The Dallas Cowboys expected hat their Sunday showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs would turn into a shootout. What they got instead was a beat down.
The Chiefs’ ongoing revival has not been as much about their still struggling offense as it has their suddenly dominating defense. Defense is not often what you think of when you ponder an Andy Reid-coached team, but the Chiefs’ four-game winning streak that continued Sunday with a 19-9 victory over Dallas has been a direct result of Steve Spagnuolo’s transformative work with a defense that seemed to be in tatters early in the season.
In the Chiefs’ first five games, Kansas City’s defense allowed an average of 32.6 points per game, a number no offense could long survive even if performing efficiently, which the Chiefs’ unit was not. The result was a 2-3 start and a lot of questions asked about the future of the two-time Super Bowl finalists.
But since that point, Kansas City has gone 5-1 primarily because its defense has suddenly stiffened, allowing only 14.5 points per game as Spagnuolo began to attack with a revived pass rush and a secondary that benefitted greatly from the pressure its front put on opposing quarterbacks.
Sunday was a case in point.
Dallas was held without a touchdown largely because the Cowboys’ running game stalled, and quarterback Dak Prescott was under constant pressure. Prescott was sacked five times, harassed all day and forced into two interceptions and a fumble.
The Cowboys were inside the Chiefs’ 30 five times but failed to score a touchdown because there was no place to run and nowhere for Prescott to hide. In the end, Dallas punted six times, ended three drives with turnovers and made three field goals. They were made to look, in a word, inept despite being the number-one scoring offense in the NFL coming into the game.
Prescott’s chief harasser was defensive lineman Chris Jones, who sacked him 3 ½ times, recovered his fumble after Prescott was rocked by Frank Clark and tipped Prescott’s final pass, leading to a game-clinching interception.
It was the second straight week where the Chiefs’ defense dominated a challenging offense, having shut down Derek Carr and the Raiders a week earlier. In that game, Kansas City allowed only 14 points in a blowout victory, limiting Carr to 206 passing yards, no touchdown passes and an interception. Thus, against Carr and Prescott, Spagnuolo concocted plans that held them to no touchdown passes, three interceptions and an average of 211 passing yards.
To say the Chiefs have gone from docile to dominant defensively is exactly the point, and if that continues they could well find themselves back in the Super Bowl for the third straight season. It would have been blasphemous to have suggested such a thing a month into the season when their offense was turnover prone and their defense a sieve. But while the offense struggled again Sunday with mistakes and undisciplined penalties against an equally stout Cowboys’ defense, its defense picked up the slack and dominated an opponent who had scored at least two touchdowns in every game this season.
If the Chiefs can maintain this level of defensive dominance at the line of scrimmage and begin to get more consistency and reliability out of its offense they will be what they’ve been the last few seasons: A tough out.
SUNDAY SCHOOL: 5 THINGS I THINK I LEARNED
1. The Bills aren’t ready for prime time yet and neither is Josh Allen. The Bills were the fashionable pre-season pick of many to get to the Super Bowl. But after being taken apart at home by the Colts Sunday, Buffalo is reeling. The Bills started off 4-1 but are 2-3 in their last five games, and Allen has thrown five picks in the last three, two of them for losses. They have now lost the lead in the AFC East by a half-game to the surprising New England Patriots and face them in a showdown in two weeks when they appear to be two teams going in opposite directions.
2. Don’t sleep on the Colts. Indianapolis has emerged as a legitimate AFC threat having won five of its last six with its only loss an overtime one against the Titans. Indy has a powerful runner in Jonathan Taylor, and his rise has greatly aided quarterback Carson Wentz. With less pressure to carry the offense, Wentz hasn’t thrown an interception in eight of his last nine games. No wonder. Wentz only had to throw 20 times Sunday for 106 yards because Taylor and a ball-hawking defense did the heavy lifting. That defense forced four turnovers to take over the league lead in takeaways with 25 in defense’s most crucial category.
3. THEY’RE BAAAACCCK. No one really thought the New England Patriots were going anywhere this season despite having invested $175 million in guaranteed money on an influx of free agent talent. Led by rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who was the fifth quarterback drafted in April, expectations were low. But today Bill Belichick finds his team atop the AFC East by a half-game, and his genius reputation resurrected after a one-year hiatus. In two weeks he’ll face Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen, whom he privately grumbled is less than some think he is. The Patriots haven’t won anything yet, but thanks to the Bills’ poor performance Sunday and the Patriots five-game winning streak the football world is trembling that the road to the Super Bowl may again lead through Foxboro in January.
4. NFL crackdown on taunting continues. It’s never good to point fingers at a teammate, but as the Chiefs’ Clyde Edwards-Helaire found out Sunday the NFL isn’t going to tolerate even a single digit pointed in an opponent’s direction these days. Edwards-Helaire was healthy and on the field for the first time in five games, so one can understand his exuberance when he skirted the edge of the Cowboys’ defense for a one-yard TD run just before halftime. But when he pointed at one late-arriving Cowboy defender for a moment the officials hit him with a taunting penalty. It seemed like a case of overzealous zebras but didn’t seem to bother his teammates, who gathered around him on the sidelines in a dancing celebration. One assumes it was for the score and not the finger wagging but you never know.
5. There’s no QB controversy in Motown…yet. Any thoughts that there might be a brewing quarterback controversy with the Lions struggling and Jared Goff injured and performing poorly ended quickly yesterday. Replacement Tim Boyle passed for only 77 yards and threw two interceptions in a 13-10 loss to the slipping Cleveland Browns.
THIRD AND 10
1. The Vikings figured out how to get young receiver Justin Jefferson free from double coverage Sunday. The second-year receiver caught eight passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns against Green Bay’s vaunted pass defense and was already at 100 yards receiving at the end of the first quarter. Teams keep bracketing him with several defenders, but the Vikings answered Sunday by at times lining him up in the backfield. From that position he ran a shallow route across the middle in the first quarter and got open for a touchdown catch. Add another 37-yard pass interference he drew in the first half and Jefferson accounted for 206 air yards.
2. All week they kept talking in Carolina about the return of their old quarterback for a homecoming, but turns out it wasn’t Cam Newton they were talking about. It was the Washington Redskins’ Taylor Heinecke. Newton was back under center at Bank of America Stadium for the first time since 2019, but he couldn’t quite reprise his MVP performances of the past. Newton did throw for two touchdowns and run for a third, but he had two shots to win the game in the final few minutes and couldn’t deliver. Meanwhile, Heinecke, who backed up Newton in Carolina in 2018, led Washington to a 27-21 victory, throwing for 206 yards and three touchdowns to create his own homecoming event at the expense of Carolina’s No. 2-ranked pass defense.
3. The Minnesota Vikings may hate to see Devante Adams more than they do Aaron Rodgers. Minnesota survived Rodgers’ four-touchdown pass performance yesterday in a last-second 34-31 win at home, but they had no answers for Adams. The Packers explosive wide receiver had two touchdown catches, giving him a remarkable five in his last two games against Minnesota and 12 in his career against them. One of them Sunday came despite Rodgers trying to call timeout as the ball was snapped. Figuring why not, he threw it in Adams’ direction for an 18-yard score on third-and-6.
4. The Eagles may have found a winning formula in ground-and-pound football. Philadelphia rushed for 242 yards against the New Orleans’ Saints’ No. 1-ranked run defense Sunday for a 40-29 victory. It was the fourth straight game Philadelphia ran for 175 yards or more, three of them victories.
5. Colt McCoy is showing why backup quarterbacks get paid, too. He threw for 328 yards and two touchdowns in relief of injured Kyler Murray to lead the Arizona Cardinals to a 23-13 win over the Seattle Seahawks. McCoy bounced back from a shoddy performance in a 34-10 loss to the Panthers last weekend and is 2-1 as Murray’s replacement to keep Arizona’s 9-2 Cardinals high flying.
6. The Eagles’ Darius “Big Play” Slay is taking that nickname seriously. Slay scored his third defensive touchdown of the season Sunday against the Saints when he returned an interception 51 yards for a touchdown. He is the first Eagle defender with three defensive scores in a season in 21 years.
7. Tom Brady recently said he sees no need for a 17th regular season game, and this week his former teammate, Devin McCourty, was equally bemused about Thursday Night football. “Quite frankly, it sucks to play Sunday and then have to play again Thursday,” the Patriots’ long-time safety said. While both of those things are true the question is: are the players ready to fight for their elimination in the new collective bargaining agreement? Don’t count on it.
8. These are rough times in Seattle. The Seahawks used to brag about the power of their 12th Man, their raucous fans. Sunday they booed Seattle nearly off the field in the fourth quarter late in what would become their fourth home loss this season. Is there now a home-field disadvantage?
9. The Detroit Lions won’t go 0-17 this season, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to win a game. Detroit dropped to 0-9-1 by losing to the struggling Cleveland Browns, 13-10. The Lions have now gone 14 games without a win dating back to last season.
10. The Houston Texans hadn’t scored a road touchdown since September 19 before they upset the Titans yesterday, 22-13 in Nashville, proving “on any given Sunday…” crazy stuff can happen even to a team like the Titans, who appeared to be the best team in the AFC after winning eight of its previous nine games.
STAT THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME AND MY FRIEND COREY
San Francisco 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan can say all he wants about the failures and foibles of Jimmy Garoppolo but the truth is this: all he does is win. Which he did again for the 27th time Sunday since he took over the Niners’ offense with five games remaining in the 2017 season.
Garoppolo may be a “game manager” or whatever but here is the hard truth. He is 27-12 as a starter in San Francisco and quarterbacked them to a Super Bowl. When he hasn’t been healthy anyone else replaced him and played with the same personnel Garoppolo had, San Francisco is a combined 7-25. So here’s Shanahan’s choice: Shut up about the quarterback and win 69 per cent of the time or keep putting other quarterbacks in the game and lose 78.2 per cent of the time.
STAT THAT SEEMS BEYOND BELIEF
The Tennessee Titans outgained the Houston Texans 420 yards to 190 Sunday yet found a way to lose the game, 22-13. That’s what happens when Tennessee has to ask quarterback Ryan Tannehill to win the game. Without power running Derrick Henry to take the pressure off Tannehill, the Titans can no longer simply trample their way to victory. Asked to compensate for the absence of a game-controlling running attack by passing 52 times, Tannehill threw four interceptions.
STAT THAT TELLS THE STORY
The Dallas Cowboys came into Sunday’s game at Arrowhead Stadium against the Chiefs as the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL. They left without scoring a touchdown.
GOLD JACKET QUOTES
"You know how they say, ‘Sunday is fun day?' It's not, at all." – Minnesota Vikings’ head coach Mike Zimmer after 34-31 win over Green Bay was decided on the final snap for a sixth time in the Vikings’ 10 games this season. They’ve won three and lost three.
"I think if I was feeling the pressure, we probably wouldn't have won this game. You got to go with the flow about winning the game.” – Ravens’ backup quarterback Tyler Huntley who became the fourth quarterback in the last 30 seasons to lead a game-winning fourth quarter drive in his first career start.
“It wasn’t four? I think it was four, man.” – Chiefs’ defensive lineman Chris Jones after learning he sacked Cowboys quarterback 3 ½ times in Sunday’s 19-9 victory over Dallas.
"Jalen is a special player who forces defenses to play different. You look at their stats but you also want to do what you do well." – Eagles coach Nick Sirianni after quarterback Jalen Hurts ran for three touchdowns in 40-29 win over the Saints’ No. 1-ranked rushing defense while throwing for none.
“These past 14 days have, I don't want to say changed our team, but we're definitely moving in the right direction now. We just have got to keep going." – 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo after leading his team to its second win in barely a week to even its record at 5-5 and get back into the playoff hunt.
GOLD JACKET RECIPIENT
Colts’ running back Jonathan Taylor. This one is easy. Colts’ running back Jonathan Taylor made a clear case for being considered the best running back in football after rushing for 185 yards on 32 carries while scoring five times, including four on the ground, against what was supposed to be a stout Buffalo Bills’ defense.
Buffalo had the NFL’s No. 3-ranked run defense, but Taylor and the Colts’ offensive line made it look like as if it was playing on roller skates as Indianapolis rushed for 264 yards on a day when it was all Taylor all the time.
Taylor became only the 18th player in NFL history to score five touchdowns as he rushed for over 100 yards for the eighth consecutive game to take over the NFL rushing lead with 1,122 yards.