2021 NFL season, Week 18: What we learned from Chiefs-Broncos; Cowboys-Eagles

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  • READ: How Chiefs’ win over Broncos impacts AFC playoff picture

1. It wasn’t pretty, but the Chiefs closed like winners. Kansas City again found itself in a tight game on the road, one in which early offensive success tailed off by the second half. Unlike in Week 17’s loss to the Bengals, the Chiefs got the defensive play they needed to turn the tables in their favor, and Patrick Mahomes’ keeper for the two-point conversion put them back in control. From there, it was about finishing the job, which the Chiefs did by holding Denver to a field goal, then bleeding the remaining clock with a nine-play, 71-yard drive that included a crucial third-down conversion and ate up the final 4:37 of the game. This is the mark of a winning football team, even if it hasn’t been nearly as dominant as previous seasons. The wins all count the same.

2. The Broncos gave it their all, but it wasn’t enough. Denver battled its tails off throughout Saturday’s game, overcoming an early 7-0 deficit to take a 14-7 lead and keeping pace with the Chiefs into the fourth quarter. But as has been the case for much of Denver’s 2021 season, the Broncos couldn’t close the deal. Their entire year was characterized by one play when Melvin Gordon was blown up in the backfield by former Chargers teammate Melvin Ingram, fumbled, and watched rookie linebacker Nick Bolton return it for a touchdown. From there, the Broncos were again battling uphill and never made it to the summit.

3. The Chiefs enter the playoffs with a couple of key health questions. Tyreek Hill suffered a heel injury in pregame warmups and wasn’t able to handle a full workload, and though he still contributed in spots, it wasn’t close to a typical performance from Hill. To make matters worse, a key third-down completion to Travis Kelce left him hobbled with what was described by the ESPN broadcast as a hip injury. Coach Andy Reid said afterward Kelce is fine, but it’s still worth monitoring, and with the Chiefs needing a Titans loss to earn them a first-round bye, they might not get the luxury of a week off for Hill and Kelce to get right. The good news: Their depth can step up when needed. Saturday was Jerick McKinnon’s day, making contributions on the ground and through the air in multiple key moments, finishing with 50 scrimmage yards and one touchdown on eight touches. Kansas City might need this type of help from others — Mecole Hardman was another one who stepped up Saturday, especially on the game’s final possession — if they don’t end up with the No. 1 seed and don’t get positive reports on Hill and Kelce.

4. The end of the road could be near for Vic Fangio — and Drew Lock. Fangio’s team certainly played for him Saturday and nearly scored an upset that might have been enough to convince the Broncos to keep him around in 2022, but the fashion in which Denver lost could end up being the final blow. Fangio elected to kick a field goal while trailing by seven with fewer than five minutes remaining, choosing to trust his defense to get the ball back one more time. They never did, as Kansas City gouged the strength of the defensive-minded Fangio’s team for 44 yards, then did just enough to prevent a change of possession. Even if Denver had gotten the ball back, their odds to winning were long. Lock was very inconsistent when passing, finding receivers for important completions, but also missing open targets in other instances, ultimately finishing 12 of 24 for 162 yards and a 71.9 passer rating. His future in Denver is uncertain at best, and with a report this morning from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Tom Pelissero and James Palmer stating multiple league sources not connected to the Broncos believe Fangio will be dismissed, Saturday’s result certainly doesn’t help. We’ll wait to see what happens there as the Broncos head into another important offseason.

NFL Research: Mecole Hardman finished with eight receptions for 103 yards, marking the first 100-yard game of his NFL career.

Next Gen Stat of the game: Kansas City gained 56.3 percent in win probability with Nick Bolton’s fumble return for a touchdown, moving from a 32 percent chance of victory to 88.3 percent.

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