In one corner of a jubilant Chiefs locker room, after a conversation declaring quarterback Patrick Mahomes the greatest to ever play the position, linebacker Anthony Hitchens remarked, “But we have to do our part, and, honestly, we’re not right now.”
In the middle of the room, the most productive tight end in football spoke of accountability and the need for improvement. “As a man, you have to look at how you played and (decide) how you can make it better.”
In another corner, one of the league’s highest-paid safeties turned to a teammate and said, “On a lot of other teams, we would’ve lost that game.”
The Chiefs are 4-0 after Sunday’s 34-30 win at Ford Field in Detroit, and they did almost nothing right for 58 minutes. Almost nothing positive to say, save one heads-up play from cornerback Bashaud Breeland.
They trailed by 10 after a quarter.
They fumbled away the football three times in a span of 10 minutes.
They allowed 6.1 yards per play.
Mahomes didn’t throw for a touchdown for the first time in 346 days.
It’s not that the Chiefs weren’t at their best Sunday. They were nearly at their worst.
And still, they boarded a chartered flight home unbeaten, having secured a road victory against a team that had not yet lost a football game in 2019.
“It ultimately says a lot about our team,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I’ve been on teams where if we don’t start the right away, we don’t necessarily finish the right away.”
It’s becoming more and more clear that the number of teams capable of beating the Chiefs at their best is dwindling.
But the Lions, with deserved credit for it, found the Chiefs at the opposite end of the spectrum. And you could argue they even took advantage of it — Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 291 yards and three touchdowns without an interception; Kerryon Johnson rushed for 125 yards after entering the day averaging fewer than 3 yards per carry.
After feeling fortunate to enter halftime tied, the Chiefs fumbled the opening second-half kickoff.
Then they fumbled on the ensuing drive.
Survived that, too.
Then they fumbled away a third straight offensive possession.
“This offense had never played like that,” Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins said. “We were all looking at each other like, ‘What the freak is going on?’”
The defense allowed the Lions only seven points from those three turnovers. Just enough to keep the offense in it.
Just enough to somehow, someway preserve one final shot for Mahomes.
Mahomes was hurried often Sunday. He misfired several passes. His 81.0 quarterback rating ranks as the third worst game of his career. None of it mattered on the final drive, with one leading character utilizing all of his supporting cast.
“In this league, it’s not always going to be pretty. It’s not always going to be 50 points and three-touchdown wins,” Mahomes said. “You have to find a way to win these games against great teams. And so for us, we know that this win of not playing our best football and finding a way to win is going to help us tremendously as we get to the end of the season.”
As Mathieu pointed out, the circumstances would produce a loss on his past teams. It certainly would for most current teams, too.
Maybe all but one.
It’s the kind of game the Chiefs did lose last year — these back-and-forth, mistake-prone games supplied all four of their losses, each made more agonizing by a one-score outcome.
For 58 minutes Sunday, the Lions were in position to supply the Chiefs their first such loss of 2019.
“We didn’t play our best, but we found a way to win there at the end of the football game,” tight end Travis Kelce said. “That builds confidence if we ever get put in that situation again.”