The Chiefs aren’t quite themselves yet … but at least they aren’t 0-2

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It can be debated whether the Kansas City Chiefs are a full-fledged NFL dynasty. Even if they aren’t, they are the closest thing to it the sport has to offer. So when things aren’t quite coming together as scripted early in a season, they know how to balance the urgency of making every game count and the patience of trying to build toward something better in the months to come.

That was the mix of perspectives that accompanied the Chiefs’ 17-9 triumph over the Jacksonville Jaguars on a steamy Sunday at EverBank Stadium. The defending Super Bowl champs stumbled and bumbled their way through a sloppy performance on offense, even with tight end Travis Kelce back in the lineup. They leaned on a defense that benefited from the return of standout pass rusher Chris Jones and did just enough against a formidable opponent to avoid digging an 0-2 hole to start the season.

“You play bad and win, it’s a lot better than playing bad and losing,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes said afterward.

Mahomes is two games into his seventh NFL season, and he is seeking a third MVP award and a third Super Bowl title. Things are not exactly going smoothly. The Chiefs committed three turnovers and had a dozen penalties Sunday, five of them on beleaguered right tackle Jawaan Taylor.

“Our guys really sucked it up, for lack of terms,” Coach Andy Reid said. “It was hot and humid out there. I’m an offensive guy. But that was a beautiful thing defensively. Offensively, we’ve got to take care of the penalties and the turnovers. But to battle through, it shows you a little something. We’ll get the other stuff fixed as we go.”

The Chiefs have reached five straight AFC championship games. They have played in three Super Bowls and won two of them in that stretch. They know it’s a long way until January, and what matters is how you’re playing then, not how you’re playing now. But they also know that September results matter in playoff positioning — and if early issues go unaddressed too long, a season can slip away before you know it.

“We’ve been such a prolific offense for so long … but if you don’t execute [at] a high level in this league, you’re not going to have success,” Mahomes said. “You’re not going to score touchdowns. You’re not going to have sustained drives. That’s stuff that we have to get better at. We know what we’re doing. It’s about going out there and executing it, finding the right way to do that. … You have to continue to build and build. And know that the process ahead, that you just continue to stack wins no matter how you get them and try to play your best football as the season goes on.”

Said Kelce: “We’re going to keep building. We’re going to keep growing. I know we’ve got great leadership. But right now, hats off to the defense, the way they’re playing and keeping us in the game. We love them for it. We’ve got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot on offense.”

Kelce missed the Chiefs’ 21-20 loss to the Detroit Lions in the NFL’s season-opening game because of a knee injury suffered in practice two days earlier. The eight-time Pro Bowl selection wasn’t at his best Sunday, with four catches for 26 yards on nine targets. But he did have a touchdown.

“Just the fact that he played — it surprised me, honestly,” Mahomes said. “That’s a scary injury. He didn’t look good there for a little bit. But he battled [with] those extra days. He was in the facility rehabbing. And to get himself out there and be able to play, it talks about the competitor that he is, the teammate that he is. Having him out there not only [involves] him making plays, but it helps everybody else. It gets other guys open.”

Kelce said there was “no doubt” in his mind that he would play against the Jaguars.

“Everything that you saw out there was 100 percent of what I could give,” Kelce said. “And hopefully next week it’ll get even better.”

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Jones, a four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle who had 15.5 sacks last season, missed the opener because of a contract dispute, then ended his holdout last Monday by agreeing to a revised one-year deal. He had 1.5 sacks Sunday.

“That’s what I’m here for,” Jones said.

Reid said he estimated Jones could play about half the game.

“We shuttled him in and out,” Reid said. “He did a great job. … Over the years here, he’s learned to keep himself in shape. I saw him out at practice. He was moving around pretty good. … I felt comfortable that he would go in and be able to do his thing. Maybe not to that level.”

In a rematch of the divisional-round playoff game last season in which Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain but returned to the field to lead the Chiefs to victory, the Kansas City defense limited the Jaguars to three field goals.

“The defense was incredible,” Mahomes said. “That’s a good [Jaguars] offense, a really good offense. And for them to shut them down … the defense won that game. We have to continue to get better as an offense, which I think we will. But if that defense plays like that, we’re going to be a hard team to beat.”

The most glaring issue Sunday for the Chiefs was the play of Taylor, who was penalized twice for holding, twice for false starts and once for an illegal formation. That was after he was a national TV star of the wrong kind during the opener, in which the NBC broadcast highlighted that the officials were allowing Taylor to get away with lining up too far back from the line of scrimmage and regularly moving before the snap.

“Through social media,” Mahomes said, “you knew that some of this was going to get called. … They’re cracking down on some of the alignment stuff. But we’re playing football, man. He’ll get closer to the line of scrimmage … so that they don’t call it. We’ll continue to work the snap counts and stuff like that. He’s a great player. He’ll continue to play, and he’ll get comfortable. It’s hard when you’re kind of getting picked on a little bit to kind of keep playing your game. But I have all the confidence in him in the world.”

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The Chiefs signed Taylor, who played his first four NFL seasons for the Jaguars, to a four-year, $80 million contract in March. Reid pulled Taylor from the lineup for a few plays amid Sunday’s struggles but then sent him back into the game.

“This is home,” Reid said. “… It’s also where he played. [I told him,] ‘Just step back, and let’s get you back out there.’ He had some big blocks down later in the game.”

That pretty much summed up the Chiefs’ day. It was far from perfect. But maybe it was a first step toward getting them back to where they want to go.

“It’s a work in progress,” Mahomes said. “But you want to win games. I thought we did a good job of just finding a way to get a win.”

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