KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A New York Jets safety early in the second quarter disengaged the Kansas City Chiefs’ cruise control Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The Chiefs dominated the first quarter, building a 17-0 lead.
Patrick Mahomes carved up the vaunted Jets’ defense.
Isiah Pacheco ran wild in his homecoming.
New York quarterback Zach Wilson looked rattled and didn’t get any help from his receivers.
The reigning Super Bowl champions were steaming toward a blowout.
Then, right tackle Jawaan Taylor’s well-documented penalty issues cropped up and everything changed.
The Jets scored 12 straight points as Mahomes seemed to lose his rhythm and tossed a couple interceptions.
The Chiefs’ pass rush struggled to generate pressure as defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo backed up off the blitz and the front four failed to get home.
Wilson found a rhythm, the New York-area crowd rediscovered its voice and suddenly Kansas City fought itself in a fight.
“I didn’t expect the high and the low part of it,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We started off like gangbusters and had a lot of yards. Then, between turnovers and some penalties, it changed up a little bit.”
On the opening drive of the second half, Wilson had an out-of-body experience, dotting back-shoulder throws and dimes all over the field.
He finished the drive 5 for 5 for 75 yards, including a 10-yard dart to Allen Lazard for a touchdown, then tied the game with a slippery two-point conversion scramble.
“Hats off to Zach Wilson, the Jets’ offense, their OC [Nathaniel] Hackett,” said linebacker Drue Tranquill, who started in place of Nick Bolton for the second straight week and posted a team-high eight tackles. “They had a great plan, and, for as much criticism as they’ve taken, I thought Zach came out and made some really, really good throws. I thought he competed.”
Wilson finished 28 of 39 for 245 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, but a critical dropped snap late allowed the Chiefs to run out the clock.
Kansas City’s defense buckled down the rest of the third and fourth quarters, including a key fourth-quarter fumble recovery, before Harrison Butker’s third field goal — a 26-yard chip shot with 10:51 remaining — proved to be the difference in a 23-20 win.
“It was gritty,” said cornerback Trent McDuffie, whose six tackles were tied for second on the team. “We faced a lot of adversity.”
At the end of the day, the Chiefs improved to 3-1, which was the goal.
PACHECO’S STELLAR HOMECOMING: Isiah Pacheco grew up 120 miles from the Meadowlands, now called MetLife Stadium, in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Pacheco went to college 10 miles away at Rutgers in Newark, New Jersey.
He played his first NFL game in his home state Sunday night.
“It was an amazing experience,” Pacheco said.
Midway through the first quarter, Pacheco, also known as “Pop,” made defensive tackle Michael Clemons miss in the backfield, watched pulling right guard Trey Smith level another Jets defender and then turned on his own jets for a 48-yard touchdown on the Chiefs’ second drive.
THE KID FROM JERSEY.— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) October 2, 2023
WELCOME HOME, POP ❤️ pic.twitter.com/znfkfgshCF
Pacheco added a 33-yard catch and run on the next drive.
He finished the first half with eight carries for 84 yards and two catches for 42 yards in his New Jersey homecoming.
Pacheco’s toughness in the fourth quarter helped salt away the win.
He ended up with 20 carries for a career-high 115 yards and a touchdown, adding three catches for 43 yards.
“That’s Jersey’s own right there,” Mahomes said. “I knew when we got to New Jersey he was going to show out.”
It was Pacheco’s second career 100-yard game. The first came when he ran for 107 yards last November in a win at the Los Angeles Chargers.
MANDATORY TAYLOR SWIFT UPDATE: Yes, Taylor Swift was at the game again.
This time, she brought a star-studded entourage.
MISFIRING MAHOMES: Mahomes was nearly perfect in the first quarter, but he threw two second-quarter interceptions.
One led to a touchdown and the other led to a missed field goal as the first half came to an end.
Twice, Mahomes tried to float a ball over the Jets’ zone defense only to underthrow it, allowing safety Ashtyn Davis and linebacker CJ Mosley to pick him off.
New York turned the miscues into a pair of field-goal tries and three points, so it could have been worse.
Inside the final five minutes, Mahomes lofted another soft floater that was picked off by cornerback Michael Carter II, only for a defensive holding penalty to negate the interception.
The drive continued as the Chiefs ran out the final 7:24, including Mahomes icing the game by sliding in bounds after scrambling for a first down on the first play after the two-minute warning.
Mahomes only finished 18 of 30 for 203 yards passing with a touchdown and two interceptions, but he added 51 yards on seven carries rushing as his legs helped fuel the win.
TAYLOR’S PENALTY STRUGGLES CONTINUE: Taylor was flagged for a facemask in the end zone early in the second quarter, giving the Jets and MetLife Stadium fresh life.
Kansas City had sucked the life from the New York crowd by steam-rolling to a 17-point first-quarter lead.
Taylor’s penalty, a career-high-tying seventh on the season only four games into his career with the Chiefs, counted as a safety.
It also kicked off a run of 12 straight points for the Jets, who turned the free kick into a field goal.
Mahomes tossed an interception in Kansas City territory on the next drive, which led to a New York touchdown that brought MetLife Stadium back to life.
The Chiefs answered with a field goal late in the second quarter and led 20-12 at halftime, but the Jets seemed grounded before Taylor’s latest gaffe.
New York tied the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion on the opening drive of the second half.
He set a new career record for most-accepted penalties in a season with his NFL-worst eighth midway through the fourth quarter.
Mahomes scrambled for a first down on a key drive after Tershawn Wharton recovered a Wilson fumble, but it was called back for a holding penalty on Taylor.
Mahomes bailed out Taylor with a 25-yard scramble on third-and-23 to help the Chiefs overcome the second major gaffe of the game and salt away the win.
Right guard Trey Smith also had two key penalties in an uneven performance for the offensive line overall.
RODGERS RETURNS: Aaron Rodgers was supposed to return the Jets to relevance, but he suffered a ruptured Achilles a few snaps into the season opener.
Rodgers, a California native, had been away from the team after surgery to repair the injury but rejoined the team for the first time after being cleared to fly recently.
Rodgers sat on the sideline before the game.
The veteran four-time MVP, who was acquired via trade with Green Bay during the offseason, made sure to give his replacement, Zach Wilson, a hug before the game. He then watched Wilson play one of the best games of his career.
Rodgers’ injury yet again delayed his chance to face Mahomes.
Mahomes missed a 2019 game with a knee injury, while Rodgers missed a 2021 matchup after contracting COVID-19.
INJURY REPORT: Linebacker Nick Bolton (sprained ankle) missed a second straight game, while cornerback Jaylen Watson (shoulder) also sat out for the Chiefs’ defense.
Kansas City lost another linebacker midway through the first half when Cole Christiansen, who plays primarily on special teams, left the game with a hamstring injury.