The Chiefs' much-maligned defense delivered its strongest performance of the season in a victory Sunday, holding Washington to 13 points and just 276 yards while delivering a shutout in the second half.
The showing served as a dramatic turnaround for a defense entering the game ranked last in the league, allowing 32.6 points per game.
Coach Andy Reid credited a game plan devised by coordinator Steve Spagnuolo generating more production at the line of scrimmage.
"I thought he mixed it up pretty good, trying to get pressure on the quarterback," Reid said. "I thought Spags had a nice game plan all the way around. They're a scrappy offense right there."
During the second quarter, however, a happy ending didn't appear to be in the cards for the Chiefs. The defense allowed 148 yards as Washington controlled the clock for 10 minutes, 40 seconds. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke connected with tight end Ricky Seals-Jones on a 39-yard touchdown pass with 1:18 left that gave his team a 13-10 halftime lead.
The touchdown pass came two plays after Heinicke hit running back J.D. McKissic on a screen pass on third-and-16 for a first down. That play drew a strong emotional response from safety Tyrann Mathieu.
"It was third-and-long, I think it doesn't matter what play the coach calls," Mathieu said. "I think as players you have to execute and, you know you have to have formation recognition and you just have to have a sense of urgency. I felt like that was a play that the whole defense took off, if that makes sense. But obviously, coaches are going to call the game and as players, we have to make it right."
At halftime, Reid said his team switched its mindset to "enough is enough."
"The guys get tired of it and those leaders get tired of it and it's got to change," Reid said. "And so, you need a little bit of that, a little bit of that fire and then everybody needs to feel it and then go. So that's what happened there."
The Chiefs allowed Washington just 76 yards in the second half. Reid wants to see his team playing more complementary football in the weeks ahead.
"Listen, if you can get the offense and defense playing well, then you see what you got to see that second half," Reid said. "It's important that we keep growing there and that we do eliminate the turnovers and we create turnovers, all of those things that you're supposed to do to win football games, and then have a solid special teams unit. But that's what we're striving for, and I know our guys are hungry to do that, and so we'll keep working at it."
The Chiefs converted 11 of 17 third-down attempts on Sunday, including eight in a row in the second half. Patrick Mahomes completed 11 of 13 for 156 yards, including a touchdown and nine conversions, on third downs and scrambled for two first downs as well. Reid's offense leads the league with a 60.3% conversion rate on third down, well ahead of Tampa Bay at No. 2 with 49.4%.
"We've been able to keep for the most part our third downs in a reasonably manageable position, and that helps," Reid said. "Whether it's the first-, second-down calls, the guys making plays on those downs, and then that always helps you, normally your percentage goes up."
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Turnovers continue to undermine the efficiency of the offense. The team averages a league-best 3.14 points per drive, yet also leads the league with 14 giveaways. A staggering 22.8% of the offense's possessions end with a turnover. Mahomes has eight interceptions on the season after throwing six last season. His career high for interceptions is 12 during his MVP season in 2018.
"I've had a lot of interceptions this year, it's not a secret," Mahomes said. "You kind of just have to move on, kind of just have to keep playing. I mean at the end of the day, the interceptions, they're on the stat sheet. But if you're getting wins, no one really cares about them. So you have to find a way to win games no matter what it takes."
Safety Juan Thornhill made his first start of the season as the Chiefs seek to shore up a leaky secondary that allowed six pass plays of more than 20 yards a week ago in a blowout loss to Buffalo. The defense yielded only two such plays on Sunday with Thornhill playing free safety on the back end while making three tackles, including one for a loss.
The Chiefs made room for Thornhill by demoting safety Daniel Sorensen, who drew much of the blame for the team's defensive breakdowns a week ago against the Bills. Sorensen played just 19 snaps Sunday, his lowest total since Week 2 of the 2019 season. Sorensen has been a mainstay of the secondary for much of the past five seasons, but at age 31 he appears to have lost his starting job for now.
Backup tight end Jody Fortson suffered a torn Achilles tendon against Washington and is expected to head to injured reserve soon. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens (elbow) and fullback Michael Burton (pectoral) both left Sunday's game early and are undergoing further evaluation.
89 — total number of yards from scrimmage for running back Darrel Williams in the first regular-season start of his four-year NFL career. Williams also reached the end zone twice while filling in for injured starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Mahomes said Sunday's effort illustrated why teammates have confidence when Williams is in the backfield.
"He's going to battle, he's going to run for those tough yards," Mahomes said. "If he gets a crease, he can make some plays happen. You've seen that in big moments of his entire career, and today was a big moment for him to step into that number one role. I think he did a great job doing that."
The Chiefs visit the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.