saw the same thing so we might as well say it out loud:
This is how you beat them.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
You run the ball. You make the Chiefs tackle. If you have to throw, you try to isolate the linebackers and safeties. But, mostly, you run the ball and then you run the ball and then you run the ball again.
The Chiefs stink at stopping the run, and they excel at scoring, so when you run the ball you are exploiting their greatest weakness and diminishing their greatest strength.
This is not a secret, and something we’ve talked about repeatedly here and in other places. Surprised it took this long, with a team that’s better off running it anyway, for this to be done.
There were a lot of factors going against the Chiefs. The Ravens — stout defense, strong running game, capable tight end — were always the league’s worst matchup for the Chiefs.
Kareem Hunt’s release makes the Chiefs less dynamic. Sammy Watkins’ injury further shrinks the margins for error. Tyreek Hill was hobbled. Cam Erving’s injury opened a turnstile through Jeff Allen and into the lap of Mahomes, who looked hesitant and ineffective for stretches of the second half.
So this may or may not be replicable. The Patriots and Steelers don’t have the defense. We’ve seen that.
But this is the ultimate copycat league and certain aspects of this game plan are sure to find their way into some in the future.
The Ravens have a quarterback who is marginally capable of throwing and they still pushed the Chiefs to the edge at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Chargers will present an interesting challenge on Thursday, actually. They’re one of the most efficient running teams in the league, with a defense that both come up with stops and make big plays.
The Chiefs’ season opening win in L.A. was so long ago that I’m not sure how relevant it is for Thursday. Joey Bosa and Eric Berry didn’t play, and Mahomes was in his first meaningful start.
But it’s worth remembering that the Chargers were in position to put a real scare into the Chiefs before a dropped punt, and they’re playing as well as anyone in the league.
The Chiefs may or may not be the AFC’s best team — the Patriots lost to the Dolphins on a last-second hook-and-ladder — but they are obviously flawed.
That’s been true all season, but nobody has been able to exploit those flaws quite like the Ravens.
Mahomes can cover a lot of issues. We’ll soon see if he can cover them all.