The only question that matters, at least as much as any question in week three of 17 can matter, is how much of this was the Chiefs doing what many thought they couldn’t, and how much was Ryan Fitzpatrick doing what many always expect.
Because this was a tail-whipping, the kind of repetitive lunch-snatching that is incredibly rare at the highest level of football.
We thought the Chiefs’ offense would have to outscore folks this season, but instead they just took their light pass rush and inexperienced secondary on a rampage through the Jets’ offense in a 24-3 win Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Heck, outscore folks? The Chiefs’ defense actually outscored the Jets.
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“That was cool, man,” Chiefs safety Eric Berry said. “I think the guys are starting to see: when we practice like that, it starts to translate on Sundays.”
This was something new, then: a Chiefs team with Super Bowl hopes playing championship-level defense.
The Chiefs are guarded enough to decline many specifics on what they did defensively. The game will be analyzed over and over in the coming days for clues, but whatever the specifics, it’s worth noting the coaches thought enough of their chances that they emphasized blocking well after interceptions.
We’d seen the Chiefs stall in the first half only to complete the biggest comeback in franchise history, and we’d seen them stall in all four quarters, losing to a team that was just blown out by the Patriots and their third-string quarterback.
It is a mixed bag of whatever point you want to make, and to some extent this one is too. Maybe you think the Jets are a fraud, and that Fitzpatrick is a buffoon, and that the Chiefs’ offense has now played roughly three good quarters (plus an overtime) out of 12. Jets coach Todd Bowles called it “an ass kicking,” and used a higher level of curse word six different times in his postgame press conference.
That’s true, and so is this: the Jets scored 59 points in their first two games (more than the Eagles, Broncos, and Colts, among others), have one of the league’s best group of receivers, and had not scored fewer than 17 points since the current coaches arrived last year.
Fitzpatrick is one of the league’s most willing and effective deep passers, and the Chiefs don’t have the kind of pass rush to make him throw quickly. Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Quincy Enunwa headline a terrific receiver group, and since the moment Sean Smith signed with the Raiders in March we’ve been wondering about the Chiefs’ cornerbacks behind Marcus Peters.
This, then, was as emphatic an answer as could be made: the Chiefs held the Jets to just 4.3 yards per pass attempt, and intercepted Fitzpatrick six times, including three in the end zone.
No quarterback had thrown six interceptions in a game since 2007, and if we’re talking about the coverage here, no team has had six interceptions without even a single sack since 1986. No quarterback this century had a passer rating as bad as Fitzpatrick’s (18.2) while attempting as many passes (44). The Chiefs’ defense deserves some credit here.
It was the type of game nobody was sure this team was capable of, particularly without Justin Houston: the defense driving a blowout win against a good offense.
“We executed the game plan to a ‘T,’” said Peters, who had two of the interceptions. “You feel me? We dotted our ‘I’s,’ and crossed our ‘T’s,’ and we let our pass rush get there, and played underneath and we let our safeties play over the top and we made plays.”
That was, basically, the same thing everyone on defense said. They kept talking about the game plan. The game plan, the game plan, the game plan. It had the feel of something more than typical cliches, in part because of how a few smirked when they were asked specifics.
“That’s in-house,” said cornerback Phillip Gaines. “That’s in-house. We’re going to keep that to ourselves.”
At least part of it may be a simplification of blitz schemes, gap assignments, and coverages. There had been moments when Chiefs defenders may have played hero ball on certain snaps, abandoning their basic assignment for a chance at a bigger play.
At least at first look, there was very little of that against the Jets. Few missed tackles, few open spaces, few (if any) blown coverages.
“Team defense,” nose tackle Dontari Poe said. “We feel like if we play team defense, and we’re on our p’s and q’s, we’ll be good. I feel like the only way we lose is if we beat ourselves.”
The Jets, of course, see this differently. Brandon Marshall called it “embarrassing,” and the questions about Fitzpatrick’s job security started around halftime. No quarterback will ever throw six interceptions without making mistakes, but the Chiefs had their hand in this.
The first interception: the defensive line and a blitz collapsed the pocket, forcing Fitzpatrick to throw off his back foot, giving Peters an extra moment to be stronger to the ball.
The second: Fitzpatrick forced it, but Derrick Johnson made a quick read, deflected the ball, and Berry was there for the pick.
The third: Tamba Hali busted the play with pressure, Fitzpatrick stepped into chaos, and forced a ball that Steven Nelson deflected and Peters intercepted.
Fourth: Fitzpatrick overthrew Marshall (it’s worth noting that the Jets had essentially quit by this point) and Daniel Sorensen made a nice read and interception.
Fifth: Looked like a miscommunication between Fitzpatrick and Matt Forte that Johnson again made a strong read on and returned for a pick-six.
Sixth: D.J. White made a strong play against Marshall on an underthrown pass to the end zone.
So, with the context of no perfect pass ever being intercepted, and giving credit for the Chiefs’ defenders making plays, the defense deserves credit for most of this. Just a week ago, also on the road, Fitzpatrick completed 24 of 34 passes for 374 yards, one touchdown and, notably, no interceptions.
Going into this week’s games, over the last five seasons, Fitzpatrick’s interception rate was better than Eli Manning and Andy Dalton, and worse than Joe Flacco and Tony Romo. Not far from the middle of the pack. The Chiefs weren’t beating up on Geno Smith, is the point.
The NFL season is far too long to make grand statements based on one game, particularly one game in September. The Chiefs, fresh off a 1-5 start last season that turned into a playoff victory, know this better than most.
But they also just made their young season’s strongest case as a real contender, by overwhelming a prolific offense, with a pass defense many thought might be holding them back.