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High-octane Chiefs relying on defense to keep them in early season games

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, center, is hit by Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed, left, and Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton, right, during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs have relied for years on their dynamic offense to rescue their middle-of-the-road defense.

On Sunday, it was the other way around.

Given the makeup of the roster, and the way Patrick Mahomes and Co. have performed in a close loss to the Lions and their 17-9 win over the Jaguars, that could be the norm this season.

The Chiefs have struggled with dropped passes, wide receivers that have been unable to get open, an inconsistent run game and far too many penalties to effectively keep drives alive.

Oh, but that defense. Time after time, coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's bunch made plays to keep Kansas City in the game, holding Jacksonville to 271 yards and quarterback Trevor Lawrence to just 197 through the air.

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“You know,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “I'm an offensive guy, but that was a beautiful thing defensively. Offensively, we got to take care of the penalties and turnovers, but the battle-through-it showed me a little something.”

It certainly helped that the Chiefs had game-wrecking defensive tackle Chris Jones back on the field.

After finally agreeing to a reworked deal for this season, and ending a holdout that kept Jones out of the Detroit game, he not only made his debut but made an impact. Jones had 1 1/2 sacks and seemed to be in the Jacksonville backfield on every play.

“Yeah, defense was incredible.,” Mahomes said. “That’s a really good offense, and for them to shut them down — they were like, 0 for 4 in the red zone. Couple critical stops after we turned the ball over, and then three-and-out a couple of times, and they kept holding them to field goals. I mean, the defense won that game.”

Funny to hear that from someone on the offensive side of the ball.

So many times over the years, someone from the defensive side has said the same thing about their counterpart.

Alas, the Chiefs fumbled four times and lost two of them. Mahomes threw an interception for the second straight game. Right tackle Jawaan Taylor was penalized five times — two false starts, two holds and an illegal formation — and that contributed to the 12 penalties for 94 yards, which in turn played a role in the Chiefs going 4 for 13 on third down.

“It's hard for us to see — for everyone to see — because we've been such a prolific offense for so long, and we've started fast,” Mahomes said. “But if you don't execute at a high level in this league, you're not going to have success. You're not going to score touchdowns and have sustained drives. That's stuff we have to get better at.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Chiefs pass rush looked far more disruptive with Jones in the middle of the line than it did Week 1 against the Lions. Second-year pro George Karlaftis had 1 1/2 sacks and first-round pick Felix Anudike-Uzomah was in on the first sack of his career. And the Chiefs are now two games closer to getting defensive end Charles Omenihu back from his six-game NFL suspension.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Just about everyone's hands on offense need help. Sure, Stickum is illegal, but there has to be some other solution for a team that dropped eight passes against Detroit and fumbled four times against Jacksonville, including punt returner Richie James fumbling a chance deep in his own territory when he lost the ball in the Florida sun.

STOCK UP

Wide receiver Skyy Moore was one of the biggest offenders when it came to dropped passes in Week 1. But he owned his poor performance, answering every question from reporters earlier in the week, and then played much better against the Jaguars. He had three catches on four targets for 70 yards and a touchdown.

STOCK DOWN

James was supposed to be the sure-handed special teams standout that the Chiefs were missing last season when he came over from the Giants. But along with his mistake on punt return, James has failed to make much of an impact at wide receiver.

INJURIES

The Chiefs came out of their game against Jacksonville healthy. That includes tight end Travis Kelce, who hyperextended his knee the previous week and missed the opener against Detroit. He had four catches for 26 yards and a touchdown.

KEY NUMBERS

270: Reid moved into a tie with Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry for fourth on the NFL's career wins list. His next victory will break that tie and put him behind only Don Shula, Bill Belichick and George Halas.

NEXT STEPS

The Chiefs return to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday to face the Bears, who are 0-2 after losing to the Buccaneers last weekend.

___

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl