The Kansas City Chiefs were defending Super Bowl champions, but their trip back to the Super Bowl had plenty of challenges.
The Chiefs lost their first game, and that set the tone for a season that was full of ups and downs, frustrations with an offense that was far below its normal standard and the most losses of any season in the Patrick Mahomes era.
But the season will end in the usual place, with the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs have been in four of the past five Super Bowls.
Chris Jones reports
The Chiefs played their season opener without their best defensive player and lost to the Detroit Lions. They needed Jones back.
Jones ended his holdout before Week 2, agreeing to a one-year, $19.5 million deal. He added $4.25 million more by reaching incentives, including a $1 million bonus for being named All-Pro and the Chiefs making the Super Bowl.
Jones missed one game, and it was fortunate for the Chiefs that he didn't miss more. He's one of the team's most valuable players. They're likely not in the Super Bowl without him.
“These are the decisions you have to live with,” Jones said in September after ending his holdout, via AP. “I would change it, but I’m grateful for how it turned out.”
Kadarius Toney is offsides
One of the biggest plays of the NFL season was an offsides call. Travis Kelce had an awesome cross-field lateral to Toney for a touchdown to seemingly take a lead over the Bills late in a Week 14 clash. But there was a flag. Toney had lined up offsides. Barely, but he was offsides.
The all-22 angle of Toney's offsides makes it look even worse. pic.twitter.com/HoxK5pQQHn
— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) December 11, 2023
Then the Chiefs melted down. Patrick Mahomes screamed at the officials. Andy Reid bemoaned that he didn't get a warning before a flag was thrown, though he later admitted Toney made a mistake not checking with the officials before the play. Both Reid and Mahomes were fined. Mahomes' anger at that point seemed to be about the state of his team and unreliable receivers as much as the offsides call itself.
Patrick Mahomes going off on the refs at the end of the Chiefs and Bills game pic.twitter.com/3eDWQhOL4I
— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) December 11, 2023
It also changed things. Toney has fallen out of the Chiefs' plans, playing just once since that Bills game due to injuries and whatever else. That play might have cost the Miami Dolphins an AFC East title (if Buffalo lost that game and everything stayed the same, Miami would have won the division), and who knows how the playoffs would have played out differently if that happened. The butterfly effect and all. No matter what, it was a big moment in Kansas City's season.
The Chiefs lose to the Raiders
When the Chiefs hosted the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas, they hadn't lost to the Raiders at home since 2012. But the Chiefs made some big mistakes, including giving up two defensive touchdowns in seven seconds, the second one a pick 6 off Mahomes. The Raiders pulled off a 20-14 upset win, and that was a low point for the Chiefs. Travis Kelce slammed his helmet on the sideline, and Andy Reid confronted him over it. All the frustration over an uneven season came out.
The Chiefs haven't lost since. Sometimes teams need to get a wake-up call by hitting rock-bottom for things to turn around. That loss was rock-bottom. Kansas City rallied after it.
Tyler Bass misses
Sometimes, you need a break that's mostly out of your hands. Maybe the Chiefs would still be in the Super Bowl if Bass, the Bills kicker, hadn't missed a 44-yard field goal that would've tied their AFC divisional-round playoff game. They still had 1:43 and Patrick Mahomes, after all. But there is no guarantee.
Much like how Anders Carlson's fourth-quarter miss in the divisional round for the Green Bay Packers opened the door for a 49ers comeback, Bass' miss was a key turning point in the Chiefs' season. It locked in a trip to the AFC championship game.
L'Jarius Sneed punches it out
There were plenty of big moments in the AFC championship game, but none bigger than Sneed's enormous forced fumble. The Baltimore Ravens trailed 17-7 early in the fourth quarter but were on the verge of a touchdown that could've changed the game. Ravens receiver Zay Flowers dove for the end zone, and Sneed made an incredible play to punch the ball out just before Flowers crossed the goal line.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 29, 2024
The Chiefs recovered that fumble in the end zone and went on to win 17-10. Sneed's forced fumble will go down as one of the biggest defensive plays in franchise history.