The tendency is to say the Chiefs won ugly, and they did, but when that phrase is used it’s usually meant in a bad way. You got lucky. The other team was too sloppy. Something like that.
This, though, this is different. The Chiefs beat Washington 29-20 with a late field goal and a touchdown by Justin Houston on “Monday Night Football” and they absolutely did it ugly.
They absolutely deserved it, and should be proud.
Their offensive line is by now Mitchell Schwartz, Eric Fisher’s injured back, and three backups. It changed everything the Chiefs did offensively. Alex Smith didn’t have a pocket, Kareem Hunt didn’t have many holes, and Tyreek Hill didn’t have enough time to get downfield.
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The Chiefs won, anyway, because Smith scrambled to his right and kept his eyes down the field and found Albert Wilson for a 37-yard gain to set up the game-winning field goal.
They won because Andy Reid found enough short passes and tricks and second-half changes. They won because the defense held up, the offense didn’t turn it over, a little luck thrown in, and another loud prime-time crowd. They won despite a missed field goal.
This is a good team the Chiefs beat, too. Washington won its last two games, including a destruction of the Raiders last week. Its offense and defense both entered the game ranked in the top eight.
No two wins are the same, and in this way the Chiefs are even more impressive four games in. They blew out the Patriots on the road with explosive offense and pressure on Tom Brady. They came back against the Eagles with brains and guts. They choked the life out of the Chargers. And now this.
They are an imperfect team, but their record is perfect. There are disclaimers to make about this only being early October, and injuries stacking up, how long the Chiefs can survive with a weakened offensive line and so much more.
The important stuff for this group remains what’s true in January, not what’s true at the moment. But what’s true at the moment is that the Chiefs are 4-0.
One of the things you need in order to win ugly is a lot of options. Because if you’re going to win ugly, you’re probably going to need to overcome your stars not producing like stars, so here was Tyreek Hill being mostly shut down and Justin Houston having a merely good game and the Chiefs still winning.
The calibration of a football team is delicate, because when everything is balanced properly the product looks immaculate and it’s easy to forget how close they all operate to the other side.
Because for all the talk about Kareem Hunt, and the improved Alex Smith, and the healthy Justin Houston, the biggest reason for the Chiefs’ surge early this season is their ability to consistently pressure the quarterback without blitzing.
This is something like a cheat code in the NFL, because the talent is generally balanced and the tricks generally the same. If one side can pressure the quarterback while keeping seven defenders in coverage, the whole thing is out of whack, thrown off balance.
For three games, the Chiefs’ defense consistently got to the quarterback without risking blitzers.
For much of Monday night, the Chiefs’ offensive line consistently gave up pressure without facing blitzers.
Football can be a complicated sport, the details as layered as you care to explore.
But when it happens like this, the game is pretty simple.
There are reasons for all that pressure. Two in particular.
First, Washington is really good. The Rams scored just 20 points against Washington, and at least 35 in their other three games. The Raiders were essentially annihilated by Washington: 10 points, 128 yards of offense. Washington is particularly good up front. Those guys will bust up a lot of offensive lines this year.
But, also, the Chiefs are beat up. Eric Fisher is playing with a bad back, and good for him grinding through it, but the injury shows. Mitch Morse is out with a foot injury. And Laurent Duvernay-Tardif left in the first quarter with a knee injury.
All three of them are very good players. Bryan Witzmann is the only other healthy starter, but even that might be a stretch with Parker Ehinger on the roster.
Truly, the degradation of the offensive line changed virtually everything the Chiefs did on offense.
Alex Smith’s pocket collapsed early and consistently, which amplified his tendency to break clean of pockets a beat before necessary.
It meant not enough time to throw downfield to Tyreek Hill, which meant Washington’s defense could double down on the run game and shorter passes.
Travis Kelce was all the Chiefs had on offense for stretches, which isn’t going to suppress those conspiracy theories that Andy Reid gave him a one-game target suspension against the Chargers last week.
Marcus Peters had a pretty terrible night. He was in coverage on Washington’s first two touchdowns, then the TV broadcast caught him, um, talking to fans behind the Chiefs bench.
In fairness on the plays, Terrelle Pryor appeared to give a light push-off on the first touchdown, and Kirk Cousins placed the ball perfectly against decent coverage on the second touchdown.
Peters is one of the best corners in football, his reputation built on making plays in those situations.
I know many are going to be offended about what he appeared to say toward the stands, but can anyone be surprised? Peters is emotional, often good and often bad. He shouldn’t have done it, he should be more professional, but I don’t know why we care about his manners during a game.