Heading into Sunday's game in Frankfurt, Germany, between Patrick Mahomes' Kansas City Chiefs and the high-flying Miami Dolphins, few would have guessed a defensive struggle would break out.
Even Chiefs head coach Andy Reid didn't see a first-half shutout and holding Mike McDaniel's offense to two scores in a 21-14 win.
"I'm not going to slight our defense. But I wouldn't have guessed that," Reid said of the low-scoring affair, via the official transcript. "Typically two good offenses, that being the No. 1 offense, the Dolphins, in the National Football League right now. For the things that our defense did right there, that was a tremendous achievement. Obviously we got to keep it going. You're just as good as the next game that you play in. That was a heck of an achievement. (Defensive coordinator) Steve (Spagnuolo) did a great job with scheming it. The players executed very well."
K.C. held Tagovailoa to season lows in completion percentage (61.8), passing yards (193), yards per attempt (5.7), and passer rating (87.0), while Miami scored a season-low 14 points. It marked the second-fewest points of the McDaniel era in Miami. The only game with fewer was a Skylar Thompson start last year against the New York Jets in Week 18 (11 points).
The Chiefs D had the offense glowing after the statement victory.
"The fact that they're so good at all three levels, they're deep. Guys rotate in. They can play. It's hard to get everybody snaps, that's how good they are," Mahomes said of his D. "It's got to be the top defense in the NFL. That's a great offense. To hold them to 14 points where I fumbled in our own area for seven of those points, that's a tremendous job. I think they're going to continue to get better because they're young and they love it."
The key play came late in the first half, with Miami threatening to cut into a 14-0 Chiefs lead. Trent McDuffie stripped Hill, safety Mike Edwards scooped up the ball, and before he could be tackled, pitched it to Bryan Cook, who dashed 59 yards for a touchdown, giving Kansas City a 21-0 halftime lead.
With the Chiefs' offense unable to put up any second-half points, it was the defense that ultimately kept Miami at bay, forcing a fourth-quarter punt and a pressure look on fourth down on the final drive leading to a high snap that ended the Dolphins' bid to tie the contest.
"I can probably tell you, halfway through the season, that this is the best defense I've ever played with," tight end Travis Kelce said. "They come up in huge moments, man. Honestly, they've been saving us in a lot of situations. But that's why you play this team game, man. It's why it's the best game in the world."
The Chiefs' defense has saved the offense a lot through nine games. Kansas City has scored fewer than 24 points in six games this season, tied for the most such games in a single season for the Chiefs since 2018 (six games in 2021). K.C. had only three such games in 2022. In the Mahomes era (since 2018), the Chiefs are averaging their fewest points per game (23.1), fewest passing yards per game (264.9), lowest red-zone TD percent (54.5), and most giveaways per game (1.9), per NFL Research.
The defense has allowed the Chiefs offense to work through their issues while still going 7-2 to open the season. If Mahomes and Co. finally figure things out down the stretch, look out.