Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has created so much magic in his brief career that it's easy to believe the sleight of hand he's pulling this season.
He's once again leading a prolific offense, one that has his team thinking about a second consecutive championship. The problem is the Chiefs' defense. All those phenomenal moments Mahomes keeps manufacturing are obscuring the issues on the other side of the football.
The Chiefs won a thrilling football game on Sunday night, as they left Las Vegas with a 35-31 victory over the Raiders.
What they didn't do was answer the questions that keep lingering around this defense.
Kansas City won because Mahomes delivered yet another last-minute, game-winning drive at the end of an epic shootout. The Chiefs easily could've lost if the Raiders had a little more time to take their own final shot at the end zone.
So, while the Chiefs should be celebrating a huge win over an AFC West rival -- one that improved their record to 9-1 and put them in great position for a fifth straight division title -- they also should be wondering about that defense. It might very well be the lone reason this team doesn't end up repeating.
"They're talented." Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said when asked about his team's defensive effort against the Raiders. "You have to be able to get pressure on the quarterback and tighten things up on the back end, but they're talented. They've got a good offense, so you're going to give up yards. The important thing is that you hang with it in games like this. And you bear down the best you can as time goes on. That's what we did."
Reid isn't wrong about that. The Chiefs did what they had to do to earn this victory.
Mahomes threw for 348 yards and two touchdowns, while his two favorite receivers came up huge (Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill both eclipsed 100 yards receiving). This is what Kansas City does best. It generates yards and points on an epic scale.
That offense also wasn't the major reason the Chiefs won the Super Bowl last year. It was the defense that improved dramatically during the second half of the 2019 season and kept stepping up throughout the postseason. The belief around Kansas City always had been that the Chiefs had enough offense to win a championship with an average defense. They wound up winning a title with a unit that turned out to be pretty good in the end.
That defense hasn't been seen too much lately.
Sure, it shows up when the Chiefs are bullying less talented teams like the New York Jets or Denver Broncos. It's a different story when Kansas City is facing a veteran quarterback and a diversified offense. That's what the Chiefs encountered on Sunday night and they nearly left town with a second straight loss to Las Vegas.
The Raiders scored 40 points when they dealt Kansas City its only loss of the season.
The Raiders were just as lethal this time around, as the Chiefs struggled to stop them all night.
Kansas City forced Las Vegas to punt only twice on the evening and a Daniel Sorensen interception in the waning seconds was the only other stop they created. Aside from those moments, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr sliced and diced the Chiefs' defense most of the game, leaving little doubt about the validity of that first victory.
Carr threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns. If not for a blown coverage by the Raiders' defense -- which led to Mahomes throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Kelce with 28 seconds left in the contest -- the Las Vegas quarterback would've been the hero.
The Chiefs came into this contest with the 29th-best run defense in the league, but Carr masterfully exploited several other weaknesses, especially Kansas City's coverage limitations at cornerback and linebacker and its inexplicable lack of a consistent pass rush.
The Raiders were so effective that even Mahomes offered major praise for their effort, saying, "We needed everything we had to win this game."
Many people would say that the Chiefs are great because they have the best player in the league, a generational talent who is surrounded by extraordinary weapons.
The reality is that Mahomes can't win another title by himself. He won the AP Most Valuable Player award with a 5,000-yard, 50-touchdown season in 2018 and lost to New England in the AFC Championship Game. What's often forgotten about that year is that the Chiefs lost every contest they played against a high-powered offense.
Kansas City also didn't see many dynamic offenses when it closed last season with nine straight wins. There always have been opportunities for opponents to create big plays against the Chiefs' defense. The problem was that most of the teams K.C. faced didn't have quarterbacks who could make those plays consistently or weapons that could challenge Chiefs defenders. The Raiders had both, as do some of the teams coming up on the Kansas City schedule.
We'll know a lot more about this Chiefs team when it meets Tampa Bay next weekend. The Buccaneers can run hot and cold, but they have the kind of offensive weapons that rival what Las Vegas can put on a field. The same is true of New Orleans, whom Kansas City will meet on Dec. 20. Hell, even the Atlanta Falcons have enough firepower to make things interesting against the Chiefs when they meet in late December.
This is important to discuss today because we're reaching the point in the season where we're getting a better sense of what all these championship contenders have going for them. The Chiefs' 33-31 win over Carolina before the Week 10 bye should've raised eyebrows because the Panthers are fairly pedestrian on offense. That wasn't the case in that contest, though. Carolina quarterback Teddy Bridgewater gave Kansas City fits and the Chiefs survived only after the Panthers missed a last-second field goal attempt.
The Bucs and the Saints are good enough on defense to give the Chiefs problems. The Pittsburgh Steelers can do that, as well, and they boast the type of diversified offense that can do exactly what the Raiders have done in consecutive games against Kansas City. There's no doubting that you need a lot of assets to challenge the Chiefs. The best place to start is with a smart quarterback, an effective running game and an assortment of receivers who can make plays downfield.
The Raiders just proved how critical those pieces can be, while the Chiefs revealed once again that their offense can compensate for their deficiencies.
"We know what we're capable of and we have the ultimate firepower on offense," Kelce said. "Scoring on every drive is a mission and it's the expectation we set for ourselves. You can't get frustrated. That's a good football team. You have to battle through the ups and downs of a football game. It's 60 minutes and it might take you until the last minute to find a way to get a win."
That's been a familiar refrain around Kansas City.
A prolific offense has been the answer for most of what has ailed the Chiefs over the past few years and it's hard to argue against its value today.
The Chiefs have only lost once over the last 12 months. They've made a great case for those who believe they'll be hoisting another Lombardi Trophy in the near future.
Still, there's something that feels a bit off about this team, and it's impossible to ignore that after this latest win.
Mahomes proved once again why he's great, why the Chiefs are so dangerous and why it takes so much to beat them.
His defense, on the other hand, revealed something altogether different. If there's going to be a major hurdle in the Chiefs' hopes of repeating, it clearly will be coming from that side of the football.