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Kansas City’s Defense Did The Real Work

Deon Bush #26 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates with teammates after an interception against the Baltimore Ravens during the fourth quarter in the AFC Championship Game .
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Football Analysis 101 begins with this immutable law: First, name the quarterback.

But there's also this: Patrick Mahomes is both fortunate enough to be Patrick Mahomes—and doubly blessed that he never has to play the Kansas City Chiefs defense when people pay to watch.

True, Mahomes is everything that everyone says he is and will continue to say for the next two weeks, minus about seven percent for religio-strategic hyperbole. He was the best quarterback of his era going into Sunday's AFC Championship Game in Baltimore, and he did nothing to dissuade even the "what's the last thing I saw?" school of analysis in Kansas City's 17-10 victory over the surprisingly dismal Ravens.

Except this game was supposed to be a titanic struggle between the decade's most incandescent resume and the season's most overwhelming team, and it was nothing close to that because Kansas City's defense, from Chris Jones to L'Jarius Sneed and all outposts between, simply ate the game.

Mahomes was superbly efficient, as one would expect, managing the hell out of a game in which the Kansas City offense had the ball for nearly two-thirds of the clock, which we suppose makes him an elite system quarterback. That the Chiefs only scored 17 points is a measure of how good the Ravens' defense is, even when it abandons scheme for intimidation.

The game, though, was truly decided in the 22 minutes when Baltimore had the ball because the Chiefs' defense, which was vulnerable against the run and stout against the pass and stouter still against the scoreboard during the regular season, essentially allowed the Ravens to do none of the above. When Zay Flowers was not directly involved, Baltimore was held to 221 yards of total offense and Flowers gave back more than he took. A needless taunting call after the Ravens' biggest play of the day, a crushing end zone fumble, and a tantrum-inspired lacerated hand all combined to take him out of the game's final 14 minutes, making this the Flowers Game for three generations of Baltimoreans.

Kansas City's offense, for its part, was two long first-half drives with lots of Mahomes and Travis Kelce in the first 20 minutes, but Ball Control And Defense Andy Reid is not an Andy Reid we know. It's a Bill Belichick we know, to be sure, but not an Andy Reid. Hey, maybe it was Andy's idea of an homage to the now incredibly idle coach of the century. No matter.

After the Isaiah Pacheco touchdown that gave Kansas City its insurmountable one-touchdown lead, the Chiefs offense that makes defensive coordinators cry put together nine drives that the following order:

Ended on downs.

A punt.

A field goal.

Five more punts.

And victory formation.

Forty-seven plays, 163 yards, nothing inside Baltimore's 30 until the final three kneeldowns, and a single field goal over the last 39 minutes is Panthers-level offense—hardly the stuff to pretty up Kansas City's reputation as the dynamic offensive attack of the age.

No, in the end the Chiefs returned to the Super Bowl because its defense scared John Harbaugh out of running the ball early, strangled Lamar Jackson's inventiveness throughout, and broke the team that couldn't be broken. The Ravens' entire day could be summed up in the one drive in which Flowers was the best and worst player on the field. That lasted 57 seconds. The rest of the day was devoted to Kansas City out-Ravening the Ravens, and pretending that it's 1986.

But yeah, Mahomes. He defines the Chiefs as they replace the Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, and Patriots on the list of NFL teams with the surname Decade. If you want to spend the next two weeks invoking his name, or Kelce's, or Taylor Swift's, or Reid's, or Jake From State Farm's, or Arthur Bryant's, hey, make up your own narratives. It's Football Christmas, and no story line is too small, silly, or stupid. Just remember that these Chiefs are on the verge of another parade because this defense is quietly but defiantly the real reason for this postseason.

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