KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs keep winning and Patrick Mahomes keeps making history.
Both are doing so despite some difficult offseason decisions that have prolonged their ability to do so.
The biggest, of course, was the decision to trade Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins, rather than lavish on the game-breaking wide receiver a massive contract that would have made it difficult to maneuver financially for years to come.
The Chiefs not only gained salary cap flexibility with the move, but also five draft picks that helped to fortify other areas of the roster.
That includes the defense, which is vastly improved and has helped the Chiefs squeak out wins — such as their 27-24 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday — even when their high-octane offense starts to sputter.
“When you win and you don’t play your best ball — you don’t feel like you play your best ball — that’s always a good thing,” Mahomes said afterward. “Fourth quarter, we played well. But at the end of the day we have to find a way that for four quarters we play our best football whenever we get to the playoffs, and I feel like we still haven’t done that yet.”
Yet they’ve played well enough to start the season 13-3, clinch the AFC West with plenty of time to spare, and head into their regular-season finale Saturday in Las Vegas knowing a win could give them the No. 1 seed and a postseason bye.
Not many thought the Chiefs would be in that situation when they traded Hill in the offseason.
Nor did many people think Mahomes would put up MVP-caliber numbers again.
He’s thrown for 5,048 yards to join Drew Brees and Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks with multiple seasons of at least 5,000 yards. He has 40 touchdown tosses, joining Brees as the only QBs with two seasons of 5,000 yards and 40 TD passes. And he needs 186 yards running and passing to surpass Brees for the most combined in an NFL season.
“He ended up 28 for 41, still over 100.0 passer rating and 322 yards,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after the win over the Broncos. “There were some plays that he definitely would like to have back, but that’s how picky we are, right? You start nitpicking these things, as he does. But that’s what great players do.”
The Chiefs were desperate to improve one of the league’s worst pass rushes in the offseason, so they drafted George Karlaftis in the first round and signed Carlos Dunlap in free agency. Both have been hits. Karlaftis in particular has five sacks in his past six games, and the Chiefs have 49 on the season, trailing only the Eagles, Patriots and Cowboys.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Chiefs committed two more turnovers Sunday and both were costly. Mahomes threw an interception in the end zone to keep Kansas City from extending its lead and Kadarius Toney fumbled a punt return deep in his own territory, which Russell Wilson immediately turned into a 16-yard touchdown run for the Broncos.
Jerick McKinnon’s stock continues to soar. He has eight touchdowns total in the past five games, and with two TD catches Sunday, he became the first running back since 1947 with at least one in five consecutive games.
Rookie cornerback Joshua Williams struggled in crunch time Sunday. On the drive that Denver scored to make it 27-24 with 6:14 to go, Williams was flagged twice: the first for pass interference on a third-down incompletion that kept the drive alive, and the second for illegal hands to the face when Nick Bolton had intercepted a fourth-down throw.
LG Joe Thuney, who reinjured his left ankle against the Broncos, was due for an MRI; he tried to return to the game but was soon ruled out. WR Skyy Moore also was ruled out with a laceration on the inside of his right hand.
808 — Travis Kelce had seven catches against Denver to pass Jason Witten (806) for the most receptions by an NFL tight end in his first 10 seasons. Kelce did it despite missing 15 games of his rookie season to a knee injury, too.
The Raiders-Chiefs game was one of two that the NFL moved to Saturday. That means Buffalo, which also is in the running for the No. 1 seed, will know its situation before taking the field against New England on Sunday.