Notes From A Crumbling NFL Empire: Part IX

Kansas City Chiefs 22, Denver Broncos 9

The low-water mark of Kansas City’s season happened all the way back in Week 7, on October 24th, against the Titans. I remember that game partly because it was such a blowout, and partly because it was the last day my relatives from Washington state were in town. Rather than being preoccupied with football, I ditched the game at halftime with the Chiefs trailing 27-0 so I could spend more time with my aunt and uncle before they flew home.

After losing to Tennessee the Chiefs fell to 3-4 on the year, and for the first (and only) time in 2021 they actually became an underdog — not only to win the AFC West, but an underdog to make the postseason at all. Loud opinions about Patrick Mahomes were being shared on your favorite hot take programs, obituaries of Andy Reid and the Chiefs were being written, and doubt for die hard fans like myself began to creep in. After the game I wrote:

Something is wrong here. I’ve tried to be philosophical about the absurdly rough beginning to the 2021 Kansas City Chiefs season up to this point, but I now find myself out of excuses and explanations. For the first time in a long time — like, way before Patrick Mahomes became quarterback — there is real possibility that this team just isn’t very good.

Then something funny happened. The Chiefs defense, which by halftime against Tennessee had surrendered 193 points in 26 total quarters — a remarkable 7.42 points per 15 minutes of game time — ended up shutting out the Titans in the second half. It was 27-0 at the half, and the final score was 27-3.

Since that game Kansas City’s defensive unit has been the star of the show and the savior of the season. Not only have the Chiefs gone undefeated since losing on that sunny afternoon in Tennessee, but the defense hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in any game. Essentially, the hands-down worst defense in the NFL became one of the best. In the 22 quarters since halftime of the Titans game the Chiefs have given up only 56 points — a paltry 2.55 per 15 minutes of game time.

To understand the turnaround propelling Kansas City from 3-4 (and in last place) to 8-4 (and in first place) is as basic as that. Defense. Being that this is the inaugural year of a 17-game NFL season I have posited various theories. The one I find most compelling is probably the simplest: that players are rationing how much physical and emotional effort they exhaust. This would seem to make sense for a team with expectations as high as the Chiefs have, given that their goal is to win championship.

It’s just a theory, and is backed up by a strong confirmation bias. They started slow, losing two of their first three games and four of their first seven. Then, facing a multi-game deficit within their own division — occupying sole possession of last place in the AFC West — they decided to turn on the switch. When they absolutely needed to.

The offense is still struggling, but I don’t know. Is it possible that they are just fucking with everyone? Is the crazy 2021 NFL season just a bunch of window dressing to set up an inevitable rematch between the Chiefs and Bucs in the Super Bowl? I ask the questions, and you decide for yourself. I’ve just been finding myself more and more willing to accept that the likeliest outcomes are oftentimes the most boring.

Of course, I’m a Chiefs fan, so that isn’t boring at all. I’ve just witnessed a five-game winning streak out of my favorite team and can’t help but feel that they have only played a clean game in, like, one of them. Is this team just bored? Are they waiting for the playoffs to start before they turn it on again?

Who knows! I definitely don’t. I just think of all the possible Super Bowl matchups, the one I would bet the most money on would be a rematch of last year. And I can already picture myself copying and pasting some of this article to remind myself that, sometimes, being boring is okay as long as it’s right.

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