The Chiefs’ remarkable 27-23 triumph over the Denver Broncos on Monday night will be remembered for the heroics of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, including a first-down completion thrown with his left hand to keep alive the game-winning drive.
But unlike previous victories, the Chiefs rode the toughness of running back Kareem Hunt and offensive line play to establish the game’s tone.
Hunt had his best game of the season with 121 rushing yards — surpassing 100 for the first time this fall — while adding three receptions for 54 yards.
He also scored the game winner on a 4-yard run with 1:43 remaining.
Hunt, the NFL’s rushing leader as a rookie last season, had gained 168 yards on 3.2 yards per carry in the first three games. No matter to him, the Chiefs won them all.
But they faced a rugged task on Monday, visiting the defensive-minded Broncos in a stadium that gets so loud it shakes.
“I felt like my job tonight was to take some pressure off Pat,” Hunt said. “They’ve been keying on him. So, it was my time to step up and take the load off Pat.”
The Chiefs leaned on Hunt from the outset. On the first offensive series, the Chiefs picked up nine yards to their 34. An obvious punting situation had arrived.
Instead, Andy Reid sent his offense on the field, had Mahomes stick the ball in Hunt’s basket, and the 2-yard gain was enough to keep alive a drive that ended in a field goal.
“It proved (Reid) trusts us and the offense,” Hunt said. “We have players who can go up there and get 1 yard.”
Or yards in chunks. Hunt did that as well.
He turned a play action reception into a 27-yard gain with an emphatic ending by bulldozing over safety Justin Simmons for an additional few yards.
He came up big again as a receiver on a fourth-and-1 that resulted in a 22-yard gain. That play occurred early in the fourth quarter with the Chiefs trailing 23-13.
“It was good to see where we’re at mentally and be able to fight back and come back in the fourth quarter down 10 points,” Hunt said. “It shows a team that’s is not going to give up.”
His longest play occurred in the second quarter and was reminiscent of last season. Good blocking got Hunt a few yards, then he hit a burst along the Broncos’ sideline, somehow stayed inbounds and was finally caught after a 45-yard gain.
Before Monday, Hunt’s long run of the season was 16 yards.
Several times, Hunt powered into the pile, kept his legs churning and with the push of his line moved forward for four or five yards. That hadn’t happened much this season.
Hunt thundered into last season with a huge opening game at New England and topped 100 rushing yards in four of his first five games, including a 172-yard effort against the Chargers.
He went on to become the first Chiefs’player to lead the NFL in rushing since Priest Holmes in 2001.
It took a while this season, but on Monday night, Hunt had one of those games, contributing in several ways and setting the tone for a victory.