The biggest story of the Chiefs’ most complete victory of the season, 30-6 over the Denver Broncos, rightfully is the Patrick Mahomes knee injury.
But so much else was going right for the Chiefs on Thursday night, even before Mahomes left the game in the second quarter. The team that had lost two straight, that was taking arrows for its rushing defense, special teams, inability to run, among other failings, didn’t show up in Denver.
The one that came up with nine sacks, alert special teams and outgained the Broncos on the ground did.
And going forward, it will become essential that the defense and special teams step up to the challenge of a likely Mahomes-less team.
That idea brought a bittersweet sense to the locker room. The players were concerned about Mahomes. No update on his status was available immediately after the game.
But the performance also brought an excitement after what the Chiefs had experienced in home losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans in the previous two weeks.
“Whatever happened before, that’s over with,” Chiefs linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “We knew we had to play from start to finish even before Patrick went down. That’s what we did.”
The Chiefs surrendered a touchdown drive on the Broncos’ opening possession. Chiefs penalties on two third-down attempts kept alive the drive. After that, the Broncos accumulated 130 total yards for a 205 total. This a week after the Texans piled up 472 yards.
“We didn’t like the way we played at all last week,” said defensive end Alex Okafor, one of three Chiefs with two sacks. “We can put that one to rest. We stepped to the challenge.”
The Chiefs outgained the Broncos on the ground 80-71, and pitched a shutout after the Mahomes injury, outscoring the Broncos 20-0.
The first post-injury touchdown was provided by the defense. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens got to Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco for a sack and strip. The ball bounded away and Ragland had plenty of time for the scoop and score from 21 yards that increased the lead to 20-6.
“I came on a blitz,” Ragland said. “I saw the back and I had to go under because I knew Hitch was coming behind me. I just scooped it up and scored. It was exciting.”
It also was Ragland’s first NFL touchdown. But the defense wasn’t finished making big plays. Frank Clark added two sacks. Others who added to their sack totals: Hitchens with two and one each for Emmanuel Ogbah, Ragland and safety Armani Watts.
The Watts sack wasn’t of Flacco but punter Colby Wadman. The Broncos, down 10-6, attempted a fake on fourth-and-4 from their 45. The play was doomed from the start. The Broncos had a miscommunication and Wadman had to attempt to get past Watts. No chance.
“We just had our antennas up,” Watts said. “Our whole special teams is aware of the fake situation. We just made a play.”
Add Mecole Hardman’s 37-yard punt return, Harrison Butker’s three field goals, punter Dustin Colquitt’s solid day and special teams also had its best game of the season.
But Chiefs coach Andy Reid was especially happy with a defense that had come under fire in recent weeks.
“We felt like it was close,” Reid said. “I know sometimes it didn’t look that way for people. Now it’s important to continue building on that, and that will be challenge as we go forward.”