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Chiefs prove they can be more than The Patrick Mahomes Show

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 10/7/2018 Mike Jones
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KANSAS CITY – The scoreboard will reflect yet another 30-plus-point outing and a fifth consecutive victory for the Kansas City Chiefs.

But the script definitely flipped on Sunday. After weeks of relying on the heroics of hotshot quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his electrifying cast of offensive players, the Chiefs leaned heavily on their defense and emerged from their bout with the Jacksonville Jaguars with a 30-14 victory.

Facing a vaunted Jaguars defense that entered the game having limited foes to the fewest points and yards through the first quarter of the season, Mahomes and Co. were not in typical showtime mode. The second-year passer threw his first two interceptions of the season, and Jacksonville proved stingy in the red zone.

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But five takeaways of their own (four interceptions and a fumble recovery) provided ample support and enabled the Chiefs to prove that they can win ugly. That’s a must in this league, particularly late in the year where the path turns most arduous with elite teams facing off with postseason implications and seasons on line.

“It’s a team. We don’t point fingers,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, whose team opened the year with a 5-0 mark for the second straight season. “We know every week – and I’d include special teams – but we expect every phase to pick up the other phase if one phase is down. We’ve done that so far and we need to keep that going.”

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The Chiefs learned a lot about their quarterback in the initial weeks of the season. They saw he could direct their deep and talented offense with great effectiveness, producing a league-leading 36 points a game. They learned last week he could play from behind after he erupted from a slow start to provide the second-half heroics to win at Denver.

But throughout the first four games of the season, throughout his 90 completions and 138 pass attempts, and the 14 touchdowns passes, Mahomes had yet to throw an interception. So, when he did so for the first time on Sunday with 4:29 left in the second quarter, Reid didn’t know what to expect.

“I was like, ‘How’s he going to react?’,” the coach said, his eyes darting back and forth as he recreated the moment and recalled the uncertainty that he felt. “But it didn’t faze him. He just kept going, kept firing and made some big plays. … It was good to see it didn’t faze him. You’re going to throw those if you’re a quarterback in the National Football League.”

a group of baseball players playing a football game: Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Orlando Scandrick (22) celebrates after breaking up a pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. © Denny Medley, USA TODAY Sports Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Orlando Scandrick (22) celebrates after breaking up a pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mahomes was able to keep gunning because he had virtually no time to even reflect on his first interception – a throw to Tyreek Hill over the middle that sailed high because the quarterback admittedly threw too hard. Linebacker Dee ford stripped Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles on the very next play and Kansas City recovered. So, Mahomes found himself back on the field just 15 seconds later and moved downfield and into field goal range for a kick that gave them a 13-0 lead.

“That goes back all the way to college and being with Coach Reid,” said Mahomes, who also shrugged off a second-half pick and kept throwing with aggression. “You can’t let that stuff bother you. He says that in football, you have to have a short memory, especially playing the quarterback position, and the defense got the ball right back to us and we just got back to trying to go down the field and put points on the board.”

And providing further cushion was defensive end Chris Jones, who shortly after returned an ugly Bortles pass 20 yards for a touchdown.

All game long, the Chiefs managed to move the ball. Mahomes completed passes for gains of 51, 40, 33 and 30 yards. Tight end Travis Kelce had 100 receiving yards, wide receiver Sammy Watkins had 78 and running back Kareem Hunt rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown.

But the success in the red zone didn’t come as in previous games. The Chiefs went 2-for-4 inside the 20-yard line, and they also struggled on third downs, converting on just four of 12 attempts. That had a lot to do with the effectiveness of the Jaguars defense.

“When you play a team like that, you’re not going to score a ton, usually,” Mahomes said. “But defense stepped up, made a lot of plays, put us in great field position and I just tried to go out there, maximize the opportunities they gave us.”

The Chiefs defense expected that this game could come down to their contributions, players said. They knew that because they struggle against the run (ranking last in the league allowing 5.7 yards a carry), the Jaguars would try to dominate in that phase of the game and then open up their passing attack.

Sure enough, the Chiefs did give up chunks of yards on the ground early on, but they made adjustments and began limiting the visitors.

“We realized everyone was trying to do too much,” defensive end Jarvis Jenkins told USA TODAY Sports while pulling on his socks in front of his locker. “But once we all started focusing on staying in our gaps and doing our individual jobs. We started taking that away.”

The takeaways made an even bigger difference. With the Jaguars in a sizable hole, the offense had no choice but to throw the ball with frequency. Blake Bortles showed his deficiencies and racked up four interceptions as the Chiefs defense capitalized.

“It just shows that every game is not going to be a shootout. It’s going to be a battle and the defense has to step up. We stepped up to the plate today,” Jenkins said.

The Chiefs’ ability to win in this fashion probably carries even more importance because of whom the team plays next.

Bill Belichick will have had 10 days to study and prepare for this game because his New England Patriots played last Thursday, rolling to a 38-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Belichick will have every Chiefs weakness pinpointed, so Kansas City’s players must be comfortable with taking different paths to victory.

Thanks to their collective effort against Jacksonville, there will be no panic if they do have to find alternative ways to attack, Mahomes and teammates said. 

“That was a confidence-building win that the defense could step up and win games,” Mahomes said. “It showed the world that we can win with every phase of the game.”

Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.

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