How Chiefs got to 2021 Super Bowl: Key acquisitions, draft picks, turning point, vital win, list of results

Most teams that appear in the Super Bowl suffer a hangover the very next season, regardless of if they win or not. There are outliers though, like the New England Patriots — when Tom Brady was under center — and the Kansas City Chiefs wanted desperately to join that rare air in 2020. And so they have, by defeating both the Cleveland Browns and then the Buffalo Bills to punch their ticket to their second consecutive appearance in The Big Game, readying to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, guess who? 

Tom Brady.

Their road to Super Bowl LV didn’t begin this January, however, but instead in February 2020. They immediately got back to work after enjoying their victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, their first order of business being to avoid hemorrhaging key talent to free agency. From there, it was all about the 2020 NFL Draft, one that saw them with a little more than a handful of picks and none higher than the literal bottom of the first round. Andy Reid didn’t lose talented offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to a head coaching position elsewhere, and the continuity for reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes worked out wonderfully as the offense again went on a tear. 

The defensive side of the equation remained opportunistic throughout the season — coming through in key moments when the team needed it most — and was as complementary to Mahomes’ magic as the Chiefs could’ve hoped, led by stalwarts like safety Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary and a pass rush that boasts both Frank Clark and Chris Jones. It wasn’t all ice cream and Skittles for the Chiefs en route to a 14-2 finish, or even in their first playoff game when they lost Mahomes in the second half against the Browns but, despite the potholes in the road, they are headed to Tampa, Florida for a postseason rematch with Brady.

Now, let’s discuss just how the defending Super Bowl champs got in position to potentially repeat.

Key acquisitions

Keeping Chris Jones around proved wise, even if it took a franchise tag to buy time to do it.

On July 15, the two sides agreed to a four-year deal worth $80 million with $60 million guaranteed, keeping him out of the open market and securing the two-time All-Pro pass rusher through the 2023 season. Jones went on to give the Chiefs a team-leading 7.5 sacks in the regular season, a great contractual follow-up to having awarded Frank Clark a multi-year extension one year prior. With Jones well taken care of, Kansas City began working through the other bullet points on their task list, and ultimately found themselves with added running back insurance when Le’Veon Bell became a free agent following his release from the Jets. And while Bell hasn’t seen the role in K.C. that he hoped he would, his presence has value when considering the injury of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and combines with another recently acquired RB talent — namely Darrel Williams (2018) — to fortify one of the few positions on the Chiefs roster that required it. 

There are others who could be mentioned here (such as cornerback Bashaud Breeland), particularly in the tone of recency, but given what happened in the divisional round, I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak on backup quarterback Chad Henne. Acquired by the Chiefs in 2018, Henne has mostly been relegated to witnessing the greatness of Mahomes, with limited opportunity to take the field. But when he was asked to step in and save the day against the surging Cleveland Browns, he quickly shrugged off his lone interception, changed in a phone booth and came to the rescue with his cape blowing in the wind. If not for Henne, it’s likely it would’ve been the Browns preparing to meet the Bills in the AFC title game.

Draft picks

Winning the Super Bowl usually comes with the easily swallowed consequence of picking low in the draft.

The Chiefs didn’t have a ton of draft picks/capital going into the 2020 NFL Draft, but they also didn’t need it, having retained the large majority of their championship roster by way of free agency and entering April simply looking to patch a few leaks. They did far more than that when they landed Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the 32nd overall pick, a player who both filled their top (lone) need offensively (from a skill position standpoint) and did so in magnificent fashion. With offenses keyed in on trying to stop Mahomes and the high-flying offense, Edwards-Helaire burst out of the gate to a breakout year that could only be curbed by injury. They also found some potential gems in linebacker Willie Gay Jr. in the second round and defensive end Michael Danna in the fifth, both contributing regularly to the defensive effort in Kansas City. 

Gay was awarded eight regular season starts and delivered 39 combined tackles and a sack, while Danna logged 25 combined tackles and 2.5 sacks in 16 games. Already set atop the depth chart at both positions, Gay and Danna proved very solid in rotational duty as rookies and as for Edwards-Helaire, well, the sky is the limit for him and his RB compatriot Williams in this offense. 

Turning point

It was the gut punch the Chiefs didn’t see coming, but ultimately one they needed to feel the pain from.

When they took the field agains the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 5, they did so as rather hefty favorites to beat up on Jon Gruden’s bunch in Nevada, but things didn’t exactly go as planned. Instead of dominating the Raiders, they found themselves being dominated to the tune of 40 points — a game that became the motivational lynchpin in what Las Vegas attempted to do for the rest of the 2020 season. For the Chiefs, it became a wake-up call that reminded them they’re not bulletproof, and the age-old adage of “any given Sunday” means just that. They’d use the loss as fuel to avoid becoming the latest victims of the dreaded Super Bowl hangover — rattling off 10 consecutive wins before losing in Week 17 due to the decision to rest key players ahead of the playoffs. 

And, thanks to the loss at the hands of the Raiders, they were more prepared for what awaited them the following week, landing one of the few regular season blows to the Bills’ win-loss record, which set the stage for some potential Buffalo revenge on Sunday. The Bills couldn’t land it though, instead being manhandled at Arrowhead Stadium, and must now watch the sharpened Chiefs march on to Central Florida for a dance with fate. 

Key victory

Defeating the Bills in Week 6 was a statement victory, but it didn’t answer another looming question at the time.

Having played just one NFC opponent in their first 10 games to start the season — and that opponent having been the waffling Carolina Panthers — some wondered how the Chiefs would stack up in 2020 against a contender from the opposite conference. There was no better way to find out than to pit them against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 12, a team led by six-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Tom Brady that was also working on trying to right its ship after losing two of their previous three games. It ended up being quite the clash for both clubs, and added gasoline to the simmering competitive rivalry between Mahomes and Brady that stems from the latter’s time with the Patriots — when he derailed Mahomes’ MVP season at Arrowhead Stadium with the help of tight end Rob Gronkowski in overtime. 

This wasn’t necessarily a revenge game for Mahomes, but the victory proved the Chiefs could also take on all comers from the NFC, and sweeping the Bills on Sunday now pits Mahomes and Brady against each other for only the second time in the postseason, and this time it’s not for the chance to appear in the Super Bowl.

It’s for the Lombardi trophy.

Complete 2020 season recap

Week 1: vs. Texans 
Result: Win
Score: 34-20
Record: 1-0

Week 2: at Chargers
Result: Win
Score: 23-20
Record: 2-0

Week 3: at Ravens
Result: Win
Score: 34-20
Record: 3-0

Week 4: vs. Patriots
Result: Win
Score: 26-10
Record: 4-0

Week 5: vs. Raiders
Result: Loss
Score: 40-32
Record: 4-1

Week 6: at Bills
Result: Win
Score: 26-17
Record: 5-1

Week 7: at Broncos
Result: Win
Score: 43-16
Record: 6-1

Week 8: vs. Jets
Result: Win
Score: 35-9
Record: 7-1

Week 9: vs. Panthers
Result: Win
Score: 33-31
Record: 8-1

Week 11: at Raiders
Result: Win
Score: 35-31
Record: 9-1

Week 12: at Buccaneers
Result: Win
Score: 27-24
Record: 10-1

Week 13: vs. Broncos
Result: Win
Score: 22-16
Record: 11-1

Week 14: at Dolphins
Result: Win
Score: 33-27
Record: 12-1

Week 15: at Saints
Result: Win
Score: 32-29
Record: 13-1

Week 16: vs. Falcons
Result: Win
Score: 17-14
Record: 14-1

Week 17: vs. Chargers
Result: Loss
Score: 38-21
Record: 14-2

AFC Divisional Round: vs. Browns
Result: Win
Score: 22-17

AFC Championship Game: vs. Bills
Result: Win
Score: 38-24