How Chiefs’ new, unfamiliar faces fueled a Super Bowl trip

KANSAS CITY, Missouri – Things got out of control sometime last week. Too much love from the Cincinnati Bengals, too much disrespect from the Kansas City Chiefs. We roll our eyes when a team like the Chiefs says, “No one thought we could win,” when we didn’t technically For this game, enough people voted for the Bengals that the Chiefs had the right to say it was true.

Then there was the weird trash talk. The Burrowhead Stadium thing. The mayor of Cincinnati, unprompted, just threw word grenades as the Bengals packed for their trip.

“The mayor was after me,” Patrick Mahomes said Sunday night after leading Kansas City to the Super Bowl with a good leg. “I mean come on.”

In no universe has it ever been a good idea to make the Chiefs feel like underdogs. But while it’s easy to say now, it really wasn’t far off. This team isn’t the kind of bully you imagine when you think of a team that’s played in three Super Bowls in five years. For proof, travel with me to the post-game locker room, where the biggest smile in the room stretched across the face of rookie receiver Skyy Moore.

“I honestly didn’t think they would let me return another punt all year,” Moore said, and he wasn’t kidding. The second-round rookie was removed from the punt return team earlier this season because he dropped too many and it cost the team. But even after the Chiefs stopped letting Moore return punts in games, in practice they continued to work with him on it. Special teams coaches Dave Toub and Andy Hill worked with Moore on it every day.

“They just kept trusting me even when I didn’t,” Moore said. “Here’s something I’m doing for the first time, and I keep screwing it up, and they’re out there and they’re like, ‘We believe in you. We know you’ll be good at it.’ It meant a lot.”

However, when he showed up for Sunday’s AFC championship game, the last thing Moore expected was to return a last-minute punt that set up the conference-winning field goal. I asked him where he was on the punt returner depth chart this week.

“It was Kadarius [Toney]then Mecole [Hardman]then J-Wat [Justin Watson]then [Trent] McDuffie, then me,” Moore said.

Watson was inactive during the game, and McDuffie is one of the team’s starting corners. So when Toney and Hardman left Sunday’s game with injuries, Moore’s antennae went up. Kansas City sent him back for a kick return early in the game after Toney’s injury, and then the Chiefs actually patted him on the back when the Bengals lined up to punt with 41 seconds left and the 20-20 tie.

“Honestly, the only thing on my mind was making sure I caught it,” Moore said, “Then I saw it was like a low-line drive, and I had a chance to do something with it. “

Moore had to step back to field the punt at his own 18-yard line. But the kick had little time to hang, so he had room when he caught it, and he sprinted up the right touchline to the Kansas City 47 — a 29-yard return that fit the definition of Clutch.

“Probably the biggest play of the game,” said Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.

Three games and an unnecessary rude penalty for terrible Bengals later, Harrison Butker lined up for the 45-yard field goal that put the Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

“That says a lot about the culture here,” said rookie running back Isiah Pacheco. “We have a lot of youngsters in this side, but the coaching staff and those in charge of our squad have been there all year to make sure we’re ready when the time comes.”

Pacheco, the 251st pick in Rutgers’ 2022 NFL draft, had 85 yards from scrimmage in the AFC Championship Game, a week after rolling up 101 of them in the divisional round win over the Jaguars. Pacheco was third or fourth in the running back depth chart when he left camp, but was the starter in the second half of the season and is a key reason Kansas City is still playing.

But that’s not all.

Rookie cornerbacks McDuffie and Joshua Williams were intercepted Sunday in a game in which starting corner L’Jarius Sneed left in the first quarter with a head injury. Rookie defenseman George Karlaftis had one of Joe Burrow’s team’s five sacks. Marcus Kemp, a fifth-year receiver on the practice team who had four career catches and none this season but was forced to call after injuries to Toney, Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster, caught a 13-yard pass for one First down at one point in the fourth quarter.

Young people and new people. With Kelce playing with a bad back and receivers dropping like flies, 2022 free-agent signee Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught six Mahomes passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. Carlos Dunlap, signed early in training camp to add to the pass rush, didn’t get any of the five sacks but he hit Burrow twice and was a key part of the pressure package.

“The free agents, the guys that we got in the draft, obviously helped us a lot and we’re going to need them even more in the Super Bowl, but I can’t thank them enough for choosing Kansas City,” he said. said Kelce. “Those guys who work their tails off and don’t always get that opportunity in the game for those guys to step up, that’s the best feeling in the world.”

We don’t tend to feel that way about the Chiefs. We think of Mahomes and Kelce and Chris Jones and Andy Reid – the mainstays who stood out in an incredible run of AFC dominance. We don’t picture Kansas City as a rookie-reliant team that’s had to patch up a wide receiver corps all season, let alone Sunday. Given what was going on during the offseason, the Chiefs might have had the right to view this as a rebuilding year of sorts. That they still ended up in the Super Bowl should shock the rest of the league.



Bryan Cook’s standout pick leads to INT for Chiefs

Joe Burrow tries to go low but Bryan Cook flips him in the air and he is picked up by Joshua Williams.

“That’s the crazy thing — that’s still just the beginning,” Dunlap said. “Look at all these young people. For example, that was my 200th game or something [actually his 205th], but so many of these guys are just getting started. What an experience for the young people. And think about what that means for the future of this team.”

No, the Patrick Mahomes/Andy Reid Chiefs are not rebuilding. But they’ve had to change a lot – this year, this week and over the course of this game. You did it. And so, in a year in which the Bills and the Bengals alternated as favorites in a conference that Mahomes and Reid have owned for half a decade, the Chiefs are somehow scarier than ever. They might not beat the Eagles in two weeks, but then again, they might very well. And regardless of what happens in the Super Bowl, the Chiefs aren’t going away anytime soon.

Maybe next time we’ll all work a little harder to make sure they don’t feel like outsiders. How Chiefs’ new, unfamiliar faces fueled a Super Bowl trip

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