D makes the dif­fer­ence

Chiefs’ un­der­rated de­fence shut down Colts, and they’ll be tough for even Pats to beat

Ottawa Sun - - SPORTS - DON BREN­NAN dbren­[email protected]­media.com @sun­donib

NEW OR­LEANS — The head­line on the front page of the sports sec­tion in the Kansas City Star ex­pressed the re­lief from 25 years worth of suf­fer­ing at Ar­row­head Sta­dium: “About Luck­ing Time.” But it’s much more than just the fact the Chiefs were able to fi­nally stop a six-game play­off home los­ing streak that ex­tended back to 1993, and were fi­nally able to beat the In­di­anapo­lis Colts in their fifth post­sea­son try. It’s the way they did it. With their ‘D’. No one doubted that the Chiefs would be able to put points on the board against a Colts de­fence that was Top 7 in the league. Even in the slick con­di­tions from a heavy snow­fall that caused a power out­age that left nearby neigh­bour­hoods in the dark. But their de­fence? Against a Top 7 of­fence? It shut An­drew Luck off like a light.

“Our de­fence played their tail off,” said Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, the game’s top re­ceiver. “Giv­ing up one score, late in the game, it was un­be­liev­able. When they play like that, it’s go­ing to be hard to beat us.”

Got that right. Even for the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, who hu­mil­i­ated the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers on Sun­day and will now play the Chiefs next week for the right to go to the Su­per Bowl.

It will be the first AFC cham­pi­onship game ever played at Ar­row­head. Yes, ever.

And it says here it won’t be the Chiefs last game of the sea­son.

Driven by per­haps the loud­est out­door fans in the NFL, the Chiefs are a dom­i­nant force at home, where they are 31-9 over the last five years. Ap­par­ently, they also love play­ing in their own back­yard when it snows, and early fore­casts are call­ing for more of it, plus colder tem­per­a­tures next Sun­day.

The last time the Pa­tri­ots vis­ited Ar­row­head was Sept. 29, 2014 and they were crushed 41-14. More re­cently, the Chiefs and Pa­tri­ots met once this sea­son, with New Eng­land win­ning 43-40 at Gil­lette Sta­dium.

That was back in the mid­dle of Oc­to­ber. The Chiefs have changed. Their de­fence, ranked 31st in yards al­lowed, has vastly im­proved. At Ar­row­head, it was never that bad.

While the Chiefs gave up al­most 35 points a game on the road this sea­son, the av­er­age was 18 at home. In the last two home games, they’ve sur­ren­dered just nine. Seven of Satur­day’s to­tal was on a blocked punt. They won their reg­u­lar sea­son fi­nale against Oak­land, 35-3. The Raiders are the Raiders, yes, but they did score 33 against the Chiefs a cou­ple of weeks ear­lier.

“We pro­gressed all through the sea­son,” said de­fen­sive line­man Chris Jones. “We’re peak­ing at the right mo­ment.”

Both units were go­ing against the Colts. While the of­fence scored on its first four pos­ses­sions, the de­fence sent Luck to the side­lines with three-and-outs on his first four.

That’s the same Luck who had di­rected his team to 10 wins in its pre­vi­ous 11 games. In the vic­to­ries, the Colts av­er­aged 30 points.

On Satur­day, by the time Luck and the Colts man­aged their first, first down, the Chiefs had al­ready moved the chains 18 times.

The Colts wound up with 11 pos­ses­sions. Seven ended in punts.

For most of the sea­son, the of­fence had to carry the de­fence. On Satur­day, the de­fence more than held its own. It also did some bail­ing.

After Sammy Watkins fum­bled on the K.C. 20 in the third quar­ter, the Colts were in po­si­tion to get back into the game. But on the sec­ond snap, Luck was line­backer-ed. Dee Ford strip sacked him and Justin Hous­ton re­cov­ered the ball.

For all in­tents and pur­poses, that’s when the Chiefs ticket to the AFC cham­pi­onship game was punched.

Andy Reid said never dur­ing the sea­son was there any fin­ger point­ing be­tween his of­fence and his de­fence. That might not be en­tirely true.

“We stay to­gether as a unit,” said Hous­ton. “We’re a fam­ily, so you know that there’s go­ing to be talk­ing and whis­per­ing out­side of the locker room. It doesn’t change who we are as a whole. We’re a fam­ily. We’re go­ing to stick to­gether no mat­ter what’s be­ing said or not.”

Patrick Ma­homes an­swered very pos­i­tively and em­phat­i­cally the ques­tion about how he’d per­form in his first play­off game. He didn’t throw a touch­down pass, nor did he throw and in­ter­cep­tion. (By the way, TV does not do this kid’s arm jus­tice. You have to see him whip the ball in per­son. In­cred­i­ble.)

What Ma­homes did was di­rect the Chiefs to a 24-7 first half lead.

The de­fence, and the fans, made sure the Colts would never get back in the game.

“You feed off the en­ergy these fans bring ev­ery week,” said Ma­homes. “They’re so in­tense. It re­ally is sur­real, and crazy. You feel it the mo­ment you step in this sta­dium. It’s an hon­our and truly an op­por­tu­nity that we get to play in front of these fans.”

Ma­homes mes­sage to the fans for next Sun­day — just keep bring­ing the pas­sion. That’s a safe bet. When they were leav­ing the sta­dium Satur­day night, the Chiefs didn’t know if they’d be play­ing the Charg­ers or the Pa­tri­ots.

They said it didn’t mat­ter, but then ev­ery­body says that. With them, though, it felt sin­cere.

AP

The Kansas City Chiefs’ much-ma­ligned de­fence han­dled In­di­anapo­lis Colts quar­ter­back An­drew Luck (right) and his of­fence, rated one of the league’s best.

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