How to beat the Chiefs: Our writers explain the game plans used to defeat K.C. this season

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The Kansas City Chiefs are in the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five years, but they aren’t unbeatable. What’s the key to shutting down Patrick Mahomes and company?

It’s not impossible, on either side, as a staggering 11 teams — the Bengals, Bills, Broncos, Browns, Eagles, Lions, Packers, Raiders, Rams, Ravens and Vikings — defeated the two Super Bowl teams during the regular season. By comparison, the Chiefs and Eagles lost just a combined six times in the regular season ahead of their Super Bowl matchup last year.

How did those teams come out on top against the Chiefs? We asked our writers who cover those teams to go back to those specific games and help us figure out how it happened.

How to beat the Chiefs

Colton Pouncy, Detroit Lions staff writer

9/7/23: Lions 21, Chiefs 20 

The Lions’ Week 1 win over the Chiefs announced their arrival this season, but it wasn’t easy — even without Travis Kelce and Chris Jones. In the first quarter, the Lions successfully executed a fake punt from their own 17 after a drive looked to be stalled. They’d go on to add a touchdown in a game where points were hard to come by.

Detroit capitalized on mistakes, like a dropped pass from Mahomes to Kadarius Toney that landed right in the hands of defensive back Brian Branch for a pick six. It stopped the run, holding the Chiefs to just 90 yards on 23 rushes (and just 45 yards on 17 rushes excluding Mahomes).

Detroit’s defense did enough to keep things close in the fourth quarter, allowing the Lions’ offense enough time to put together a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive with about seven minutes to go. They took a 21-20 lead and never looked back.

On that night, it was enough for the Lions.

Related: Our NFL writers explain the game plans used to beat the 49ers this year

Nick Kosmider, Denver Broncos staff writer

10/29/23: Broncos 24, Chiefs 9

How do you hold the Chiefs to only nine points, as the Broncos did during a 15-point win at Empower Field at Mile High in late October? It helps to play Mahomes when he is battling a flu-like illness as the NFL’s best quarterback was that day in Denver.

Mahomes had never lost to the Broncos since entering the league in 2017 — and had never lost a single AFC West road game to that point — but he was responsible for three of the Chiefs’ season-high five turnovers, was sacked three times and couldn’t lead Kansas City to a touchdown during any of its three red zone trips.

The 59.1 passer rating Mahomes posted was the second-worst mark of his career, behind only a 57.3 figure he produced during a win against those same Broncos in 2021. The 49ers probably shouldn’t count on playing an under-the-weather Mahomes in the Super Bowl. And even if he were sick, it’s likely he’d still find a way to perform better than he did during the Chiefs’ first loss to the Broncos since 2015.

Brooks Kubena, Philadelphia Eagles staff writer

11/20/23: Eagles 21, Chiefs 17

In their second of three straight comeback victories, the Eagles left Arrowhead Stadium having seized both the NFL’s best record and vengeance over the team that beat them in Super Bowl LVII. It was an emotional victory won in a constant deluge, a game after which coach Nick Sirianni unabashedly shouted at opposing fans and reporters before walking into a locker room that, over the subsequent weeks, would lose all semblance of the magic it spent on the field.

Jalen Hurts, whose freedom to improv eventually unraveled in a series of late-season dysfunctions, checked to a game-changing deep ball to DeVonta Smith. The Chiefs looked lost. Kelce dropped key passes. Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropped a go-ahead touchdown pass from Mahomes in the final minutes. It’s jarring to think how swiftly both teams reversed roles.

Matt Schneidman, Green Bay Packers staff writer

12/3/23: Packers 27, Chiefs 19

The Chiefs only had two first-half drives against the Packers in Week 13, if we’re not including their kneeldown inside their own 5-yard line with nine seconds remaining in the second quarter. Both Kansas City drives made it inside Green Bay’s 10-yard line, but both times the Packers’ defense held firm and forced field goals.

Over those two drives, the Packers sacked Mahomes three times inside their 12-yard line. The Chiefs left eight points on the board in the first half and eventually lost at Lambeau Field by eight. That’s a good spot for the 49ers to start, holding Mahomes and company to field goals instead of touchdowns when the Chiefs get into the red zone or even the deep red zone.

Joe Buscaglia, Buffalo Bills staff writer

12/10/23: Bills 20, Chiefs 17

The Bills have a unique case. They’re the only team that beat the Chiefs in the regular season and lost to them in the playoffs. When the Bills beat them in Kansas City in Week 14, they were both in a do-or-die scenario for their playoff hopes and coming off extra rest on the bye week, which helped in a big way.

The Bills put together a masterful plan on defense to help limit the Chiefs on offense. But even though the Bills weren’t quite the postseason Bills at that point, the Chiefs offense wasn’t the one we’re seeing in their run to the Super Bowl. The Chiefs were without running back Isiah Pacheco, and he was a true difference-maker in their playoff win over the Bills. They are a much different and potent offense now than in the regular season. But the real story on how the Bills did it, and almost did it again, is about the offensive side of the ball.

The Bills had two of the most successful offensive outputs against Kansas City’s defense of the season. What is the commonality between the two games? The Bills dominated the time of possession (36:12 on average); ran the ball with success, with their running backs and quarterback Josh Allen (300 yards in two games); limited turnovers (one in two games); didn’t get too greedy through the air and then eventually took deep shots downfield once they lured the Chiefs closer to the line of scrimmage.

Those deep plays didn’t hit often enough in the second game. Although they lost in the postseason, they were a late-game missed field goal away from potentially forcing overtime, so the Bills were clearly on to something.

Tashan Reed, Las Vegas Raiders staff writer

12/25/23: Raiders 20, Chiefs 14

The Raiders delivered the Chiefs one of their most surprising losses of the season in a 20-14 triumph at Arrowhead Stadium on Christmas Day. They did so despite starting quarterback Aidan O’Connell not completing a single pass after the first quarter. That’s certainly not a sustainable model for victory, but the stout defense and consistent run game that the Raiders relied on certainly could be.

Not only did the Raiders’ defense largely bottle up Mahomes and the Chiefs, but it created two game-changing plays with a fumble recovery for a touchdown and a pick six right before halftime to take control of the game.

With running back Zamir White taking 22 carries for 145 yards, the Raiders were able to hang on in the second half for the win. In controlling the clock with the run game, forcing the Chiefs’ offense into uncharacteristic turnovers and preventing Mahomes from creating explosive plays downfield, the Raiders identified a sound approach to knock off Kansas City.

(Top photo: David Eulitt / Getty Images)

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