Sam Mellinger

Chiefs 40, Raiders 33: Insta-reaction!

Andy Reid on win over Raiders in first game without Kareem Hunt

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid answered a few questions about the release of running back Kareem Hunt following the team's 40-33 win against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018.
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Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid answered a few questions about the release of running back Kareem Hunt following the team's 40-33 win against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018.

This is one of those good problems: the Chiefs offense was a little awry at times and still managed 19 points in the first half, 40 total, and more than 450 yards.

There are Chiefs fans who are not yet old enough to drive but still plenty old enough to remember that being the most prolific performance of a season.

But the goal of some of those teams — looking at you, 2012 — was to avoid abject embarrassment. The goal of this team is to win the Super Bowl.

You can be happy if your toddler doesn’t pee their pants. You expect more out of your spouse.

So it is that the Chiefs beat the Raiders 40-33 here on Sunday and the question is, basically: they’re better than THAT, right?

The answer — of course they are.

They’ve proven that over the previous 11 games, even the two losses, so if a sluggish performance means a seven-point win on the road then you should probably stop bragging about how awesome your problems are.

This is worth a slight pause, though, because what they’ve proven so far is irrelevant when compared with what they still have to prove. The Chiefs are beyond the point where 10 win seasons and division championships feel like anything other than a setup.

And, most obviously, Kareem Hunt’s release means the Chiefs are in the unusual spot of needing to reestablish who they are or find a new specific identity altogether.

Because running backs are notoriously replaceable, and Spencer Ware is better than some starting backs in the league, but Hunt was a central part of what the Chiefs did. He was a threat on every snap, perfect for their screen game, and explosive to the point of forcing additional pressure on defenses already stretched by Tyreek Hill’s speed, Travis Kelce’s talent, and Patrick Mahomes’ creativity.

That part of the Chiefs is dead now. Ware runs as tough as Hunt, and is his equal between the tackles. But he’s a significant step down as a target in the passing game, and much less likely to miss or run through (or jump over) tackles as a ball carrier.

The same way that Hunt’s ability helped make the whole greater than the sum of the parts, his absence pulls the offense a little closer to normal. Margins for error are diminished, options fewer. The standard for execution has risen.

The truth is the Chiefs can play their C-minus game and beat the Raiders, who are a mess both on and off the field. But that’s not the point, and hasn’t been since Mahomes showed he’s progressing so much faster than any reasonable person would have expected.

The Chiefs went through a traumatic football experience this week. Hunt practiced all week, and was presumably a central part of the gameplan. Then the TMZ video dropped, and he’s released some 36 hours before kickoff. Strategically and emotionally, that’s a lot to digest.

Something less than optimal performance is forgiven.

They have the rest of the regular season to prepare or the games that will determine how far a shocking loss of a star player set this team back.

*Chris Jones and Allen Bailey continue to be dominant inside. I don’t have much to add right now, and won’t because the conversation is dominated by the Chiefs’ new life after Kareem Hunt. But it’s worth pointing out. Defense has been much better lately, and neither you nor me have the time to go through why I still say that after the Rams game. But, if you are interested, we got into this in the Minutes.

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Sam Mellinger

Sam Mellinger is a Kansas City Star sports columnist.

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