The Chiefs’ defense is why they’re headed to Super Bowl LVIII

There’s an old football expression, “defense travels.”

The Kansas City Chiefs indeed showed that after defeating the Baltimore Ravens 17-10 on Sunday and securing its fourth AFC Championship in five seasons.

During its dynasty run the last six years, Kansas City has been led by Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and a high-powered offense. But on Sunday, the Chiefs put on a defensive masterclass against the presumed 2023 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.

Kansas City allowed 336 yards and one offensive touchdown. After arguably having his best season, Jackson and Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Monken struggled to move the ball against a stout Chiefs defense.

Jackson completed 20 of 37 passes for 272 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was also sacked four times and was limited to 54 yards rushing. During the 34-10 Ravens win against the Texans in the AFC Divisional Round, Jackson rushed for 100 yards and accounted for four touchdowns.

The Chiefs forced three Ravens turnovers, with one of them helping decide the game. Late in the third quarter, Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers caught a short pass from Jackson, but cornerback L’Jarius Sneed stripped him before the ball crossed the plane of the end zone.

Baltimore had another chance to get a second-half touchdown, but Deon Bush intercepted Jackson in the end zone. The Ravens also converted 3 of 11 third-down conversions.

“It’s special,” Patrick Mahomes said about the Chiefs defense. “That’s a great team and a great quarterback. Spags [Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo], it seems like when the games get bigger and the challenges get higher, he seems to get even better.

“The guys executed the game plan well. They got timely turnovers down at the goal line, punching the ball out. Whenever they’re rolling like that, I have to manage my game and that’s something that I’ve learned through the season.

“Even if we are not having the success that I want to have and the defense is rolling and getting stops, take the safe choice and get the ball out of my hand and don’t turn the ball over, and let’s go win a football game.”

Kansas City entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the AFC after finishing 11-6. One of the reasons was the play of their offense. The Chiefs slipped from first in the NFL in 2022 to ninth during the regular season.

Unlike in previous seasons, the Chiefs’ offense was inconsistent after registering 44 dropped passes, which was the most in the league. Kansas City was also second in offensive penalties (64) and was ninth in turnovers (28).

Spagnuolo and his defensive unit picked up the slack and led the Chiefs to another Super Bowl appearance. Kansas City finished second in the league in total defense (289.8 yards per game).

No team has scored more than 27 points against Spagnuolo’s defense all year. Kansas City allowed the fewest second-half points (126) in the NFL. The Chiefs ended the regular season, allowing just 17.3 points per game, the second lowest in the league.

That translated over to the postseason. During the 27-24 win against the Bills, the Chiefs defense allowed just seven points in the final 30 minutes. That was after Kansas City gave up 17 points in the first half.

After starting the year 6-1, Kansas City lost five of eight games towards the end of the season. That led Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to go on the road in the divisional and conference championship rounds if they wanted to reach the Super Bowl.

Following a 26-7 win against the Dolphins in the wild-card round, Mahomes and the Chiefs defeated the top two seeds [Ravens, Bills] in the AFC on the road. Kansas City saved its best performance for the brightest lights and Mahomes led the way. He passed for 718 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions on the way to Super Bowl LVIII.

“It just builds character,” head coach Andy Reid said. “We need those obstacles, we need to go through that adversity because it makes us stronger as a team. Because we know when things don’t go our way, we have been there before.

“We know that if we do it together as a team, we buy into it and we play hard, we are going to win.

The hardest thing about getting to the top is staying there. After the Patriots’ run with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady ended after the 2018 season, Kansas City has taken that baton and been the best franchise in the NFL during the last six seasons.

The Chiefs have proven they can win games with Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and their offense, and now they are showing their stingy defense can also lead the way. Because of that, the Chiefs can be the first team since the 2003-04 Patriots to win back-to-back Super Bowls.