The Kansas City Chiefs‘ 20-17 overtime win against the Tennessee Titans didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know about the Chiefs. But it did tell us a good deal about the Titans, a team that has gone under the radar this season while teams like the New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets earned their plaudits for punching above their weight into winning records and competitive places in their division.
Still, there’s no column for moral victories in the standings, so the ultimate takeaway — for the moment — is that the Chiefs remain inevitable, and on bad nights, they can still be terrifying.
The Kansas City Chiefs Display Overbearing Dominance Even When They Don’t
We’re close to Thanksgiving, which is when the real football season begins and has for some time. Until then, we get to see the Chiefs play cat-and-mouse with their opponents, convincing them that they have a chance to win before putting the game away at the last possible moment.
In this case, it was a bit closer than they would have liked, but a heroic series from Patrick Mahomes in the fourth quarter set up impossible-looking passes in overtime to secure a win against a rookie quarterback never meant to take starts during the season.
If this Chiefs team had no history, it would be fair to question whether or not they were the real deal or one skating by on a record of close games against opponents who just couldn’t keep up. But Mahomes and Andy Reid are beyond that, and have proven that they can turn up in big moments precisely because they can limit the number of times they need to be in big moments.
It is a testament to how different the offense is without Tyreek Hill that Mahomes had to take it upon himself in the game-tying drive, first with a 20-yard scramble on 3rd-and-17 and then with a 14-yard scramble on 3rd-and-9 for a touchdown — then another scramble to convert the two-point attempt.
The Chiefs have been trying to replace Hill without replacing him, adding a bevy of new receivers to the mix and hoping one sticks, so that Mahomes doesn’t just rely on Travis Kelce for all of his passing yardage. New addition Kadarius Toney was the first target of the game and the first target of overtime — taken away by penalty — but only logged one other target all game.
The experiment is mostly working, though a strange loss to the Colts and a close-fought loss against the Bills tells us it’s not completely smooth. Nevertheless, the Chiefs lead the league in points per drive and points per game. So the disjointed, awkward version of the Chiefs’ offense we saw in the Titans game is the one that’s scoring points in the modern NFL.
The dominance of the Chiefs here is not reminiscent of the Patriots or Colts dynasties with Tom Brady or Peyton Manning at the helm. Those offenses were methodical and efficient and could wear down defenses drive by drive like tidal movement against a stone.
Kansas City’s offense instead comes in like a tsunami in every sense of the word — water pulls back from the shore, revealing a dry basin, before crashing in with horrifying force and speed. People unfamiliar with tsunamis will often feel a false sense of security during this short drawback period, not realizing that a landscape-altering column of nature will be headed back their way.
In nature, it’s devastating and unrecoverable. On a football field, it’s demoralizing.
The Tennessee Titans Are More Than a Foil for the Chiefs – They Are Their Opposites
The Titans, however, are not like naïve tourists visiting a beach for the first time. They’ve seen this Chiefs team and have built its antithesis. Tennessee’s built a team around old-school NFL philosophies and have eschewed the explosive highlights of dynamic, wide-open passing offenses.
Instead, they’ve built their team around players that don’t draw the kind of limelight that Mahomes and Kelce do.
To this end, the Titans have put together an all-underrated pair of offseasons – signing an underrated group of players like Denico Autry, Robert Woods, and Austin Hooper, as well as drafting a crop of underrated players, such as Malik Willis, Kyle Phillips, and Chigoziem Okonkwo. underrated Denico Autry, underrated Robert Woods, underrated Austin Hooper and drafting a crop of underrated players, like Malik Willis, Kyle Philips, and Chigoziem Okonkwo.
Willis started this game against the Chiefs but was filling in for Ryan Tannehill, who had revived his career after flaming out in Miami.
That’s not to say Tennessee doesn’t have star power. Derrick Henry is his own force of nature and has his own royal nickname to push back against the too-often-crowned Chiefs; his Twitter handle is King Henry.
But the ethos of the Titans runs counter to the explosive and inconsistent style of their opponent. And it works. As commentator Cris Collinsworth said during the game, “styles make fights,” and no one wanted a fight more than Titans head coach Mike Vrabel.
As the Titans worked to ground down the Chiefs, it almost looked like it worked, and Tennessee had the lead for most of the game. That’s the trap the Chiefs always lay, but the Titans were aware of it and nearly beat it. As a dry run for a playoff matchup, it almost couldn’t have gone better — a coin flip might have given them the win.
The Titans have pushed their way to 5-3 without the recognition that other winning teams have had, and to some extent, that’s fair. Their wins have come against the Raiders, Colts, Commanders, and Texans. Tennessee’s also lost to every winning team they’ve played.
If they want a rematch to happen and for it to go well, they can’t play like they did against the Bills – a 41-7 loss that would have gone far worse if both teams hadn’t substituted their starting quarterbacks near the end of the third quarter to put together a scoreless fourth quarter.
But the Titans can play like this, so long as they get a little bit more out of a passing game that only saw five completions all night. That’s somewhat expected, however, given that they were forced to play a developmental rookie prospect who was meant to sit all season before ever challenging for a starting job. Should Tennessee have Tannehill back for the playoffs, we could see a much more interesting game.
Ultimately, this game proved that the Chiefs were still the Chiefs, even if it’s a scarecrow version of the Kansas City team we’re used to. And the Titans are everything the Chiefs are not, which could be enough to upset them in the playoffs.