Thursday, February 29, 2024

The stuff of dynasties: This Chiefs championship built on defense and perseverance

Red, yellow and white confetti falling at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas was confirmation of their coronation. Once again, the Kansas City Chiefs experienced the feeling only one team can achieve over the course of an NFL season, accomplishing a lofty goal that leads to an exhilarating feeling.

With their 25-22 overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII, the Chiefs became the NFL’s first repeat champion in two decades. The victory cemented a golden era for the franchise and its status as one of the true dynasties in the league’s 104-year history.

“This is the start of a first,” insisted Patrick Mahomes. “We’re not done.”


Chiefs beat 49ers in Super Bowl overtime to cement dynasty status

To win their third Lombardi Trophy in five years, the Chiefs had to overcome the worst regular season of the Andy Reid-Patrick Mahomes era as well as the most perilous playoff run.

The AFC’s third-seeded Chiefs dominated the Miami Dolphins in frigid conditions, a game in which Reid coached with icicles hanging from his mustache. Then, in the first road playoff game of Mahomes’ seven-year career, the Chiefs rallied in the second half for a 27-24 victory, their defense holding the Buffalo Bills scoreless in the fourth quarter. They reached the Super Bowl with another road victory, a 17-10 victory over league MVP Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, who entered the playoffs with the best record in the NFL.

Mahomes led the game-winning 75-yard drive in overtime against the 49ers, capping it with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman. The Chiefs rallied from a 10-0 deficit and got the score they needed on the final drive of the game.

Chiefs receiver Mecole Hardman and quarterback Patrick Mahomes celebrate Super Bowl-winning touchdown in overtime. (Stephen R. Sylvanie / USA Today)

Mahomes won his third Super Bowl MVP award, but make no mistake, defense was the backbone of the 2023 Chiefs.

“This is the best defense I’ve ever played with,” tight end Travis Kelce said midway through the season. “Honestly, they saved us in a lot of situations.”

No opponent scored 30 points on coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s unit, which allowed the fewest second-half points in the league. Defensive tackle Chris Jones and defensive end George Karlaftis led the team with 10 1/2 sacks. Spagnuolo’s defense benefited from career-best seasons from several players, including cornerbacks L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie, safety Justin Reid and defensive end Charles Omenihu.

“Seeing this defense all year, I learned that sometimes I have to let them play, let them be the show,” Mahomes said.

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Kelce yells at Reid on the sidelines during Super Bowl LVIII

Mahomes, the most talented quarterback in the league, demonstrated his leadership, creativity and acumen throughout the season, but played his best when the Chiefs needed him to in January and February.

“It’s hard to describe someone that good,” general manager Brett Veach said. “It’s a legend. It’s a blessing.

Kelce, an 11-year veteran, also had his best moments in the postseason as he overcame nagging knee and ankle injuries to pass Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice for the most postseason receptions in NFL history.

“We have the best quarterback in the world,” Chiefs linebacker Drue Tranquill said. “We have the best tight end in the world. We have the best coach in the world. We have the best defensive coordinator in the world. We have the best general manager in the world.

“When do you have all this?” It’s just a matter of time.”

But this time around, it took the defending champions a while to put it all together. The Chiefs stumbled early in the season, losing to the Detroit Lions in the league opener. All-Pros Kelce and Jones did not play – Kelce because of a knee injury and Jones because he was holding out. But the Chiefs lost because of eight dropped passes, the two most egregious by wide receiver Kadarius Toney. Dropped passes would be a recurring problem throughout the regular season as Kansas City led the NFL with 44.

Mahomes and company won their next six games and entered their bye week with a 7-2 record after shutting down the Dolphins’ high-powered offense in Frankfurt, Germany. But they lost four of their next six games as the errors piled up. The low point came on Christmas Day at Arrowhead Stadium with an ugly 20-14 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.

Veach is convinced that without that humbling experience on Christmas Day, the Chiefs never would have made it to the Super Bowl.

“Something was wrong,” Veach said. “This defeat, I think it really hit us. This allowed the entire organization to look in the mirror.

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What makes the Andy Reid-Patrick Mahomes partnership as special as any great coach-QB combo?

That self-assessment heading into the playoffs led Reid to condense the playbook and simplify the game plan.

Running back Isiah Pacheco ran the ball with purpose, rookie Rashee Rice became a No. 1 wide receiver and the offensive line gelled at just the right time. The mistakes that crippled the offense during the regular season are gone. And the Chiefs didn’t lose again.

“We may not be the prettiest, but we’re going to fight,” Reid said. “That’s the personality of this team.”

A team that once relied on a high-powered offense and Mahomes’ improvised passes needed a personality change this season. From the first day of training camp on July 18 until the end of Super Bowl overtime on February 11, the Chiefs maintained their status as the best in the league by winning a second straight championship not with flair but with grace to dogged perseverance.

This essay is the introduction to “Undeniable: The Kansas City Chiefs’ Remarkable 2023 Championship Season,” The Athletic’s commemorative book about the Chiefs’ 2023-24 season. Order a copy today for $16.95, plus shipping and taxes. Books will be shipped the week of February 19.

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How the Chiefs stand among NFL dynasties (and a path beyond the Patriots): Sando’s Pick Six

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Travis Kelce, after the Chiefs season under the microscope, finishes “on top of the world”

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Andy Reid stayed the course during the Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory and is now among the greatest of all time.

(Photo of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce: Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images)

Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from



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