Chiefs’ Spectacular Rise to Super Bowl 58: Unveiling the 3 Genius Moves That Catapulted Them to Glory

While some may not be happy with the result, the Kansas City Chiefs earned every bit of their fourth AFC title in six seasons. They are the NFL’s gold standard, the team that knows how to flip on the switch in mid-January and play a brand of almost unimpeachable football.

Should Patrick Mahomes’ team capture its third Super Bowl in as many years, talks of a dynasty will start to brew. Travis Kelce’s name will rightfully be more consistently invoked in “GOAT” tight end conversations. And the legendary Andy Reid might retire after everything he’s accomplished as a coach.

But that’s a bridge to cross for another day.

For now, we should recount how the Chiefs, once again, won the AFC championship and put themselves in position to be the NFL’s first back-to-back Super Bowl champion in two decades. Here are the smartest steps they took to get to the 2024 Super Bowl.

Nov 26, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Rashee Rice (4) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders during the fourth quarter at Allegiant Stadium.

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Chiefs’ worst-kept secret is how bad most of their receivers are. No one dropped more passes than Kansas City this season (44). They are the biggest reason Patrick Mahomes enjoyed the worst overall statistical year of his career since 2019, when he missed two games with a patellar tendon dislocation.

But besides Travis Kelce, other skill players have been reliable too. If anything, rookie third-round receiver Rashee Rice has been the definition of dependable, the key cog who has helped the Chiefs’ lower-power offense chug along as necessary.

Rice’s role developed slowly this year, only seeing a handful of targets during the early stages of the Chiefs’ title defense. But by midseason, Mahomes and Reid started funneling Kansas City’s passing attack through Rice, who morphed into one of the NFL’s finest yards-after-the-catch playmakers. Only the Dallas Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb (680) and the Detroit Lions’ Amon-Ra St. Brown (668) — both All-Pros — had more yards after the catch than Rice’s 653 this season. That’s some excellent company to keep for any veteran, let alone a rookie like Rice.

There are still nuances to Rice’s game he will have to polish up in the future, particularly as a route runner. But within the confines of this Chiefs’ offense that sometimes just needs the train to keep rolling for a Mahomes dagger to Kelce, Rice is the perfect No. 2 weapon. He is what gives the Chiefs another much-needed dimension.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Fun fact: The Chiefs’ defense was actually better than their offense this year.

That’s right, the high-flying Chiefs, known for scoring points in bunches with the best of them, were arguably a defense-first squad en route to their Super Bowl title defense. The facts, including a No. 7 DVOA efficiency rating for the defense compared to a No. 8 rating for the offense, don’t lie, folks.

If you wanted to compensate for an offense with less talent, investing more in the defense would be the way to do it. Which is precisely what the Chiefs have done in recent years.

In 2020, Kansas City drafted Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback L’Jarius Sneed — who embarrassed Baltimore’s Zay Flowers in the AFC title game — and starting linebacker Willie Gay Jr. The following year, Nick Bolton joined the fray and quickly blossomed into one of the best off-ball defenders in football. Then, in 2022, Kansas City went all in on its defense, using two first-round picks on cornerback Trent McDuffie and edge-setting defensive end George Karlaftis. The ensuing elite results, especially in the hands of veteran defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, should have been predictable. No wonder Kansas City shut down three consecutive prolific offenses in Miami, Buffalo and Baltimore en route to the 2024 Super Bowl.

Kansas City’s defense is set up very well from a long-term perspective, too. There’s only one current starter aged 30 or older, and that’s pending unrestricted free agent Chris Jones — arguably the NFL’s most impactful interior defensive lineman over the last two years.

Kansas City’s defense used to be all about Jones, the definition of a human-wrecking ball. He essentially had to carry the unit by himself. That is no longer the case.

Al Bello/Getty Images

Look, I know giving arguably the greatest quarterback ever to play more credit seems silly on its face, but I’m being serious. At a certain point, I became more impressed with the 2023 version of Mahomes than any of his seasons where he saw much gaudier numbers.

This was the first year Mahomes had to really just take what the defense gave him. The Chiefs were undoubtedly still his team and his offense, but he could no longer simply unload deep bombs downfield without a care in the world. Not because he was incapable but because his supporting cast was. These Chiefs were not offensively oriented, and their quarterback had to eventually realize that. He picked and timed his spots well instead of attacking the entire game.

Mahomes willingly took a backseat so Isiah Pacheco could galvanize a power running game. Mahomes allowed Rice to flourish, getting him the ball in space on short crossers, screens and slants and watching him work. Mahomes understood that his defense could carry its own weight for once and that he could afford to be more patient on offense.

The Chiefs are back in the Super Bowl because Mahomes is the best player in the sport and because he set aside his ego to let his teammates take center stage.

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