Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs have won plenty of games the past couple of years with their offense.
On Sunday, the Chiefs won one with their defense.
The much-maligned group, which underwent a massive offseason overhaul, played unquestionably its best game of the season in helping Kansas City to a 23-16 victory in New England. The win over Tom Brady and Co. not only served to put a bit of salve on the sting of last year's overtime loss to the Patriots in the AFC title game – when the defense was unable to get off the field in overtime – but it also allowed the Chiefs to wrap up their fourth straight AFC West title.
"Not one step in that fourth quarter that we felt like we were going to lose this game," said cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who had an early interception of Brady and then batted down the fourth-down pass to Julian Edelman in the end zone in the closing seconds to help preserve the victory. "You're not just going to shut him out a whole entire game. So for us to do what we did against him, it was a glorious moment. I hope it propels us to next week."
The Chiefs (9-4) head home to face Denver to begin a season-ending stretch that includes games against the Bears and the Chargers. And after their win over the Patriots, they remain in the picture for a first-round bye and home-field advantage at least up to the AFC championship game if they can keep winning and get a little help along the way.
The defense has become a big reason for the success.
After hiring Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator, the Chiefs scrapped their old 3-4 system in favor of a 4-3 approach that better fit their identity and personnel. It took a few weeks for everything to come together, too, but the return on such a bold investment was on full display in Foxborough on Sunday.
Brady, who threw for 348 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs last January, was held to 19 of 36 for 169 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also was sacked three times after never going down in the playoff game.
As a team, the Chiefs held the Patriots to 94 yards rushing after giving up 176 last season. They allowed 278 yards after giving up 524 at Arrowhead Stadium. The Patriots were 13 of 19 on third down in earning their spot in the Super Bowl, but they were just 2 for 12 on third down and 1 for 3 on fourth down on Sunday.
"Every week, we've gotten better," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "We had a little hiccup in Tennessee, but other than that, it's been consistent progress forward. I think Spags and the coaches have done a heck of a job. Most of all the players have bought in. I mean, they were flying around a making plays. You know, they were able to get to Tom and do some nice things, do some things in the run game. And ended up, putting it down right there at the end and made some plays."
If there was one play that demonstrated the difference between last year and this season, it was one of the final ones: Rather than give up the late touchdown, the Chiefs batted down Brady's pass that could have ultimately tied the game.
"You know, we've seen that for years happen," Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark said. "The one thing I wanted to challenge the defense, and the defense and everybody else wanted to challenge me, was just making the play. Go make the play. Go force the issue. And with the help of my defensive line, and our front seven and the back end, we got the job done."
WHAT'S WORKING: The Chiefs struggled early this season to create turnovers, but Breeland's interception was the seventh pass they have picked off in their past three games. They had four in a win over the Chargers in Mexico City and two against the Raiders.
WHAT NEEDS HELP: The Chiefs desperately need Damien Williams to return from his rib injury. The running back group was down to LeSean McCoy and rookie Darwin Thompson along with veteran Spencer Ware, who just rejoined the team this week. The result against New England was 29 carries for a mere 75 yards from the ground game.
STOCK UP: Wide receiver Mecole Hardman only had one catch against the Patriots, but the rookie turned it into a 48-yard touchdown reception. It was his sixth score this season.
STOCK DOWN: McCoy ran 11 times for 39 yards and caught just one pass for 4 yards. He needs to provide more help if the Chiefs hope to find some offensive balance for the stretch run.
INJURED: Offensive lineman Andrew Wylie left with a shoulder injury, but otherwise the Chiefs emerged relatively healthy.
KEY NUMBER: 100: That's the number of road wins Reid now has in his career.
NEXT STEP: The Broncos visit Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. Then comes a trip to Chicago before wrapping up the regular season at home against the Chargers. All three games could play a factor in playoff seeding.