The Chiefs are in.
It’s now just about where they fall into place.
The Chiefs clinched a sixth straight AFC West championship — and the playoff spot that comes with it — with a resounding 36-10 win against the Steelers on Sunday afternoon.
Wait, let’s add some detail: The Chiefs, playing without eight players who were on the COVID-19 list in the week leading up to the game, including star tight end Travis Kelce, had no problem dispatching a Steelers team fighting for its playoff life.
The upshot guarantees at least one playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium in January, and it preserves the Chiefs’ place as the No. 1 seed in the AFC with two weeks to play.
Patrick Mahomes has never played a road playoff game. Might not have to this year, either.
Speaking of that Mahomes guy, he’ll lead us off this week in the five observations from the game:
1. Patrick Mahomes with all the momentum
Twelve days ago, Patrick Mahomes received a question about the concept of momentum in the NFL. More specifically, can it carry over from week to week?
“Yeah, it can,” he replied, “if you use it the right way.”
This would qualify, yeah?
A week after his by-whatever-means-necessary finish to the overtime win in Los Angeles, Mahomes didn’t skip a beat. He was hot from the jump, and a couple of his first-half throws will be part of his season-ending highlight reel.
He squeezed a sidearm throw to Byron Pringle in the back of the end zone. He found Derrick Gore — of all people — after a creative scramble to the right side, on a reception that went for 50.
He put the entire offense in play on a day in which the Chiefs had to reach deeper into their depth chart than most weeks. The Chiefs had five drives in the first half — all five advanced inside the Steelers’ 30-yard line.
2. Peaking at right time
It’s not just Mahomes. It’s not just the offense, either.
The defense’s mid-season about-face continued yet another week. Were you ever concerned the Steelers could put together a couple of drives and get back in the game? Based on what evidence?
The Steelers never threatened. To be sure, their offense is a far cry from when No. 7 was in his heyday. But the Chiefs deserve some credit here, too.
The first time the Steelers had the football, the Chiefs rushed just four on third down. Frank Clark flushed Ben Roethlisberger to his left. Jarran Reed greeted him there, so Roethlisberger moved once again. Clark weaved back and tackled him for a sack. Punt.
The second time the Steelers had the football, Roethlisberger flipped a pass that almost looked as though it hit his intended target — Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward, who was happy to oblige and pull down the interception, needing only one hand as he fell to the ground.
3. Oh, yeah, they were shorthanded, too
The Chiefs had eight players unavailable after they landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list last week — some more critical than others. Most notably, they played without tight end Travis Kelce, who entered the week leading all NFL tight ends in receiving.
Who would fill his shoes? Well, how about everyone?
The Chiefs offered his snaps to a combination of Noah Gray and Blake Bell, but Mahomes didn’t simply send Kelce’s targets their way. Instead, he spread the work — nine teammates caught a pass in the first half alone. Seven caught at least two passes.
But no one took more advantage than Pringle. He caught six passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
4. Some unlikely scores
The Chiefs were really good on their first-half drives, but their paths to the end zone were quite unconventional.
On their first touchdown, Steelers linebacker Robert Spillane burst through a gap and drilled running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Didn’t wrap up, though.
Edwards-Helaire somehow managed to keep his feet, and he coasted around the edge into the end zone. The play had only a 17% chance of concluding in a touchdown, per Next Gen Stats.
On their next ensuing possession, Mahomes fired that sidearm pass to Pringle, but only after he had more than seven seconds to observe the secondary. His left tackle, Orlando Brown, served as his primary bodyguard, locking down defensive tackle Cameron Heyward for the duration.
5. Those opening drives … still a thing of beauty
That opening script.
The Chiefs’ offense hasn’t been at its usual steamrolling best at times this season, but that hasn’t affected their opening drives a bit.
They scored an opening-drive touchdown for the eighth time this season — more than any other team in the NFL.
All it took? More than eight minutes. The Chiefs drove 73 yards on 14 plays, completing passes to five receivers, converting a fourth down and leaving it to their shortest player to absorb the biggest hit and keep on moving.