GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Chiefs’ offensive line heard it all week. How the Eagles’ defensive front was the best in the NFL. How it led the league in sacks. How Philadelphia was the first team in NFL history to have four players with at least 10 sacks in the same season. How the front would overwhelm Kansas City.
K.C.’s blockers also heard how their unit was the primary culprit in the Chiefs’ Super Bowl loss two years ago against Tampa Bay, when people ostensibly called the O-linemen human turnstiles after they allowed the Buccaneers to pressure quarterback Patrick Mahomes into the worst performance of his career.
They heard it. They internalized it. And on Sunday, they did something about it. All of it.
Playing with purpose and passion, the offensive line was largely responsible for the Chiefs’ four second-half possessions going touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, field goal — the last points coming with eight seconds to play to give Kansas City a 38-35 victory and its second championship in four seasons.
For the group’s members, Sunday wasn’t just about business. It was personal.
“We’ve had a great season up front,” center Creed Humphrey said. “Our O-line has been really dominant this year. I feel like we weren’t getting the respect that we deserved during the week, and we wanted to come out and make a statement tonight. We got after them, and it was fun.”
The group members typically don’t get a lot of attention unless Mahomes is under duress, so please allow me to introduce them. From left to right: Orlando Brown Jr., Joe Thuney, Humphrey, Trey Smith, and Andrew Wylie.
Individually, they are five fingers.
Collectively, they are a powerful fist.
“I don’t want to hear about it anymore,” Wylie said of the Eagles’ defensive front. “The O-line knew it was going to be our responsibility to win this game, and we came out in the second half and took it into our own hands and did the damn thing. We had a hell of an offensive scheme going, and they were dialing it up and it was working.”
That scheme focused on the run game, and taking pressure off of Mahomes, who aggravated a high ankle sprain just before the half. For a moment, there was uncertainty about whether he would return. The QB stayed on all fours after being tackled from behind, then hop-skipped to the sideline, where he was in such agony he momentarily rested his head on the shoulder of an assistant coach.
Backup Chad Henne began warming up, but never entered the game, as the Chiefs’ offense did not return to the field before the intermission. In the locker room during the break, nothing needed to be said among the offensive linemen.
“When you see a guy get injured like that, the first thing that goes through your mind is: No one touches him again,” Humphrey said.
Running the football was the most obvious way to protect Mahomes, and the Chiefs imposed their will in that regard. After running just seven times for 39 yards in the first half, they pounded out 119 yards on 19 carries in the second half, including a 26-yard scramble by Mahomes that helped set up the decisive field goal. Kansas City had six first downs by rush in the final two quarters after managing only one in the first half.
“We were running the hell out of the ball,” said Wylie. “It started with [Humphrey] in the middle, and the O-line handled business.”
Equally important was the unit’s ability to keep the pocket largely clean. The Eagles, whose pass rush has been lethal all season, was held without a sack for only the second time in the 2022 campaign. In the second half, the rush rarely affected Mahomes, who was 13-of-14 passing for 98 yards and two touchdowns over the final two quarters. His lone incompletion was a throwaway in the end zone.
“When you see (No.) 15 out there grinding, you know you always have a chance to win the game,” Smith said. “And to see him come up limping, we knew we needed to protect him. We knew he needed us even more. We answered the call. We heard all week abut their defensive front; they’re a very talented defensive front. Great players. We weren’t perfect, but we kept grinding and we kept chopping and we got it done.”
As players and coaches made their way to the locker room, owner Clark Hunt alternately hugged, shook hands or patted them on the back. At one point, he was asked to compare this championship to the one Kansas City claimed three years ago. He couldn’t do it without also recognizing the Chiefs’ Super Bowl loss two seasons ago in Tampa.
“The first one was at the end of a 50-year journey to get back to the Super Bowl, so it will always be special in some light,” he said. “But this one will be special in large part because of the failure of two years ago. And even the disappointment in the AFC Championship Game last year.”
Following that loss to the Bucs in which Mahomes was sacked three times, hit nine times, tackled four times for a loss and intercepted twice — not surprisingly, Mahomes failed to reach the end zone for the only time in his playoff career — GM Brett Veach went to work rebuilding the unit.
During the 2021 offseason, he signed Thuney to a five-year, $80 million free-agent deal, acquired Brown Jr. in a trade with Baltimore and drafted Humphrey (second round) and Smith (sixth round). Each of them inherently knew what was expected of them: Keep Mahomes upright and clean.
“That’s why they brought us in,” Humphrey said. “They wanted us to do that. That was our job.”
“Brett Veach did a tremendous job a couple of years ago rebuilding that offensive line,” Hunt said. “They’ve just continued to improve from having a chance to play together. Clearly the Eagles’ front on defense is one of the strengths of that team, and we came out in the second half and our offensive line stepped it up. We started running the ball and giving Patrick more time.”
They went from struggling to stay on the field — their four first-half possessions lasted six, seven, three and five plays — to putting together second-half drives of 10, nine, three and 12 plays. Things were going so well for them that on the one occasion where there was a breakdown and the Eagles had pressure on Mahomes, the quarterback broke into the clear and, on a bad ankle, scampered for 26 yards to set up the decisive score.
“On that play, he disappeared for a bit, watching it from up above,” Hunt said. “Then he re-emerged, and I’m like, Who’s that running with the ball? Of course it was Superman.”
On this night, Batman seems more fitting. Because then we could credibly say he was aided by five determined Robins. Actually, calling them that is as disrespectful as those who suggested the Eagles’ defensive front would overwhelm them.
Their names are Orlando Brown Jr., Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith and Andrew Wylie, and on this night, they showed they do not have to take second-billing to anyone, be it their star quarterback or their celebrated opponent.
Follow Jim Trotter on Twitter.