KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs were staring at an early 10-point hole, on the road and against one of the best defenses in the NFL, yet managed to not only turn things around but roar to a 44-23 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
It changed the entire complexion of the first half of the season for Kansas City.
Rather than heading into their bye tied atop the AFC West with the Los Angeles Chargers, the Chiefs improved to 5-2 and are just a half-game back of Buffalo for the best record in the conference. And a valid argument could be made that the first seven games were far more difficult than what Kansas City will face down the stretch.
Maybe hosting a fifth straight AFC title game isn't quite the longshot it seemed after a stunning loss at Indianapolis.
“We had a tough schedule going into the bye. We knew that going into the season,” said Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who threw bounced back from an early interception to throw for 423 yards and three scores against the 49ers.
Of the 10 games the Chiefs have after their bye, six are against teams that are .500 or worse, and only the Titans (4-2) are more than a game above the break-even mark. That includes the Jaguars (2-5), two games against the Broncos (2-5), a trip to Houston (1-4-1) and the Raiders (2-4) to finish the regular season.
“Obviously we lost a couple of games that we wanted to win,” Mahomes said, “but when you look back on it and you're 5-2 and you're first in the AFC West, you can't ask to be in a better position. So now we have to recalibrate, get off our feet, get our bodies back and then learn, because when we come back in this next stretch, we're going to be ready to go.”
The Chiefs could be in their best shape since training camp, too.
Defensive end Mike Danna should be fully recovered from a calf injury. Defensive back Rashad Fenton should be back from a hamstring injury. First-round pick Trent McDuffie, who has practiced the past two weeks but has not played since a hamstring injury landed the cornerback on injured reserve after the opener, also is expected back. And there's a chance the Chiefs will get backup tight end Blake Bell from IR and Lucas Niang off the physically unable to perform list.
“It's a good time (for the bye),” coach Andy Reid said. “I think it comes where we could afford to get a little bit healthier in some spots, in particular the corner spot — as long as the guys are out there and being safe. And that's kind of my primary concern right now. To get back on time. That's always important.”
The Chiefs signed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling to help replace Tyreek Hill, and for the first time Sunday, they delivered on their promise together. Smith-Schuster proved difficult to guard over the middle, catching seven balls for 124 yards and a score, while Valdes-Scantling showed off his speed on three catches for 111 yards.
“I think it’s the hard work we’re putting in. Like I said, it’s the chemistry,” Smith-Schuster said. “Patrick, you know, getting to trust all of us and putting the ball where it needs to be for us to go out and make the play.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Chiefs' run defense has struggled the past three weeks, ever since shutting down Tampa Bay. The 49ers had 101 yards at nearly 5 yards per attempt. And even Christian McCaffrey, who barely had a minute to learn the playbook after his trade from Carolina, managed to gouge the Kansas City front eight times for 38 yards.
The Chiefs' pass rush, which was among the league's worst last season, sacked the 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo five times along with delivering eight quarterback hits. Chris Jones had two more sacks and forced another fumble.
Second-round pick Skyy Moore muffed another punt deep in Kansas City territory, just like he did at Indianapolis, when it led to a costly touchdown in an eventual defeat. He also made a mistake on a passing route that led to an interception.
The Chiefs reported no new injuries at San Francisco.
3 — The number of times over the first seven games the Chiefs have scored at least 40 points. The franchise record is five such games, set in 2003 and matched during the 2018 season.
The Chiefs get next week off before turning their focus to Tennessee on Nov. 6. It will be the fourth time in the first eight games that the Chiefs have played in prime time and the third such game at Arrowhead Stadium.
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