The Kansas City Chiefs were supposed to have a weakness. While the offense was electric and free-scoring all season, Kansas City’s defense treated opposing teams with uncommon politeness. An overall no. 1 seed in the AFC belied just how hapless they were when not in possession of the ball. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes was good enough to paper over those cracks during the regular season (to be fair, he could have papered over the Grand Canyon), but conventional wisdom suggests bad defensive units get exposed in the playoffs. In a stunning upset, conventional wisdom was torn to shreds on Saturday, and the Chiefs’ suddenly ferocious defense walked all over the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional Round. Kansas City won 31-13, but that palindrome flatters the visitors.
The regular season may have been just a dream, but the NFL keeps records and these back up the fact that Kansas City’s defense was trash—overflowing, improperly sorted, non-biodegradable refuse. They ranked second-to-last in the league in both total yards and passing yards allowed per game. Their run defense was bad enough for 27th in total rushing yards allowed. The Chiefs’ opponents averaged 26.2 first downs every game, which is the worst such mark in NFL history. Sure, you’re bound to give other teams more chances when you’re scoring touchdowns as frequently as Mahomes does, but the occasional stop here or there would’ve been a pleasant change of pace.
The Colts, meanwhile, seemed specially engineered to expose their opponents. Efficient and balanced, they converted a league-best 49 percent of their third downs during the regular season. On Saturday, Indianapolis went 0-for-9 on third downs. Crunch those numbers and you will find that this is … considerably worse than 49 percent. I’d say the Chiefs remembered how to play defense, but there was nothing to remember. They conjured competence out of thin air. Mahomes has usually been the one tasked with pulling rabbits from hats, but his magicians’ assistants stepped up in a big way on Saturday.
Kansas City was dangerous enough during the season with 11 cardboard cutouts on defense so long as Mahomes shattered Newton’s Laws each and every drive. The second-year quarterback was still an affront to physics on Saturday, but he had a nice cushion for all that forbidden alchemy.
Thanks to the win, the AFC Championship will go through Kansas City no matter what. And if that weren’t enough, an honest-to-goodness defense will be there, too.