Gloomy as Chiefs Twitter was on Sunday night, it turns out the Chiefs muzzled the Broncos 22-9 at Arrowhead Stadium for their 12th straight win over Denver and their fifth in a row this season.
At 8-4 now, all of a sudden they’re tied with three other teams for the best record in the AFC pending New England’s game at Buffalo on Monday night.
The source of the unrest, of course, was that this victory was principally driven by the defense — a prospect that would have been unfathomable just weeks ago but striking now.
“It was beautiful to watch,” coach Andy Reid said.
There are two sides to this point about the defense, and one of them, alas, is the increasingly perplexing offensive disarray of a group that not so long ago was making us feel like it had reinvented the game.
That showed up again on Sunday in the form of yet another heap of dropped passes, including the third of the season to go off Tyreek Hill for an interception, amid another generally rudderless offensive performance that produced just one touchdown.
Which was as many, as it happens, as much-maligned defender Daniel Sorensen had on Sunday with a 75-yard pick-six that sealed the game.
In its dormancy, or at least its inconsistency, the defense has emerged as the most consistently reliable component of the team, arguably even keeping it afloat.
And while we can and will stress over how and when the offense might regain the groove that it flashed again in a 41-14 win in Las Vegas (maybe next week when the Raiders come here?!), perhaps we need to consider a different reality straight out of Bizarro world:
This defense is building a case that it’s good enough to give the Chiefs a winning edge through the rest of the regular season while the offense presumably soul-searches its way back to at least a semblance of its former self for a playoff run.
That’s sure inside out from how this looked just a few weeks ago, when we figured if the defense could just be slightly better than awful the Chiefs still could win big with their ever-flowing offensive juice.
Now, if the offense can just produce 20 or so points a game, it seems the Chiefs can stay on trajectory toward a third straight Super Bowl after all.
No one would have thought that at about halftime in Nashville on Oct. 24. The Chiefs were being absolutely dismantled 27-0 by the Titans and well on their way to plummeting to 3-4.
With no way up or out in sight, really, most because of their abominable defense.
Exasperating and enigmatic as the offense had been, and in fact remains, there was (and still is) ample reason to believe that would be rekindled because of the vast talent of Patrick Mahomes and the track records of Travis Kelce and Hill.
The defense, though, was another matter, even if it didn’t make sense given that it had back the nucleus of groups that had finished in the top 10 in points allowed the last two seasons.
To that point, it had surrendered 27 or more points in six of seven games and been comically vulnerable to the run and slapstick susceptible to deep strikes.
The issues were so all-encompassing, from endless missed tackles to the utter absence of a pass rush to communication breakdowns, that it seemed the season could unravel because of that side of the ball.
Next thing you know, the Chiefs shut out the Titans in the second half and held the Giants to 17 points and the Packers to 7. All good stuff but also all with an asterisk attached one way or another: the Titans game was over at halftime, the Giants weren’t good and the Packers were without Aaron Rodgers.
But then came the 41-14 clobbering of the Raiders and the 19-9 win over the Cowboys and the victory over the Broncos, and add it all up and the Chiefs have given up just 56 points in the last 5.5 games after that 203 in the first 6.5.
Asked where all this came from, safety Tyrann Mathieu said, “We realized nobody’s really coming to save us, and you’ve got to figure it out.”
There were a few shifting dynamics at play, though.
A struggling Sorensen was replaced in the lineup by Juan Thornhill, who also had an interception on Sunday. The Chiefs acquired Melvin Ingram, who both has been excellent at defensive end and allowed Chris Jones to move back inside. Frank Clark returned from injury and to form. Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed has blossomed, and young linebackers Willie Gay and Nick Bolton continue to bolster what was a weakness.
Shazam, tackling has improved immensely and a formidable pass rush has fortified the secondary.
All of which has allowed defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to employ some more aggressive schemes.
“I love the attitude,” Reid said, later adding, “They’re attacking (and they’re a) great tempo-setter.”
It’s just that this isn’t the way we’re used to seeing these Chiefs win, and it’s also disconcerting that it’s been so necessary with the offense flickering.
But it’s also a reminder of how much football is at its heart a complementary game. Sometimes that means one side of the ball, or special teams, can play well off another element.
Other times it might mean that one unit or another carries the rest.
At least until the other becomes who it is again.
For now, it’s anybody’s guess whether the offense will be revitalized this season. The guess here is that it will, but it’s hard to say that with any conviction beyond understanding that Mahomes is a phenomenon and that Hill and Kelce are among the best in the game at what they do … and that each of them also is human.
In the meantime, we’re also left to wonder if this defense has become something much more than just a stop-gap … and what that could mean down the stretch and into the postseason.
“I still don’t think we played our best game yet,” Mathieu said, smiling and adding, “Hopefully that game is the Super Bowl.”