Things went the Chiefs’ way on Sunday. In fact, it probably couldn’t have gone better except for the likely season-ending injury to Juan Thornhill. Everything else went as good as we could have hoped. The Chiefs earned a bye and will now get a week to rest up before they host a conference semifinal game. The Jayhawks and Wildcats won their basketball games on Sunday.
Here is your daily Dr. Feelgood…
CHIEFS BEAT CHARGERS 31-21:
The Kansas City Chiefs entered Sunday needing a win to secure the #3 seed in the AFC playoffs. The #2 seed seemed unlikely as the Chiefs would need Miami to win on the road in New England. And if things went bad and the Chiefs lost then they could fall to the #4 seed with a Houston win.
As the Chiefs game progressed we kept an eye on New England. Every time there was a score in the Chiefs game there seemed to be a score in New England within minutes. Things at times looked very promising only to have everything fall apart within minutes. It was back and forth in both games.
Kansas City took control of its game with 2:46 remaining when Damien Williams rushed seven yards for his second touchdown of the game to give the Chiefs a 31-21 lead. The touchdown was exciting but it appeared as if it wouldn’t help in the battle for a bye since the Patriots marched down the field on Miami and scored a touchdown to go up 4 points with just 3:53 remaining in the game. But to everyone’s surprise, Miami went on a 13 play, 75-yard drive of its own that finished with a Ryan Fitzpatrick touchdown pass with just 24 seconds remaining to give the Dolphins a 27-24 win and the Chiefs the #2 seed in the playoffs and a bye next weekend.
With all of the good news for the Chiefs on Sunday, there was one really bad piece of news. Rookie safety Juan Thornhill injured his knee in the first half and missed the rest of the game. The Chiefs think that it is a serious injury that will cause him to miss the rest of the season. Thornhill will have an MRI on the knee on Monday.
The game began with a scary start as both Thornhill and Bashaud Breeland left the field within a matter of minutes. Fortunately, Breeland’s issue seemed to just be an illness. As long as it doesn’t spread throughout the team everything should be fine.
This wasn’t the greatest statistical day for Patrick Mahomes. He was 16-for-25 passing for just 174 yards. He had one touchdown and a bad interception. After the game, Tyreek Hill took the blame for the interception saying he ran a bad route.
The Chargers’ defense made it tough for the Chiefs to throw very far down the field. That defense also seemed to throw off the Chiefs in short routes as well. We saw Mahomes and his receivers read the defense differently on multiple occasions.
But there were good plays as well. Mahomes found Mecole Hardman for a 30-yard reception on a play where Hartman was hit as he caught the ball but was able to hold on to it. It was a big play to get the Chiefs some yards when they were struggling to move it.
Demarcus Robinson scored the Chiefs’ first touchdown on a 24-yard reception from Patrick Mahomes with 2:16 left in the first half. The score gave the Chiefs a 10-7 lead. Robinson ran a beautiful double move route that left his defender lost and he became wide open and Mahomes made a perfect pass to him in the end zone for the score.
Every week I talk about Tyrann Mathieu in a column and on the podcast. I have been impressed with him since the first week. Early in the season people were down on Mathieu when the defense was struggling. But if you watched Mathieu and listened to him in interviews it was hard to not be impressed.
In this game, Mathieu came up big again. Near the end of the first half, Philip Rivers tried to throw the ball to the corner of the end zone only to have Mathieu rise up above the receiver for an interception in what was a huge play in the game to preserve a 10-7 Chiefs lead entering halftime.
It looked like it was a matter of time before he was in control of this defense. I won’t say I saw the Chiefs’ defense becoming as good as it has turned out to be but Mathieu and Frank Clark are good players. People were all over Clark early in the season. You could see that he was giving 100% effort even though the numbers weren’t there. We learned later in the season that he had been dealing with problems that were the result of a procedure performed years ago. He got control of the problem and shined later in the season. It wasn’t just him feeling better though. It was the defense learning and understanding Steve Spagnuolo’s strategy.
It might have taken longer than expected to see the results of all the changes on defense, but the changes became clear starting with the November 18 game in Mexico against the Chargers. The defense continued to improve after that.
The Chargers wouldn’t give up in this game. They took the lead on a Melvin Gordon 5-yard run less than two minutes into the second half. A Patrick Mahomes interception set the Chargers up with a short field and they capitalized.
But immediately after the Chargers took back the lead, Mecole Hardman made one of the biggest plays of the game. Hardman returned the ensuing kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown and in no time the Chiefs were back on top.
Even with everything good that I already mentioned, I have yet to mentioned the offensive star of the game. That was running back Damien Williams. Williams ran for 124 yards on just 12 carries and had two touchdowns.
After Hardman’s kickoff return for a touchdown, the Chargers took 6:17 to run ten plays and gain just 23 yards. On the Chiefs’ first play after the Chargers’ punt, Damien Williams broke three attempted tackles and went 84 yards for a touchdown. That stretched the lead back out to ten points.
But the lead would be cut once again. The Chargers eventually cut the lead to 24-21 with 7:11 left in the game. The Chiefs offense responded once again. They went 77 yards on eight plays and used just 2:46. The drive ended in Damien Williams’ second rushing touchdown of the game. It was a seven-yard run. That came with 2:37 left in the game and it essentially won the game for the Chiefs.
That’s when things went crazy in New England and then in Arrowhead. The fans let the Chiefs know that good things were happening in the northeast and word quickly spread to the team exactly what had happened.
So the Chiefs struggled offensively for the most part but give the Chargers credit for that. But the offense still found a way to put up 31 points. The defense lost a rookie safety who has been playing really well this season but still played tough. The Chiefs won. The Patriots lost. And Patrick Mahomes can go to church next Sunday.
IN THE NEWS:
The AFC playoff picture cleared up Sunday since there is no Monday Night Football game on the last week of the season.
The Baltimore Ravens had already locked up the #1 seed so this week’s game meant nothing to them.
The New England Patriots loss and Chiefs win puts the Chiefs in the #2 seed and the Patriots in the #3 seed. So, Baltimore and Kansas City get the bye.
With Kansas City’s win, the last game was meaningless for Houston. They were locked into the #4 seed.
Buffalo was locked into the #5 seed entering the weekend.
The last spot up for grabs was the #6 seed. Tennessee, Pittsburgh, and Oakland all had a shot at this spot entering the day but it was the Titans’ spot to lose. If they beat Houston they would be in the playoffs and the other two would be eliminated. And that’s what happened. With Houston resting a lot of its regulars, the Titans took advantage and won in Houston to lock up the #6 seed.
The NFC playoff picture was also finalized on Sunday after the night game. The only battle to make the playoffs was between Philadelphia and Dallas. Dallas had to win and needed an Eagles loss to win the division and make the playoffs. Anything else and the Eagles would win the division. The team that didn’t win the division would go home and not even make the playoffs. Well, Philadelphia eventually pulled away from the New York Giants in the fourth quarter to win the game and the NFC East.
The seeding at the top of the NFC went down to the Sunday Night Football game. The Green Bay Packers had a shot at the top spot in the conference but would need a win and a San Francisco loss in Seattle. Unfortunately for Green Bay, San Francisco held on to beat Seattle 26-21.
The San Francisco win gives them the #1 seed. Green Bay gets the #2 seed. New Orleans is the #3 seed. The Philadelphia Eagles squeaked into the playoffs as the NFC East winner and they get the #4 seed. The Wild Card teams are Seattle (#5) and Minnesota (#6).
Kansas defeated Stanford 72-56 in a game they controlled from the opening tip. Neither team shot well in the first half. Stanford didn’t make its first field goal until just under eight minutes into the game. The Kansas defense was terrific in the first half.
Kansas held Stanford to 38% shooting in the game and 30% from behind the arc. The Jayhawks outrebounded the Cardinal 44-25.
The Kansas big men, particularly Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack, struggled mightily with the Stanford defense collapsing on them when the ball went inside. They weren’t quick to make a move to the basket or to pass the ball. The ball stuck down there and made it difficult on the Kansas offense. Azubuike and McCormack combined for two points on 1-for-3 shooting and eight turnovers. At least Azubuike worked hard on the boards. He pulled down 13 rebounds.
Christian Braun got 19 minutes after his strong game at Villanova. He went 3-for-6 from the field, including 3-for-4 from behind the arc, for nine points.
Isaiah Moss was hot from the outside. He was 4-for-7 from behind the arc for 17 points. Without his hot hand, this game would have been much closer.
About twenty minutes into the flight on their way back to Lawrence, the plane the Jayhawks were flying on lost an engine. The plane was re-routed to San Jose and landed about 20 minutes later. The team stayed in San Jose Sunday night and will return to Lawrence as soon as they can make plans to do so.
Kansas State defeated Tulsa 69-67 in the rare late-game finish for the Wildcats. Cartier Diarra and Xavier Sneed carried the team in this one.
The Wildcats started off cold shooting the ball against the Tulsa zone but eventually warmed up. They changed a 13 point deficit to a 6 point lead at the half by hitting three-point shots.
Diarra scored 25 points on 8-for-16 shooting from the field including 6-for-11 from behind the arc. He also had seven assists, five rebounds, and four turnovers.
Xavier Sneed scored 18 points on 6-for-15 shooting, six rebounds, four steals, and two blocked shots.
This was the best win for the Wildcats so far this season. That’s not saying much but it was good for the team to stop its two-game slide before starting Big 12 play on Saturday at Oklahoma.
The Cleveland Browns fired Freddie Kitchens after just one season. There are reports that GM John Dorsey’s job might not be safe either.
The Washington Redskins appear close to hiring Ron Rivera as their next head coach.
WHAT I’M WATCHING: There are four bowl games today. I will catch what I can but this will be another day to spend with the family. The holidays will be gone soon so enjoy it while you can.
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