KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs sent a warning through the rest of the league on Saturday night, when they ran roughshod over the Miami Dolphins in the fourth-coldest game in NFL history, that they just might still be the team to beat in this year's playoffs.
What is making the Chiefs so successful, though, is much different than usual.
They have played host to the past five AFC championship games, and played in three of the past four Super Bowls, relying on Patrick Mahomes and one of the game's best offenses to put up an inordinate amount of points.
But with inconsistent wide receivers dragging down the offense, the Chiefs have turned to one of the NFL's best defenses.
That was the case against the Dolphins. The Chiefs were content to play the field-position game all night, and when their defense gave their offense a short field, they were able to reach the end zone twice and kick four field goals for a 26-7 victory.
“I talked about it, I think in training camp — I really would not want to play our defense,” Mahomes said. “We have great players all around, every single level. You have players, you have depth, guys rotate in, can do it all, and then you have the scheme."
Indeed, the Chiefs have thrived in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's unpredictable scheme. Their defensive backs blitz with abandon, and their linebackers and edge rushers are just as adept at dropping into pass coverage.
On Saturday night, the Dolphins never seemed to know what was coming. They managed just 264 yards, going 1 for 12 on third down, and most of that production came on a 53-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill.
This coming Sunday, the Chiefs will try to limit the Buffalo Bills the same way in the divisional round of the playoffs.
“We always talk, whenever you play a great offense — or a team that has a great defense — to match it and exceed what they're going to do,” Chiefs pass rusher George Karlaftis said. “For us, it's the same game plan in terms of basics every single time: staying disciplined and staying together.”
Just as the offense knows it can rely on the defense, the same rings true the other way.
No matter how much Mahomes and Co. might be scuffling, eventually they are going to start putting up points.
“We knew we had to go out there and stop them on critical downs, on third downs,” said Chiefs pass rusher Charles Omenihu. “It starts off on first and second down, stopping the run, stopping the screen did. That's what we did, and that's what you have to do in the playoffs to advance.”
The Chiefs ran for 147 yards against Miami, and while 41 of that came on two scrambles by Mahomes — including the one that ended up shattering his helmet — the total was still substantial. When the Chiefs can have some offensive balance, that opens up the downfield passing game, and Rashee Rice and Travis Kelce are able to get open for some big plays.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Chiefs still need to find someone other than Rice and Kelce to supplement the passing game. Rice had eight catches for 130 yards, Kelce had seven for 71, and the rest of the offense combined had eight catches for 61 yards.
L'Jarius Sneed may have been the most egregious Pro Bowl snub in recent history. He allowed three catches for 29 yards on nine targets across 46 snaps while matching up with Hill and Jaylen Waddle on Saturday night. And the clip of him jamming Hill so hard that he sent the former Chiefs star on his back went viral on social media.
Wide receiver Mecole Hardman appeared as if he was getting more ingrained in the offense in the Chiefs' regular-season finale against the Chargers, when many starters sat out the meaningless game. But he had just one catch for 3 yards against Miami, and he appeared to quit on a deep throw on which Hardman thought he was being held.
Defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi hurt his elbow but the Chiefs otherwise came out of their wild-card game healthy.
6 — The Chiefs are playing in the divisional round of the playoffs for the sixth straight year, extending the franchise record.
The Chiefs will visit the banged-up Bills, who beat the Steelers 31-17 in their snowstorm-delayed game Monday night. The two teams are quite familiar having met twice in the playoffs in the past three years; Kansas City won both games.
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