Chiefs vs. Broncos final score, takeaways: Mahomes' legend grows after engineering heroic comeback
The Chiefs moved to 4-0 thanks to Mahomes, who overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit on the road
It's going to take more than just altitude and a once-great defense to stop Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. At this point, it might require an act of God or a moment of sorcery to stop what has quickly emerged as the most predictable, yet exciting appointment television show of the year.
After the Chiefs raced out to three straight wins over the Chargers, Steelers, and 49ers to begin the season, during which Mahomes threw for 896 yards, 13 touchdowns, and no interceptions, the NFL community circled this Week 4 contest in Denver as the night when the Chiefs' highly combustable attack would finally cool off.
That's exactly what happened in the first half. And then, when the circumstances demanded greatness, Mahomes happened.
The Broncos managed to slow down the Chiefs and make them work for every point and every yard, but they couldn't stop them over the course of four quarters. The Chiefs trailed by 10 points early in the fourth quarter, which is when Mahomes took over to rescue his team.
On Monday night, the Chiefs beat the Broncos, 27-23, extending their unbeaten run to four games, pushing their lead in the AFC West to two full games, and issuing one final warning that they're not on some unsustainable run that's bound to crash at any point.
The Chiefs are this explosive. They're this good. They're the best team in the AFC -- at least right now. And Mahomes, well, he's the best quarterback in football -- again, right now.
Their defense has its issues. An Earl Thomas trade, , definitely would've helped. Eric Berry, , can't arrive soon enough. But the Chiefs don't need a top-notch defense, because their offense can win games on their own. They started slow, but they ended the game masterfully -- in a way that would certainly earn Tom Brady and Bill Belichick's approval.
After giving up a field goal on the first series of the game, which marked the first time the Chiefs have trailed all season long, Mahomes and company revved up their engines. Facing a fourth-and-short on their fourth play from scrimmage, Andy Reid boldly, but wisely kept his offense on the field. Kareem Hunt got the necessary yardage. Two plays later, Hunt was trucking his way down the right sideline for a 27-yard gain that placed the Chiefs in the red zone. After a dropped shotgun snap on the next play killed their momentum, they settled for a field goal to tie the game, which marked the first time all year that their opening drive didn't result in a touchdown. The first quarter ended at 3-3.
When the Chiefs finally scored their first touchdown in the second quarter, they did so in a foreign way. May I introduce you to Mahomes, the scrambler, as if his flamethrower arm wasn't already enough to deal with:
He just does it all. He doesn't run much, but he's got the necessary athleticism to take advantage of space. So, he did.
Still, at halftime, it was only 13-10 ... Broncos. Travis Kelce was shut out. Mahomes missed a couple throws. Tyreek Hill dropped a gimme. The Chiefs' offense was making mistakes with the play-clock and the snap count. They looked sloppy. They looked confused. But they had the superhero quarterback to render their sloppiness insignificant.
At halftime, the Broncos had run only one more play than the Chiefs, but they'd picked up 60 more yards. We expected the Chiefs' offense to come back down from earth, but we didn't expect them to get out-played by the Broncos' offense.
That was the first half. The Chiefs rallied to pass the test -- their first true test of the season. Mahomes bailed out his team the way star quarterbacks are supposed to.
The second half saw Mahomes return to his superhuman status. Facing a third down, Mahomes escaped pressure and created a huge first down. He did it again later in the drive, leaving the pocket before throwing a wicked cross-the-field pass from left to right(!) for another huge gain. This isn't possible for humans, but it is possible for cyborgs sent from the future:
The Chiefs settled for another field goal. The game was tied. The Broncos, relying on their ground game, led by 10 points early in the fourth quarter. But a 10-point lead isn't enough against an offense as heavily armed as the Chiefs.
Down 10, Mahomes engineered two straight scoring drives. The first drive went 12 plays for 75 yards, during which Mahomes went 8 of 10 for 84 yards (penalties allowed him to do that). It ended with Mahomes taking advantage of an unsuspecting Broncos defense near the goal line.
The Chiefs' defense forced a quick three-and-out, giving Mahomes a chance to finish the comeback. He proceeded to manufacture an eight-play, 60-yard, game-winning drive.
It involved a left-handed third-down completion.
The Mahomes Effect pic.twitter.com/jUiJLms5VV— Sean Wagner-McGough (@seanjwagner) October 2, 2018
And it involved the Chiefs overcoming a second-and-30 with ease before Kareem Hunt polished off the series in the end zone.
From there, the Chiefs' defense only just barely preserved the lead thanks to Case Keenum missing what should've been a game-winning touchdown and the Broncos botching a hook-and-ladder on their final offensive play in Chiefs' territory. But don't blame the Broncos for blowing this game. Give Mahomes credit for taking it.
In a way, this game was more revealing than the previous three. This wasn't a quick blowout that allowed the Chiefs to massage a big lead and kill the clock. This was a grind, the kind of game the Chiefs need to be able to win if they're going to emerge as a Super Bowl contender come January.
No, they didn't put up video-game numbers. No, it wasn't perfect. But they won ugly. And that matters. Mahomes felt pressure for the first time this season, and he overcame it. It would've been more impressive if they'd gone into Denver and dropped 50 on the Broncos, but it was nearly just as impressive to see Mahomes carry the the Chiefs out of a 10-point hole on the road in a hostile environment.
At halftime, Mahomes was 7 of 15 for 65 yards. After halftime, he was 21 of 30 for 239 yards and a score. He finished 28 of 45 for 304 yards, one touchdown, no picks, and a 89.5 passer rating -- and that was his worst game of the season statistically speaking.
Give credit, by the way, to Kelce for rebounding after a difficult first half. In the second half alone, he caught seven passes for 78 yards and one touchdown.
Believe in the Chiefs. Stop expecting them to wither away. Their offense came crashing back down to earth, and they still managed to win a road divisional game. They're just as a scary as they were a week ago.
They might already have the best quarterback in football.
Kareem Hunt gets going
It's weird and scary. It's weird that after leading the league in rushing yards during his rookie season, Hunt has been not good so far this season. It's scary that Hunt has been this bad and the Chiefs' offense has been this good.
Oh, speaking of Hunt, he finally got going on Monday night. A week after he scored two touchdowns, but averaged only 2.4 yards per carry, Hunt looked like it was 2017 all over again. He provided the firepower on the Chiefs' tying series in the first quarter.
He did it again during their go-ahead series early in the second quarter.
And then he scored the game-winner.
Hunt has been an afterthought on the best offense in football so far. Don't expect that to last so much longer. He ran for 121 yards on 19 carries and picked up 54 yards through the air against the Broncos.
The Broncos can run
Drafting Paxton Lynch and signing Case Keenum might not have solved their quarterback problem, but the Broncos do at least feature a capable running game that's spearheaded by two rookies, Royce Freeman (third round) and Phillip Lindsay (undrafted).
Freeman and Lindsay combined for 136 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. They're a two-headed monster that the Broncos can ride from here on out.
Check out this monster (and patient) touchdown by Freeman to tie the game at 10-10 in the second quarter:
It was Lindsay's turn to score the next touchdown. This one -- after a big (and obvious) pass-interference call went against the Chiefs -- gave the Broncos a 20-13 lead late in the third quarter. It's not flashy, but that's a great hard-nosed run.
Unfortunately for the Broncos' rushing machine, they didn't get any help offensively. And when the Broncos had a chance to salt away the game, leading by three with six minutes to go, they ran the ball once and threw the ball twice, leading to a quick three-and-out that preceded the Chiefs' game-winning drive.
Keenum's disappointing season continues
After he emerged as a surprising MVP candidate with the Vikings last year, Keenum scored a two-year, $36 million deal with the Broncos. It's weird, because he's neither their quarterback of the future nor a bridge quarterback. He's not talented enough to be a franchise kind of guy, but he's not a bridge to another quarterback because the Broncos don't really have a viable quarterback behind him.
To this point, Keenum's been uneven with the Broncos, entering the game with two more picks than touchdowns and a 71.6 passer rating. He submitted another meh performance, going 21-for-33 for 245 yards, no touchdowns, one pick, and a 73.4 passer rating.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Keenum "hadn't completed a pass thrown 30+ yards downfield since Week 10 of last season ... going 0 of 12 on such throws in that span." He broke the streak on Monday night, completing a nicely thrown 42-yard completion to Courtland Sutton down the right sideline.
Then again, his pick in the third quarter came as a result of a horribly underthrown pass to a wide-open receiver and an incredible catch by Eric Murray.
Again, that's an incredible catch and absolute thievery. Nine times out of 10, that play ends in an incompletion. But the completion was there for the taking. Keenum just put too much air under the ball and left it too short, giving Murray an opportunity he never should've had. And he took it.
Keenum's biggest mistake came on the final series of the game. Trailing by four and needing a touchdown after the Chiefs regained the lead, Keenum had Demaryius Thomas wide open for a game-winning touchdown. But he missed the kind of pass that NFL-caliber quarterbacks are supposed to hit 10 times out of 10.
He just missed him.
That picture doesn't just sum up Thomas' season so far. It also sums up Keenum's. The win was standing right there, wide open with empty space in front. But he missed the opening.
Stop punting to Tyreek Hill
It might be time to give Tyreek Hill the Devin Hester treatment. Punt to him at your own risk.
In the first quarter, Hill fielded Marquette King's 51-yard punt at his own 22-yard line. He didn't go down until he reached the Denver 41. This is a 37-yard return that somehow looks effortless.
Hill entered the game with four punt returns for 100 yards and a touchdown.
Ford, Houston lead Chiefs' pass rush
The Chiefs' defense isn't good. We've been over this many times. But let's give credit to two players who might be able to turn a bad defense into a decent defense, which really would be good enough for the Chiefs considering the state of their offense. Dee Ford and Justin Houston, if they can continue to rush the passer the way they attacked Case Keenum, can turnaround this defense.
Ford and Houston got after Keenum early, each generating a sack in the first quarter and applying pressure to force a couple stops.
Houston's already a known commodity at this point with 71.5 career sacks before Monday, but Ford has been playing well lately. He picked up two sacks during the first three weeks of the season. At times, he looks like the best pass rusher on the defense. It's worth noting that he exploded for 10 sacks in 2016, so he's already demonstrated the ability to be a double-digit sack guy. At the quarter mark of the season, he's on pace for 12 sacks. His groin injury, however, is worth monitoring.
As a team, the Chiefs finished with four sacks. Their pass rush might be their only redeeming quality on defense.
Sammy Watkins' hamstring
Filing this under something to keep an eye on. Watkins, the Chiefs' big free-agent signing, left the game with a hamstring injury. He was initially deemed questionable to return, but he was declared OUT before halftime.
So far this season, Watkins has 227 yards and one touchdown from scrimmage. The Chiefs certainly aren't lacking weapons, but they'll miss Watkins during an upcoming stretch of difficult games if he's forced to wait for his hamstring to heal.
The road isn't going to get any easier for the Chiefs. In what might be the game of Week 5, they'll host the 3-1 Jaguars. If you thought the Broncos' once-great, now middle-of-the-road defense would challenge the Chiefs, you should already be salivating at Sunday's matchup. After playing the Jaguars, the Chiefs then get Patriots and Bengals. Their schedule isn't letting up.
And then, the Broncos and Chiefs will meet again in Kansas City in Week 8.
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