The Kansas City Chiefs are a flawed football team. Do you know what that means? They are like everyone else in the National Football League. This is not a season to scrutinize NFL contenders to determine why they could win a Super Bowl. It is a year to ask, why not?
Pick a contender, any contender, who seems like a sure-shot to make it to Houston, the site of Super Bowl LI. The Patriots relied on a fourth-round rookie wide receiver to barely beat the Jets on Sunday as Rob Gronkowski exited (again) with (yet another) injury. The Raiders own a defense that proved capable of yielding 25 points in a quarter. The Seahawks lost in Tampa Bay with an offensive line that demonstrated the resistance of a pile of mashed potatoes. Even the Cowboys, winners of 10 straight, have a defense that remains a question mark.
So, sure. Why not the Chiefs? Their manic, 30-27 overtime victory in Denver on Sunday night proved neither their dominance nor their perfection. It instead indicated they belong in a jumble of quite good, blemished teams that have a chance to make the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs provide plenty to believe in, starting with the double-take fact they have won 19 of their last 23 games. Kansas City receives little acclaim and doesn’t really have a national identity. It just wins, often in head-scratching fashion, like on Sunday night.
The Chiefs fell behind, 24-16, with less than three minutes left in Denver, one of the most difficult places to play and against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Their ensuing drive, which started at their own 25, began with a sack. It ended 12 plays later, when Alex Smith hit rookie revelation Tyreek Hill for a touchdown with 12 seconds left and then found reserve tight end Demetrious Harris, who did not make another catch all night, for the tying two-point conversion.
In overtime, the Chiefs yielded a field goal on Denver’s first drive and responded with their own to keep the game alive. Broncos Coach Gary Kubiak gambled, attempting to end it with a 62-yard field goal, which Brandon McManus missed. After a short drive, Cairo Santos doinked a field goal off the left upright and through.
Called the bank shot… just forgot to tell Colquitt. CHIEFS WIN!! pic.twitter.com/3N9Zv2HICJ
— Cairo Santos (@cairosantos19) November 28, 2016
The victory pushed the Chiefs into second place in the AFC West. Their chances for something grander start with the return to form of pass-rusher Justin Houston, who sacked Denver’s Trevor Siemian three times, including once in the end zone for a safety, and made two other tackles for loss. When healthy, Houston is a wrecking crew. He recorded 22 sacks in 2014 and another 7.5 in 11 games last season before he shredded his ACL. He returned last week with an ordinary performance, but Sunday night Houston showed the ability that made him Kansas City’s answer to the Broncos’ Von Miller.
Coach and quarterback are the two most important figures on any NFL team, which makes the Chiefs difficult to evaluate. Are Andy Reid and Alex Smith assets or hindrances? The question has hovered over the franchise for three years, and by now it’s probably time to admit it’s more the former. Smith’s penchant for checkdowns is widely mocked, but the weapons around him have improved and he showed again Sunday night he can stretch defenses when he has to. Reid’s late-game, clock-management misadventures lurk around every corner, but he runs an innovative offense and a professional, motivated operation.
The Chiefs are playing without Jamaal Charles and their top wideout, Jeremy Maclin, has missed three consecutive games. But they have made up for it with a motley collection of skill players Reid uses to maximum effect. Tight end Travis Kelce, when he is not enraging officials or hosting his own dating show, is one of the best pass catchers in football. Spencer Ware has filled in for Charles and run with power.
The standout, though, has been Hill. The Chiefs drafted him in the fifth round to return kicks and punts, and through three months, particularly in Maclin’s absence, he has proved to be much more. There is no hyperbole in saying Hill might be the fastest man in the NFL. He returned a punt for a touchdown Sunday night, breaking so far away from defenders he could high-five teammate DeAnthony Thomas as he crossed the goal line. He also caught nine passes for 52 yards and ran for a touchdown, dancing around Miller to do so.
Tyreek Hill is GONE.
86 yard return TD on the free kick!
You may have noticed the Chiefs were able to draft a man with the speed of a world-class sprinter in the fifth round. In December 2014, Oklahoma State dismissed Hill from its team after police charged him abusing his pregnant girlfriend. He eventually plead guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation. He spent one season at West Alabama and entered the draft with a colossal red flag. To say the Chiefs made the right decision would be ignoring a horrific act. To say it hasn’t paid off for them on the field would be ignoring an obvious truth.
So here the Chiefs are, winners again on Monday morning, now 8-3 this season. They will sometimes make you wonder how they win. But they have done it often enough to place themselves next to any team in the NFL.