Chiefs-Raiders: 8 winners, 3 losers from 31-13 victory

The Kansas City Chiefs finished out the 2022 regular season by completing a sweep of the AFC West with a comfortable, complete-team 31-13 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders. It was easily the most convincing win of this season’s six division contests. The defense stifled a pretty good offense with six sacks and two turnovers. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense were efficient and took care of the football, ensuring that the game was never really in doubt.

Seeing Ronald Jones and Chad Henne closing out the game — and knowing that it meant the Chiefs would have a bye next week — was a great way to wrap up the regular season. Here are a few Kansas City players who stood out in Las Vegas.

Note: Applying the labels “winners” and “losers” is not intended to be a judgment on the talent or character of any of these players. It’s just a simple way to grade their performance in a single game. No disrespect is intended.

Winners

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Wide receiver Kadarius Toney: Mecole Hardman wasn’t quite ready this week, which might have been a blessing in disguise. Even though his best play (and the coolest huddle ever) was called back on a questionable holding call, Toney returned to the end zone on the very next play. Toney averaged nearly 11 yards per catch and 12 yards per run for the Chiefs this season, scoring three times during his seven Kansas City games. The way he starts, stops and weaves through traffic is a skill set that his new team needs — not just in the red zone, but also in the playoffs.

EDGE George Karlaftis: Furious George is on a roll — and it’s coming at the perfect time. Five of his six sacks have come in the last seven games. He’s also recovered a fumble in each of the last two games. Along with some pretty solid all-around play, he has the league’s second-most batted passes (after Carlos Dunlap passed him this week) and is among the rookie leaders in quarterback pressures. He’s officially exceeding expectations — and might also be getting better every week.

Defensive lineman Chris Jones: This season’s best defensive tackle absolutely wrecked another game. His 2.5 sacks against the Raiders got him to 15.5 for the season. That matches the best season of his career and is tied for third in the league going into Sunday’s games. He has been getting to the quarterback in key moments – including the final play of Saturday’s game. As they enter the postseason, the Chiefs’ most important defensive player is in DPOY form.

Safeties Juan Thornhill and Justin Reid: We’ve been hoping that the safeties would find a way to make some big plays — and in Saturday’s first two drives, both delivered. Thornhill tackled Las Vegas running back Josh Jacobs for a loss on his second carry of the game, setting the tone for the run defense. Then on back-to-back plays, Reid sacked Jarrett Stidham and Thornhill came down with an interception. That allowed the Chiefs to go up 14-3 — and from then on, the game was essentially out of the Raiders’ reach.

Linebacker Nick Bolton: The second-year linebacker is not a perfect player. And let’s be honest: tackles aren’t a perfect stat to evaluate any defender. But it’s still worth appreciating that Bolton racked up 180 of them this season, exceeding Derrick Johnson’s team record. It’s been a very solid season for the leader of the Kansas City defense.

Punter Tommy Townsend: We didn’t love the decision to punt from the 41-yard line — but credit to Townsend for pinning Las Vegas on the six-yard line. The drive starting there ended with Thornhill’s interception. Then at the end of the third quarter, Nazeeh Johnson was able to down a 61-yard Townsend punt at the two-yard line that resulted in a three-and-out for the Raiders. Even if he’s received criticism over his work as a holder, Townsend has been among the league’s best punters this season; he has consistently flipped the field. And given that placekicker Harrison Butker hit all five of his kicks on Saturday, perhaps there’s hope that those problems have been corrected.

Running back Ronald Jones: As Isiah Pacheco has emerged as the team’s top runner — and Jerick McKinnon has excelled in his role as a receiver, pass protector, and goal-line threat — Jones has been the forgotten man. But in the regular-season finale, Andy Reid dialed up ten runs for Jones, who delivered 45 yards and a touchdown. It might have been just a showcase for a guy who will soon be looking for a job — or perhaps a taste of how Jones could contribute in the playoffs. Either way, it was a pretty good day for the veteran back.

Losers

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders

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Marquez Valdes-Scantling: Saturday gave us more examples of what we have seen with Valdes-Scantling all season. On a third down — with his back to the end zone — Mahomes threw deep to Valdes-Scantling with little chance of a completion. Luckily, a rare roughing-the-passer call bailed them out, so the drive continued. Mahomes went right back to the veteran wideout for a 13-yard completion as the Chiefs drove 98 yards for a touchdown. But the lack of chemistry and efficiency when Mahomes targets Valdes-Scantling is obvious — and it hasn’t really improved over the course of a 17-game season. On the year, the former Green Bay Packers wide receiver brought in about half of his targets, just missing a career high with 687 yards. His big step forward just didn’t happen.

Linebacker Darius Harris: We hate to keep beating up on Harris, but it’s puzzling to see him take snaps away from Willie Gay Jr. It’s even more puzzling when those snaps are in pass coverage, where Gay is Kansas City’s most talented linebacker. On Saturday, it cost the team. In the first half, Harris was outmatched by Las Vegas tight end Darren Waller for a 24-yard completion. Luckily, the Raiders weren’t able to exploit the matchup more often – but any time No. 47 is on the field, playoff teams might see an opportunity.

Frank Clark: The Chiefs’ pass rush has been coming on strong, with contributions from all across the defensive front. As part of the rotation, Clark has been a factor: he accumulated five sacks and some impressive speed-rushing snaps this season. But he left the Las Vegas game with a groin strain that could affect his availability for the playoffs. We can’t blame Clark for getting injured – but if he misses time yet again, it could hurt the defense. It would also bring back our frustrating memories of the times when his availability has been an issue.

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