KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the Kansas City Chiefs get their offense rolling like they did in a Week 2 win over the Oakland Raiders — four touchdown throws and 278 passing yards from Patrick Mahomes in the second quarter alone — it’s an impressive sight.
“Oh man, it’s a blast,” tight end Travis Kelce said. “It’s the most fun rush that I’ve ever had in my life, and that’s what keeps you going every single week is to get into a game and feel unstoppable like we did in that moment.”
The problem for the Chiefs as they prepare for a rematch with the Raiders on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS) is that they have rarely showed that kind of offensive might since. The Chiefs, who had four offensive touchdowns in each of their first three games, including the win over the Raiders, haven’t scored more than three in a game since.
It’s been far from a miserable offensive season for the Chiefs, who are third in yards and fourth in scoring. But a season after leading the NFL in yards and scoring they have seldom hit their full potential. The question, with first place in the AFC West on the line Sunday, is: Can they get it back?
Injuries have played a part this season. Mahomes and wide receiver Tyreek Hill, among others, have missed time. But right now they are about as healthy on offense as they’ve been all season. Running back Damien Williams is the only regular who missed practice on Wednesday.
It’s not just injuries, though, that have limited the Chiefs’ production.
“Penalties,” coach Andy Reid said. “We’ve got to take care of those. It’s affected us [elsewhere] on the field, and it’s affected us in the red zone. … You get a penalty in this league on a drive and you’ve cut your percentages and opportunities to score way down.”
The Chiefs say offensive penalties have been a problem most of the year, though they are tied with the Raiders for the eighth-fewest (32) this season. Despite an emphasis on reducing them in practice and meetings, the situation hasn’t improved, they say.
“We’ve got to play against the opponent and stop playing against ourselves,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “Let’s clean up the little things, [and] then we’ll give ourselves a better opportunity to go out and be who we know we can be.”
The Chiefs’ last two games are examples. In Week 10 against the Tennessee Titans, the Chiefs had a touchdown called back early in the game because of a penalty. They settled for a field goal on the drive, and the four points they lost proved essential. They wound up losing by three.
In their most recent game against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Chiefs had a penalty on their first possession, Mahomes threw an interception on the second and the Chiefs had a penalty on the third. They didn’t score until a Tyrann Mathieu interception and return gave the Chiefs the ball at the Chargers’ 6 in the second quarter.
The Chiefs had just 109 yards in the first half against the Chargers before things improved.
“You go back and you look at it as a coach: Am I calling the right things? Are we executing it the right way?” Reid said. “The week before, even though we had 500 and how many ever yards, we had too many penalties. We got down in the red zone and we got a touchdown taken away. You can’t do those things, right? You’ve got to make sure you answer that and get it fixed. You take care of that, and it’s a little more of a smooth operation.”
Smooth like that second quarter against the Raiders, when even Oakland coach Jon Gruden seemed a bit in awe. The four touchdowns came from at least 27 yards. Mahomes’ last five passes of the period were also of at least 27 yards.
“A couple of those were just incredible throws and catches,” Gruden said. “You have to tip your hat to them. We didn’t get enough pressure. We let Mahomes move around back there and cock his arm, and when he gets an opportunity to do that he can drop them in there no matter where they are. I tip my hat to them, and we have to do a better job next time.”
Raiders players are counting on it. The Raiders did a better job against the Chiefs in the other three quarters in Week 2. The Chiefs led 28-10 at halftime, and that’s how it ended.
“The beauty of it is that we get to see those guys again and clean up the mistakes,” Oakland safety Lamarcus Joyner said. “In this league, more games are lost than they are won. I think we kind of gave them two big plays that you can’t give a team like that.”