Analysis: Some teams just needed more time to bloom

Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are back in a familiar spot. Same for Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.

The Chiefs and Patriots have surged to first place in their respective divisions with monthlong winning streaks. The Colts, 49ers and Eagles have also turned things around in November.

In the NFL’s longest season, counting teams out before Halloween was premature.

The Chiefs beat Dallas 19-9 on Sunday for their fourth straight victory since a 27-3 loss to Tennessee on Oct. 24. They now lead the jumbled AFC West by a half-game over the Chargers (6-4) and should be favorites to win their sixth straight division title.

Mahomes had a career-low passer rating against the Titans and some people were questioning if the 26-year-old had already played his best football in his first four seasons when he won an NFL MVP award and a Super Bowl MVP trophy in consecutive years.ADVERTISEMENT

Since then, Mahomes has seven touchdown passes and only two interceptions during Kansas City’s four-game winning streak that has been fueled by a suddenly stingy defense that has allowed just 11.8 points per game in that span. The unit allowed just three field goals to Dak Prescott and the league’s top-ranked offense.

“Since the second half of the Tennessee game, those guys have been playing better,” Mahomes said of the defense. “It got lost because the offense wasn’t playing very well. We were winning games because of our defense and people were so used to our offense going out and putting up these numbers. But every weekend I was right here at the podium saying don’t lose track of how good our defense is playing. To go up against an offense like the (Cowboys) that has put up so many yards and scores, and shut it down, that’s impressive.”

If Kansas City’s improved defense continues to play well, Mahomes and the Chiefs could be playing in the Super Bowl for the third year in a row.

One of the top teams standing in their way will be the Patriots, a scenario nobody could’ve envisioned when New England opened the season 2-4. Back then, it seemed the Patriots’ wild, spending frenzy in free agency was wasted money. But New England kicked off Week 11 with a 25-0 win at Atlanta on Thursday night. The Pats (7-4) have won five in a row behind a strong defense and solid play from rookie quarterback Mac Jones. After a rare losing season, they’re back leading the AFC East, a division New England owned for two decades before Tom Brady left for Tampa Bay.

The Colts started 0-3 with new quarterback Carson Wentz coming over from Philadelphia after a dismal season with the Eagles that looked like it would carry over to his new home. But Wentz has been steady — 18 touchdowns, 3 picks — and Indianapolis has won six of the last eight games. Jonathan Taylor was spectacular in a dominant 41-15 win at Buffalo on Sunday, scoring five TDs. At 6-5, Indianapolis is back in the playoff race.

The 49ers were 2-4 after losing four in a row and many were wondering when coach Kyle Shanahan would bench Jimmy Garoppolo for rookie Trey Lance. But Shanahan stuck with Garoppolo after the worst game of his career in a 30-18 loss to the Colts and the veteran has responded with a string of strong performances. Garoppolo has posted a passer rating over 100 in four straight games, leading San Francisco to three wins. After a rout over the Rams on Monday night, the Niners traveled cross-country and defeated Jacksonville soundly 30-10 on Sunday.

The 49ers are one of three teams tied at 5-5 vying for wild-card spots that should come down to the final week.

A month ago, half the city of Philadelphia wanted rookie coach Nick Sirianni fired for using a flower analogy to motivate his 2-5 team. Riding the legs of Jalen Hurts and a commitment to the run, the Eagles (5-6) have won three of four, including a 40-29 victory over New Orleans on Sunday. With a favorable schedule down the stretch, the Eagles have a real shot to make a playoff push.

For some teams, it takes more time to bloom.


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