There wasn’t much suspense to Kansas City’s regular-season final with the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday, not with the Chiefs racing out to a 21-3 halftime and heading off any serious challenge in closing out a 14-3 campaign with a 31-13 victory over their rivals.
But the pursuit of several statistical milestones for some of the Chiefs stars at least kept things interesting.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes decorated his MVP resume with an efficient day in the pocket, completing 18-of-26 passing for 202 yards and a touchdown. While those weren’t his usual eye-popping numbers, Mahomes still finished the day atop the NFL record book.
Mahomes finished the regular season with 5,614 yards of total offense comprising passing, rushing and receiving yards. That eclipsed by 54 yards the previous record of 5,562 yards set by Drew Brees in 2011.
When taking sacks into consideration, Mahomes finished the campaign with 5,420 yards. That tops the total offense of Brees in 2011, who posted 5,404 yards.
Mahomes also finished with 5,250 yards passing, which ranks as the fourth-best in NFL history. Peyton Manning holds the NFL record for passing yards in a season with 5,477 during the 2013 season. Mahomes finished 227 yards short of that mark.
Mahomes also tied a somewhat more obscure NFL record. Of his 41 touchdown passes on the season, 28 went to running backs and tight ends. That’s tied for the most in NFL history with Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who pulled off the same feat in 1963.,
Tight end Travis Kelce entered the day with a chance to reach a series of milestones, including eclipsing his own NFL single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end. He finished the season with a career-best 110 receptions, however, which also set a new mark for tight ends in franchise history. He finished one reception short of equaling Tyreek Hill’s franchise record for receptions of 111.
“I know he came up a couple of catches short of the record but in my mind, he’s got the record,” Reid said.
Kelce’s 1,338 yards receiving, however, rank as the fourth-best total by a tight in NFL history. Kelce now owns five of the 12 seasons for most receiving yards by a tight end. No other player has more than one of the top 12 seasons.
The Chiefs’ offense also established three new franchise records on Saturday, including a record of 7,032 net yards. The previous best of 6,810 came during the 2018 season.
The club also posted 300 or more yards in a game 16 times this season, eclipsing the team record of 15 games set in 2004, 2018 and 2021. The 272 first downs by this year’s squad also beat the record of 267 set by last year’s team.
On the defensive side of the ledger, Linebacker Nick Bolton tallied 16 combined tackles on Saturday, raising his season total to 181. That erases the franchise record of 179 combined tackles posted by Derrick Johnson in 2012. Bolton also extended his own team record of most double-digit tackle games in a season by finishing with 10. Donnie Edwards previously owned the record with seven such games in 2000.
Bolton also has a chance to finish second in the NFL in tackles this season. His 180 tackles trail only Jacksonville’s Foye Oluokun, who finished the season with 184 tackles. Seattle’s Jordyn Brooks ranks third with 161 tackles.
Despite the flashy numbers, however, Bolton said he had higher goals for this season.
“We wanted to come in and win the AFC West, we know how good our division is,” Bolton said. “That’s our first one, and also getting home-field advantage.
“Our next goal is compete for a Super Bowl,” he added. “We’ve got a week, we’ll come back and compete for that as well.
Playing for Damar
Saturday’s opening kickoff was the first play in the NFL since Monday night when Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during the team’s game at Cincinnati and left the entire league shaken by the sight of one of their comrades fighting for his life on the field.
It was a scene that struck Chris Jones hard.
“To watch that from home on my couch, which it could have been one of my brothers who I play with,” Jones said. “I definitely was affected emotionally, and going into this game being the first game that’s played since that incident that happened, it was heavy on my heart.”
Hamlin was certainly top of mind before the game. Players and coaches alike wore t-shirts emblazoned with the message “Love for Damar” and bearing his jersey No. 3. Mahomes wore a custom-made hoodie during pregame with a graphic of Hamlin and the message “Hamlin Strong.”
Mahomes said it was a harsh reminder that there are bigger things than football.
“That was kind of in your mind and so I was just glad we were able to get out there,” Mahomes said. “Even though we were the first team back, we were able to get through there without a lot of injuries and guys were able to just go out there enjoy and have fun again.”
Hamlin on Friday spoke to his teammates via FaceTime, a revelation that brightened the mood across the league. Updates indicating Hamlin continues to improve while remaining in critical condition made it easier for players to step back on the field Saturday.
Jones said before Saturday’s game he said for Hamlin and a prayer for the safety of his Chiefs teammates. But he said putting aside what happened on Monday night was difficult.
“I don’t think it’s ever out of your mind as a player to experience that,” Jones said. “I think you try to mask it with what’s going on in your surroundings.”
The biggest highlight of Saturday’s win came by way of a play that didn’t even count — but that hardly mattered.
With a minute left to go in the first half, the play call came in from the sideline: reindeer personnel, Arctic Circle and the rest of the detailed language that indicates a player in Reid’s West Coast offense.
“I just call it snow globe,” Mahomes said. “It’s the easiest way to say it, it’s a long play call.”
The play started with all 11 players on offense linking arms around each in a circle and spinning around as one. Once the group broke up, Jerick McKinnon lined up in a Wildcat formation in a full house offset backfield formation that including Kadarius Toney, Kelce and Mahomes.
McKinnon took the snap and rolled right before pitching the ball to Mahomes, who threw the ball back across the field to the left to Toney. Toney broke a tackle and raced his way into the end zone but the play was nullified by a holding call against center Creed Humphrey.
But the penalty didn’t negate the play’s humor and beauty.
Mahomes said the origins of the play trace back to last season.
“It was something we had kind of practiced on actually last year of doing that, of getting confusion going and getting to the line to snap, and we didn’t get the chance to run it last year,” Mahomes said.
While it didn’t get deployed last season, Mahomes and his teammates kept tinkering with the play again in 2022, and players started pestering Reid to put it back into the game plan.
“We’ve done it, we’ve kind of messed around with it in practice,” Reid said. “We call it the laboratory in there. Pat gets the guys down there and then they don’t put their name on it, they just bring it to me.
The spinning around in a circle in the huddle isn’t necessarily integral to play but it’s intended to disorient the defense.
“It’s just to create a little bit of confusion, and then line up in something that’s not familiar to the opposing team,” Reid said. “I know the guys executed it well. We end up with a holding call, but they did good with it. And the players enjoy doing that stuff, so with a little creativity, they come up with these things. So, we just throw them out there and let them work them.”
Bolton has seen the play in practice, and to him it’s simply vintage Andy Reid play design.
“They just have fun with it, man, never know who’s getting the ball,” Bolton said. “Those guys are playmakers, they’re dynamic on offense, and coach Reid does a great job of putting guys in position to make plays.
And just like teasing a Christmas present, Mahomes said there are variations on Snow Globe still in the playbook.
“We didn’t have that throwback on it the last time we ran it,” Mahomes said. “Hopefully we can maybe do it again and get back to whatever we ran last time and get another touchdown.”
Normally the No. 1 seed in the playoffs knows they will have home-field advantage throughout the postseason but that’s not the case in the AFC this season. The decision to declare the Buffalo-Cincinnati game in Week 17 a no-contest means home-field for the AFC championship game remains uncertain.
The Chiefs’ win on Saturday, however, simplified the situation. Now all eyes will focus on Buffalo’s game Sunday against the New England Patriots. If the Bills win or tie that game, a Chiefs-Bills title game would be played at a neutral site. If the Patriots win, a Chiefs-Bills championship game would be at Arrowhead Stadium.
It will be a quiet week in Kansas City as the Chiefs prepare to sit on the sidelines as the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and enjoy a bye week by virtue of ending the season with a 14-3 record.
Reid is scheduled to speak to reporters on Monday but after that, it will be a week free of media appearances for the Chiefs. Reid normally holds a walk-through on Saturday during a bye week and a workout on Sunday simulating game day before returning to their normal preparation on Jan. 16 for their first playoff game.
“We’ll give them a few days off there next week, and then get them back in and it towards the end of the week and get some practice in there,” Reid said. “Then we’ll start the regular week after that, but just take a step back, and get yourself where you feel stronger and healthier, mentally and physically. It’s a good thing.”
The Chiefs will host the lowest remaining seeded after Wild Card Weekend in the Divisional Round on the weekend of Jan. 21-22.