Chiefs accustomed to big leads, making it easy to ease up

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs scored a touchdown every time they had the ball in the first half last Sunday, racing out to such a big lead against San Francisco that there was virtually no chance that the 49ers could come back.

They still made it a little bit interesting.

Both of those have become common themes three games into the season: The Chiefs have established early leads against everybody they’ve faced, then seemingly let up on the gas just a little bit.

Part of that is circumstance, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, but part of it is human nature. It’s simply a bit more difficult to remain on the razor’s edge, as you might be when the game is hanging in the balance, than when you have a 35-7 lead as they had last week against San Francisco.

“You have a tendency (to let up) and you have to fight that on both sides of the ball,” Reid said. “Whether it’s dropping a ball on a third down play when you have an opportunity to convert. Whether it’s easing back just a step and then the ball is completed in front of you, or you’re either late on breaking it up or missing a tackle, that sort of thing. That’s human nature.

“But you have to fight that sort of thing,” Reid continued. “We’re a young football team and so you have to learn that. You got to power through that and learn as you go how to finish.”

In the very next breath, Reid pointed out that the Chiefs have still won each of their games, and none of them have necessarily been nail-biters.

The closest thing to that came in Pittsburgh, when the Steelers rallied from 21-0 down to tie the game at halftime, then fell behind 42-30 early in the fourth quarter before a touchdown in the final minutes produced the final 42-37 margin.

The Chiefs led the Chargers 14-3 early in their opener, and 31-12 heading into the fourth quarter, before getting outscored 16-7 down the stretch. The result was still a 38-28 victory.

They wound up beating San Francisco 38-27, despite their offense managing just a field goal in the second half, when the Chiefs began leaning on running back Kareem Hunt to put the game away.

“When you’re ahead by that much early in the game, most teams play more bend-don’t-break,” said Broncos coach Vance Joseph, whose team will try to solve the Chiefs’ offensive riddle Monday night.

“They’ve been good in the red zone. They’re great on third down. They’re first in the league on third downs,” he said. “As far as takeaways, they’ve been great over the last three years taking the ball away. That’s their formula: score points, bend-don’t-break on defense, take the ball away.”

Those early leads have been especially important with a first-year starter in Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. He hasn’t had to produce a late-game comeback, or operate from behind at all, and so far that’s produced a record-setting stretch of games in which he’s thrown 13 touchdown passes.

As a team, the Chiefs have outscored opponents 49-6 in the first quarter.

“It’s not just their offense. Their defense has only give up six points,” Joseph said. “It’s their entire team. It’s going to be a challenge to start fast, play great defense and for our offense to score some points. … It’s a challenge, but again, we’re looking forward to it.”

Chiefs offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz acknowledged Thursday that another quick start is even more important than usual against Denver. If the Broncos manage to get a lead, their defense — and star linebacker Von Miller in particular — can “pin their ears back and make things difficult,” he said.

“It’s a stressful week,” Schwartz added.

Stress? That’s something the Chiefs haven’t had to deal with too much this season.

Notes: Outside linebacker Dee Ford was held out of practice Thursday after hurting his groin against the 49ers, though it’s possible he could play Monday night. “He’s actually doing very well right now so we’re optimistic,” Reid said. “It could be a day, a couple days. We’ll see how it goes.” … Linebacker Terrance Smith (shin bruise) also missed practice along with safety Eric Berry (heel), who has been out since camp.

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