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Chris Jones: Chiefs' defense 'can stand up to any team'

The story of the Kansas City Chiefs locking down a fourth straight AFC West championship was not about Patrick Mahomes' eye-popping play, Andy Reid's wizardry play-calling, or an offensive juggernaut. Not this time.

This time, the Chiefs' defense has made the climb forward, becoming a unit to be reckoned with as the winter chill spreads across the U.S.

"The defense, I think, is one of the big stories of the season," Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said after Sunday's AFC West-clinching win in New England. "At the beginning of the year, we knew it was going to take a fair amount of the season for that group to really jell. They've been a big factor in the last three victories, starting in Mexico."

Once again it was Steve Spagnuolo's crew that made the biggest plays.

Chris Jones wreaked havoc in the backfield, constantly getting in Tom Brady's face in the 23-16 victory in Foxboro. Frank Clark's otherworldly bend off the edge kept the pressure on. And the back end, led by Tyrann Mathieu, once again locked down the receiver's corps.

"We don't need the offense to win games for us," Jones said after the win, via The Athletic. "Last year, we kind of lingered toward the offense scoring a lot of points to win games. We don't need that. We as a defense can stand up to any team in this league. That's how it's supposed to be."

Sunday's win marked the first time the Chiefs held the New England Patriots under 20 points, in regular season or playoffs, since Week 4, 2014 (won 41-14) -- the world remembers that 2014 matchup better as the "On to Cincinnati" game.

For comparison, K.C. allowed 40.0 points per game, 512.0 total yards per game in two tilts versus New England in 2018 (including playoffs). Sunday, it allowed 16 points and 278 total yards.

"We gave up 16 points on the road," Jones said. "I feel like we can get better."

For those noting that the Patriots' offense has been of kilter all season, in an attempt take some shine off the Chiefs' defense, it's not a one-game aberration. K.C. has only allowed 14.0 PPG in its last three games (all wins) -- it allowed 23.9 PPG in first 10 games (6-4 record).

Chiefs' defense last two seasons:
2018: 26.3 points per game allowed; 405.5 yards per game; 237.4 passing YPG; 41.5 3rd down percent allowed.
2019:21.6 points per game allowed; 364.8 yards per game; 227.2 passing YPG; 35.4 3rd down percent allowed.

With Mahomes and the offense working out the kinks since his return from injury, it's been the defense that's propelled the Chiefs to the division title.

The key to the late season surge from the Chiefs' defense has been getting most of its key pieces healthy. Both Jones and Clark have missed games due to injury. When they're on the field together, the Chiefs defensive front is a load for any offensive line. The secondary, too, has jelled as the season has gone on, and what was a major weakness last season, has become a stabilizing force.

The Patriots only generated two gains of 20-plus yards, both came on trick plays -- a flea-flicker TD on the first drive, and a halfback pass on the final drive.

"I feel like they tipped their hats off to us on that aspect," corner Bashaud Breeland said. "They really can't go and run traditional routes on us as a secondary. For them to have to do trick plays, being Tom Brady and Belichick, that means a lot. It shows a lot of respect for our unit."

Breeland made the game-sealing play in the end zone, tipping the ball out of Julian Edelman's hand on fourth-down. It was apropos for the game to end on a big play by the Chiefs defense.

Come January, the improved Chiefs defense could be the difference in finally getting Reid's team over the postseason hump and into a Super Bowl.

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