Since Patrick Mahomes took over as the Kansas City Chiefs' full-time starting quarterback in 2018, they've played 68 regular season games.
They've scored fewer than 20 points just six times. The sixth time came Sunday, when the Colts' defense limited Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense to two touchdowns and one field goal in a 20-17 win.
The Colts held the four-time Pro Bowl, perennial-MVP-candidate Kansas City Chiefs quarterback to 20 completions on 35 attempts (57.1 percent) for 262 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a passer rating of 78.5. Both Mahomes' completion percentage and passer rating checked in as the 10th-lowest, respectively, of his career.
"Knowing the type of team, knowing the type of opponent you're going against," linebacker Zaire Franklin said, "just felt good to be able to have a great performance against a great offense."
The Colts' defense did a number of things exceedingly well against Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense on Sunday. First: They stifled Kansas City's ground game, limiting the Chiefs to 2.5 yards per carry on 23 attempts. And digging deeper, the Chiefs' backs – Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerrick McKinnon, Isiah Pacheco and Michael Burton – gained just 32 yards on 18 carries (1.8 yards/attempt). Six of the Chiefs' 17 true running plays resulted in a tackle for a loss or a tackle for no gain by the Colts, with Franklin racking up three TFL/no gains.
But the Colts already knew they could, baseline, stop the run. And the Chiefs entered Week 3 with a 6-2 record when averaging 2.5 yards per rush (they're now 6-3).
What the Colts' defense showed against the Chiefs was just how well they can, as a whole, defend the pass.
Mahomes was able to get the ball out quick – in under 2.5 seconds – on just half of his 46 dropbacks, and completed 16 of those 23 throws for 149 yards, per Pro Football Focus. Mahomes entered Week 3 with the sixth-lowest average time to throw in the NFL at 2.52 seconds and his passer rating on those was 109.1; on Sunday, his passer rating on those quick-release throws was 83.4.
With all the motion and pre-snap window-dressing Kansas City does, limiting Mahomes' efficiency on those quick throws was important – especially for a defense playing in just its third game in a new scheme under defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
"It was a great game plan. Gus did a great job," linebacker Bobby Okereke said. "There were a lot of checks. A lot of mental gymnastics for us on the field trying to get everything right and be in the right spots. But we had great communication – elite communication."
But when Mahomes looked to extend plays and create off-schedule, the Colts' defense clamped down. When Mahomes took more than 3.5 seconds to throw, he completed just three of 11 passes on 16 drop-backs, per PFF; he took one sack and scrambled four times with a passer rating of 57.8.
The combination of making Mahomes hitch and not rip those quick throws, and then keeping the pressure on him – and plastering in coverage downfield – led the Colts to largely prevent those kind of explosive, how-the-heck-did-he-do-that plays the Chiefs quarterback has become known for over his career.
"He's a special player," defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who notched a sack on Sunday, said. "At the end of the day with those kind of quarterbacks you just got to continue to keep rushing and have second effort. Those guys, they don't stop, and they can make little things into big plays. The biggest key for us today was to continue to rush the passer no matter what else was going on."
The Colts pressured Mahomes on 16 of his 46 drop-backs and he completed just three of 12 passes for 65 yards on those plays. And that was the result of a relentless pass rush and outstanding coverage downfield – total team defense.
"Defensively, it was just a great effort," head coach Frank Reich said. "I mean, a really great effort. I don't think I've ever seen anyone rush Mahomes that well, even though it might have only been one sack, but we had him on the run. We had him in the well. He didn't escape and make a bunch of big plays. Real credit to our D-line and our defense and what we did there. I thought we played coverage exceedingly well. I thought Gus and the defensive staff had a great game plan."