You could just feel the giant exhale from Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night after the clad-in-all-red Kansas City Chiefs reassumed their command of the AFC West race with a dominating 30-13 victory over division rival Los Angeles.
The Chiefs now lead the Chargers by one game with two left to play, but the Chiefs own the No. 1 tiebreaker should the teams end up deadlocked. Kansas City needs only a win against either Miami at Arrowhead or on the road at Denver to get it done, or a loss by the Chargers against either the New York Jets or Oakland.
Believe me, the Chiefs want to wrap this thing up on Sunday at Arrowhead. Then they could rest their key players at Denver and give unbroken colt Patrick Mahomes his first start at quarterback to see if he’s soaked up any knowledge in his year of apprenticeship.
The Chiefs had made their fans a bundle of nerves with a 1-6 record after their 5-0 start. They had slipped to .500 and the odds-makers had even jumped off the bandwagon, making the Chiefs a 1-point underdog against the Chargers at one point. KC is almost never a home dog, unless it’s Pittsburgh.
But this game was all Kansas City, especially in the second half. The Chiefs reverted to their early season formula of hitting the home-run ball (an Alex Smith 64-yard parabola to streaking Tyreek Hill), a lot of thunder from Kareem Hunt (155 yards rushing as well as some key catches out of the backfield) and an opportunistic defense headed by Marcus Peters, who marked his return from suspension with two picks and inspired play.
This was the way the Chiefs played when they were being bandied as a Super Bowl finalist. It started with the win over the Raiders to get the monkey off their back as they played with a ferocity and intensity that was strangely missing against the triumvirate of the two New York teams and Buffalo.
Now they can wrap up the West with their third straight home victory. Miami will hardly be a pushover as it has played much better in recent weeks, but it’s still a 6-8 football team and Kansas City doesn’t often lose to sub-.500 teams at home.
Are the Chiefs all the way back? I think if they handle Miami in the same manner as they took care of the Chargers I would say so. They have gone back to basics and it all starts up front in the offensive and defensive lines. When Alex Smith has time to throw, he’ll pick any defense apart and Hunt is the perfect complement. And when the Chiefs get a pass rush, underperforming D-backs Steven Nelson and Terrance Mitchell are less likely to get exposed.
The AFC’s Super Bowl representative still appears to be New England or Pittsburgh, but if the Chiefs can get into the semifinals they can at least make things interesting.