KANSAS CITY, Mo.: The highlights that usually accompany another win by the Kansas City Chiefs tend to showcase Patrick Mahomes making a did-you-see-that throw, Travis Kelce turning a broken play into a big gain, or Tyreek Hill wagging his finger at some helpless defensive back as he speeds away.
Rarely do they showcase the big guys up front that make everything happen.
They probably should after Sunday.
With their fifth different starting offensive line facing one of the league’s best defenses, the Chiefs managed to grind their way past the New Orleans Saints in crunch time.
They opened enough holes for Clyde Edwards-Helaire before he left with an ankle injury and Le’Veon Bell that Mahomes and Co. merely had a supporting role in finishing off a 32-29 victory over the Saints that wrapped up a perfect season for the Chiefs on the road.
We scored points against a good defensive front, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You are talking about one of the best defensive fronts if not the best, statistically. We ran the ball efficiently, especially in the second half. We threw the ball well with the exception of a couple of blitzes that they had. They got us at the end, but we were clean for the most part.
Eric Fisher started at left tackle despite missing practice recently with a bad back. Nick Allegretti, a 2019 seventh-round pick, started at left guard. Austin Reiter handled the middle of the line. Stefan Wisniewski signed with the Chiefs a month ago and was starting at right guard. Andrew Wylie started at right tackle for the first time since college.
Quite the group to send up against the NFL’s third-rated defense and No. 4 against the run and No. 5 against the pass.
They were still good enough against the rush to allow Mahomes to throw for 254 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. And when the Saints started to get to him, the Chiefs (13-1) pivoted to the run, and Edwards-Helaire and Bell produced 141 yards on 29 carries and allowed Kansas City to control the ball more than 41 minutes.
Attitude, Bell said. “We had to come in with the mindset we could get the job done with whatever we needed, whether we had to throw it or run it. Really in the second half, we were called upon to run the ball a lot. I think the guys up front did a tremendous job of moving guys off the ball and creating lanes for me, 25, and 31 to make some plays.
The Chiefs’ pass defense is vastly improved and it showed Sunday. Take away Emmanuel Sanders’ 51-yard reception and Drew Brees was just 14 of 33 for 183 yards with an interception (and another that Tyrann Mathieu dropped).
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Chiefs have struggled to find a reliable punt returner. Mecole Hardman has made plenty of poor decisions and it was Demarcus Robinson’s turn on Sunday. He fielded a punt near his own goal line in the closing seconds of the first half, ran backward and had the ball punched out for a safety that drew the Saints within 14-9 at the break.
Rookie cornerback L’Jarius Sneed has turned out to be a fourth-round steal. He had two picks in his first three games, then missed seven weeks with an injury, only to quickly return to form. He had an interception, sack and three passes defended against the Saints.
The Chiefs’ pass rush only brought down Brees once, though they got enough pressure on him to make a few hurried throws during the game. Kansas City is better than only 10 other teams with 25 sacks through 14 games.
Edwards-Helaire is likely out for the rest of the regular season, though X-rays on his ankle were negative and the Chiefs hope to have him back for the playoffs. Offensive lineman Mike Remmers had a stinger, linebacker Emmanuel Smith hurt his hamstring and running back Darwin Thompson was ill.
15 Hill had his 15th touchdown receiving early in the game, tying the franchise record set by Dwayne Bowe in 2010. Hill also has two touchdowns running this season.
The Chiefs wrap up the regular season at home against the Falcons and Chargers. They are currently in line for a first-round playoff bye, then would get to remain at Arrowhead Stadium throughout the playoffs.
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