KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)The Kansas City Chiefs romped their way to the AFC championship game last year by leaning heavily on their high-powered offense, with Patrick Mahomes slinging the ball all over the field and a fleet of wide receivers hauling in everything in sight.
Then their defense let them down.
Now, as the Chiefs enjoy a week off before preparing for the divisional round of the playoffs, they are brimming with confidence borne of the most complete team they’ve had in years. The offense is still plenty potent, but that once-dismal defense has undergone a complete makeover under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, shutting down everyone during a six-game winning streak that allowed Kansas City to leapfrog New England for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
”The variety of ways of winning is the biggest thing,” Mahomes said. ”We’ve won games obviously putting up points and doing those things this year, but we’ve also won games when the defense has stepped up and controlled games for us. For us, it’s about when you get to the playoffs not every game is the same, and we’ve found ways to win in different ways.”
The Chiefs (12-4) scored at least 30 points seven times, twice hit 40 and were held below 20 just once. Mahomes eclipsed 4,000 yards passing despite missing most of three games with a knee injury, and he tossed 26 touchdown passes against just five interceptions. Travis Kelce became the first NFL tight end with back-to-back 1,200-yard receiving seasons while Tyreek Hill had seven touchdown catches and rookie running mate Mecole Hardman had six.
The Chiefs won shootouts against the Ravens, the top seed in the AFC, and the Lions in consecutive weeks. And they scored so quickly and efficiently in blowouts of the Broncos and Raiders that the outcomes were never in question.
On the flip side, the Chiefs put together a string of 10 straight quarters without allowing a touchdown during the final three weeks of the regular season. They allowed 52 points total in the five games following their bye, a run of dominance that came against quarterbacks that included Tom Brady and Philip Rivers.
”This team plays with tremendous swag. It’s confidence,” said veteran defensive end Terrell Suggs, who was claimed off waivers from the Arizona Cardinals for the final two weeks of the regular season and the playoffs, and now has a chance to add another Super Bowl ring to the one he won with the Baltimore Ravens.
”That’s the No. 1 edge that a football player has: confidence,” added Suggs, who has played in 18 playoff games. ”When you have a team that’s playing with swagger, and the head ball coach is encouraging that and your position coach is encouraging that, that can help you in January in playoff football.”
Also helpful is having that week off.
The Chiefs lost safety Juan Thornhill to a torn ACL against the Chargers last weekend, so the bye gives Spagnuolo a chance to adjust his personnel to cover a big loss in the secondary. The Chiefs also have plenty of bumps and bruises up and down the roster, and offensive lineman Andrew Wylie could use the week off to return from an ankle injury.
”It’s extremely important,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. ”I think you can really take that week to get healthy, and then you can scout everybody that’s playing. That’s not something that you’d probably be able to do if you had a game that week. It will be important for us to kind of put the work in, obviously get a little dose of the information on who we could possibly play, then hope that it shakes out for us. Whoever shows up here, we have to be ready to roll.”
The Chiefs gathered for meetings Monday before coach Andy Reid gave them the next two days off. They planned to have light padded practices Thursday and Friday, primarily starters against starters, before ratcheting back a bit this weekend.
That’s when they learn whether the Patriots, Texans or Bills will visit Arrowhead Stadium for the divisional round.
”Just staying focused is the biggest thing,” said Mahomes, who planned to watch this weekend’s games with teammates at his home. ”Obviously, Coach Reid does a good job of preparing us by giving us the right amount of time off, but at the same time keeping us in the building and keeping us preparing for whoever we get to play.”
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