DENVER — The Chiefs looked like anything but an undefeated team with a high-flying offense and an opportunistic defense during the first three quarters of Monday night's 27-23 win over the Denver Broncos.
But the fourth quarter proved a whole new ball game. The offense rolled up 169 yards in the final frame. The defense held the Broncos to 85 yards and three points in the fourth quarter, and forced a three-and-out to setup the game-winning touchdown.
The fourth quarter masked some otherwise middling performances on both sides of the ball, but running back Kareem Hunt shined all not long while Patrick Mahomes delivered a legendary fourth-quarter performance.
The fourth quarter raises this great, but don't let the individual performances of Hunt and Mahomes fool anyone. The offensive line struggled in pass protection, the quarterback misfired early in the game and the receiving corps struggled getting open and making plays in the first half. The fourth quarter raised a lot of offensive grades, but this was the least impressive overall offensive performance of the season.
The Broncos made Mahomes look human for three quarters. He completed just 15-of-29 passes for 151 yards with an 8-yard touchdown scramble as his team trailed 20-13.
The fourth quarter, however, was where Mahomes took over. The gunslinger completed 13-of-16 passing for 153 yards and a touchdown while leading his team to 14 points in the final frame. Converting second-and-30 with back-to-back completions for 58 yards defied the laws of space and time.
He faced a relenting pass rush most of the night and found himself pressured early and often. Mahomes showed poise stepping up in the pocket or using his feet to escape and make plays. But too many errant passes and misfires hurt his stat line early.
Anyone not a believe in Mahomes surely converted by the end of the fourth quarter.
Running back: A
Kareem Hunt carried his team on his back for three quarters, pounding for 108 tough yards while his offense struggled. The Chiefs had 277 yards of offense through three quarters and Hunt had 135 of them. Each of the Chiefs' playmakers can have their days, and Monday night belonged to Hunt. Without him, the Chiefs don't win this game.
Wide receiver: B-minus
Tyreek Hill lead the way with nine catches for 54 yards among the wideouts, but the group turned in overall an uneven performance against the Broncos. The loss of Sammy Watkins to a hamstring injury in the first quarter took away one a prime weapon from Mahomes. Even if Watkins doesn't put up the number of Hill or Travis Kelce, his presence changes the offense, and the passing game looked more pedestrian without Watkins until the fourth quarter.
Demarcus Robinson delivered the big catch on second-and-30 to set up the third-down conversion, but he also missed a touchdown on a tough but catchable ball in the third quarter.
Tight end: B
Kelce finally came alive in the second half, but he was shut out on his first five targets. Give credit to the Broncos for taking Kelce out of the game for a time. He continually faced tough coverages and that combined with some misfires hampered the passing game early.
But Kelce and and Demetrius Harris came up huge late. The duo combined for five catches for 72 yards in the fourth quarter, including the 35-yard pass to Harris on third-and-7 on the final touchdown drive.
Offensive line: D
The offensive line deserves some credit for Hunt's performance on the ground, which is the only thing preventing this grade from falling lower. Too many penalties, blown assignments and lack of pass protection prevented the Chiefs offense from ever getting on track.
Denver picked up nine quarterback hits on Mahomes, and only nimble footwork from Mahomes avoided even more hits. The Chiefs yielded just one sack and one intentional grounding, which truly belongs to the offensive line and not Mahomes. The line picked up five penalties for 40 yards — that won't please head coach Andy Reid.
Just as the offense found its groove late, the defense also made some fantastic second-half adjustments that turned the game around. The leaky run defense allowed 93 yards on the ground in the first half but buckled down to hold the Broncos to just 66 rushing yards in the second half. When the Broncos needed to run the ball to hold possession and drain the clock, the Chiefs stopped them cold.
Defensive line: C-plus
The defensive line gets high marks in the pass rush but left too many gaps against the run, especially early. Chris Jones and Albert Bailey both had strong moments rushing quarterback Case Keenum. When defensive coordinator Bob Sutton puts Jones on the outside of the tackle, he becomes a fantastic rusher. But Xavier Williams and Derrick Nnadi gave up too many holes against the run early.
Outside linebacker: B-plus
Dee Ford and Justin Houston dominated early in the first half, with sacks and quarterback pressure the only thing slowing down the Broncos in the first half. Ford made a couple of nice plays in the run game early as well. But once Ford left with the game after re-aggravating his groin injury, the pass rush whithered. Rookie Breeland Speaks had some shaky moments against both the pass and run.
Inside linebacker: D-plus
Poor tackling and ineffective run pursuit hampered the Chiefs inside. Anthony Hitchens and Reggie Ragland combined for just six combined tackles, and unfortunately left almost as many plays on the field as the made. Hitchens found himself dragged into the end zone by Royce Freeman on his touchdown run.
Another up-and-down performance from the secondary. Kendall Fuller, Orlando Scandrick and Steven Nelson combined for 15 tackles and two broken up passes. Scandrick also got flagged for pass interference near the end zone and Fuller missed a couple of tackles. The secondary rallied in the second half but played a bit soft on the final drive of the game and allowed the Broncos an opportunity to win the game late.
The backend of the defense suffered a couple of breakdowns and dodged bullets, but Eric Murray and Ron Parker came up with two of the biggest defensive plays of the game for the Chiefs. Murray made a fantastic interception, literally ripping the ball away from tight end Jeff Heuerman. Parker made the game-saving tackle by pulling down Heuerman from behind on a 36-yard gain on the Broncos' final drive. Armani Watts picked up two quarterback hits, including a sack on a safety blitz.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus
Kicking game: B-plus
Harrison Butker remained perfect on the season with two field goals and three extra points.
Return game: A-minus
The Chiefs did yield a 32-yard return to Phillip Lindsay and a short kickoff field by fullback Andy Janovich wasn't executed perfectly. Punt returner Adam Jones returned just one kick for two yards. Rookie cornerback Charvarius Ward made two nice tackles on special teams.
A 37-yard punt return from Hill played a critical factor later in the game. The Broncos refused to take anymore chances against Hill, and after a three-and-out punter Marqutte King pooched a 35-yard punt out of bounds that set the Chiefs up at their own 40-yard line. The fear of Hill in the return game made that possible