AVENTURA, Florida – The Chiefs' 2018 season ended with Patrick Mahomes on the sidelines when Kansas City failed to stop Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC championship extension.
At that point, the chiefs began rebuilding their defenses. Andy Reid fired long-time defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and replaced him with Steve Spagnuolo, who switched from 3-4 to 4-3. They traded Frank Clark of the Seahawks for a defensive end and signed bully Mathieu.
The changes didn't work immediately. In the first 10 weeks of the season, they allowed 23.9 points per game, 19th in the NFL. They gave up 29 touchdowns (23rd) and finished 14th in the selection.
Then something clicked.
The chief's defense has been in full swing since November. In the last six games of the regular season, they gave 11.5 points per game, the least in the league. They allowed seven touchdowns, an NFL low and had 10 interceptions, which were equated for No. 1.
In the playoffs, the defense frustrated Texas quarterback Deshaun Watson and slowed down the titans that Derrick Henry run back.
Everyone knows Mahomes and the soaring Chiefs' offensive, but it could be this underestimated defense that makes the difference in Sunday's Super Bowl LIV.
"We are ready to take this stage and show the world that we deserve to be here as a defense," said Mathieu.
Chiefs defenders said the change occurred mid-season because they understood Spagnuolo's defense better and challenged each other to relieve Mahomes.
"To be honest, it was us," said defender Derrick Nnadi of the difference. “We just had to see what we had to do as a team, as a defense. We just said we can't rely on Pat to save us. That won't get us far. It wouldn't have gotten us where we are right now. We really had to buckle up and just play. We had to keep applying pressure and take over the game. "
The chiefs forced four takeaways into a 24:17 win over the Chargers in week 11, a sign that things are changing. They kept three of their next five opponents out of the end zone. In the playoffs, the chiefs fired Watson four times and kept the Texans in a hurry at 94 meters. In the title game, they held Henry at 69 meters and a touchdown and ended his dominance.
"In the end, we think we only play together as a team," said Mathieu. "I think we have a lot of talent in our defenses. I think a lot of people buy this. I think a lot of people are starting to believe in their abilities. We played like that. "
The challenge on Sunday will be to stop a violent 49er attack that was relentless in the playoffs. Run Defense has been the Chiefs' weakness this season, but it has improved dramatically lately as they faced Henry as the last example.
Still, the Chiefs know that the 49ers' attack is a different challenge than that of the Titans.
"It's completely different," said linebacker Reggie Ragland. “Derrick is all about going downhill. These guys have all the speed in the world to jump and run and be ahead. We have to do a great job to set the course. Boys have to do a great job filling the holes and gaps. "
Mathieu said the bosses hadn't forgotten the early criticism they received.
"There will always be criticism. It is the NFL, especially if you play with a crime that is as strong as our crime," said Mathieu. "I think a lot of the criticism will fall on the defense. We have Accepted it. We accepted it. We stacked our bricks. We didn't forget anything someone said. We are highly motivated.
"We feel that we still have a game to prove our point of view."
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