KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For once, the story after a Kansas City Chiefs win didn't revolve around their explosive offense. It wasn't about the brilliance of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the breathtaking athleticism of his supporting cast or all the points they often generate so easily. This time around, the Chiefs' defense did some major heavy lifting in a 30-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The fact alone means life just became a whole lot tougher for every other team in the AFC.
The Chiefs are now 5-0 with a whole different look to them. Yes, they can still blow teams away with their dynamic offense, but on Sunday, their defense displayed the kind of toughness that takes this team's potential to an entirely different level. In their first four games, the Chiefs were winning largely in spite of a defense that ranked last in the NFL in total yards and 25th in points allowed (28.8 per game). After this win, it's fair to argue this same unit just had a significant breakthrough at a time when it most needed one.
"There have been areas that we've been improving in every single week," Chiefs defensive tackle Xavier Williams said. "It might not have been showing in the overall picture but we came back to work every week and tried to get better. We had a feeling that this game was coming. We wanted to show we could be a solid defense when we're all locked in and that we can really get after people."
The Chiefs didn't just get after Bortles, they attacked him, harassed him all day and made him look foolish when he needed to make clutch plays for his team. As much as some critics will chalk his struggles up to Bortles showcasing his flaws at the worst possible time -- the quarterback finished with 33 completions in 61 attempts for 430 yards with only one touchdown -- this wasn't a situation where a quarterback prone to mistakes merely melted down. The Chiefs deserve plenty of credit for what happened here on Sunday afternoon.
The Jaguars had a great opportunity to score early in the second quarter, when they trailed 10-0 and had the ball on the Kansas City 3-yard line. Jacksonville wound up turning the ball over on downs after Bortles failed twice to connect with receivers for scores. Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford forced a sack-fumble on Jacksonville's next possession, which was recovered by Breeland Speaks and ultimately led to a 42-yard field goal by Harrison Butker. Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones pushed the lead to 20-0 a few minutes later, after he intercepted a Bortles screen pass and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown.
These plays were critical not only because they put Kansas City in a great position to win, but they also happened to come at a time when the Chiefs' much-celebrated offense was struggling. This wasn't one of those days where Mahomes electrified the home crowd with deep throws and easy touchdown drives. He actually threw his first interception of the season in the first half and added a second pick in the fourth quarter.
A few games ago, an offensive turnover would've been a dangerous thing for a Chiefs team that was trying to win shootout after shootout. This time around, it seemed to be a trivial occurrence in a game dominated by the Kansas City defense. As Bortles said, "You can't turn the ball over. I can't throw four picks. It is hard to win when you turn the ball over."
The Chiefs' success on defense went beyond mere numbers. This unit has been trying to shake the reputation that it's soft ever since a 22-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans in last season's AFC Wild Card Round. The Titans rallied from a 21-3 halftime deficit in that contest, largely by pounding the Chiefs with a physical rushing attack. Kansas City looked to have similar problems with toughness as recently as last week, when the Denver Broncos averaged 7.2 yards per carry in the Chiefs' 27-23 Monday night win.
The Jaguars didn't hide the fact that they wanted to bully the Chiefs in their own home. What they discovered was that Kansas City was more than ready to accept that challenge. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid wasn't happy about losing two defenders to ejections -- Jones was tossed out for elbowing a Jaguars lineman on an extra point while Ford was booted for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties -- but those penalties also revealed how emotionally charged his team was for this game. Reid even admitted afterward that "no one is going to push us around anywhere, but you have to be smart with it."
Reid now finds his team back in familiar territory. They started 5-0 last season before dropping six of their next seven games. The offense bogged down during that stretch of futility, and the defense couldn't find a way to stop many opponents. Even though the Chiefs recovered in time to win the AFC West, that experience should remind several players that they can't get too high on themselves just yet, especially not with a huge Sunday night game with the New England Patriots next on the schedule.
What the Chiefs also should understand is that there are some critical differences between this team and that one from 2017. For one, the offense isn't as prone to being as stagnant as it became last season because of Mahomes and all his weapons. Secondly, the defense doesn't have to be that good for this team to win. Just avoiding the kind of problems that plagued it prior to Sunday -- shoddy tackling, miscommunication and an inability to take the ball away (Kansas City had forced just three turnovers coming in) -- will put this team in position to enjoy more success down the road.
There's little doubt the Chiefs believe they turned a critical corner with their defensive play. Inside linebacker Reggie Ragland talked about how tight this unit is, how much time they spend hanging out and how much work they've spent getting on the same page. The Chiefs believe that training-camp injuries and an infusion of new talent played a huge role in their early defensive struggles. The more they play together -- and if Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry can finally return to the lineup after being sidelined with a heel injury since early August -- the better their chances look of being a consistently viable unit.
That possibility is something that made Ragland smile when asked how dangerous the Chiefs would be with a legitimate defense to go along with that explosive offense.
"We'd be real dangerous," he said. "Like best in the league dangerous."
A week ago, it seemed silly to even ask a question like that to a Kansas City defender. After this latest victory, it's worth wondering if anybody can hang with the Chiefs if what happened Sunday becomes a regular occurence.