Whatever forces worked in the favor of the Oakland Raiders' defense when defending Chiefs Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill last time around — coverage, voodoo or just bad luck — avoiding a repeat figures a crucial element in the Chiefs' hopes of locking up the AFC's top seed on Sunday.
There's certainly reason to believe that Hill's production in the previous matchup against the Raiders was simply a fluke. Hill logged his lowest output of the season with just one catch for 13 yards as the Chiefs scratched out a seven-point win in Oakland on Dec. 2. A combination of misfired passes, blanket coverage and a drop on a would-be third-down conversion helped account for the stat line worthy of a double take.
"They missed him a few times, honestly," Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden said on Wednesday. "There's some plays to Tyreek Hill that they didn't make that they normally do make."
Hill bounced back with an eight-catch, 139-yard game against the Baltimore Ravens at Arrowhead Stadium despite sustaining a foot injury during the game. His 48-yard reception on a desperation fourth-and-long heave from quarterback Patrick Mahomes may be the only thing keeping the Chiefs from being in the middle of a three-game losing skid.
It's probably exaggeration to deem Hill's recent run of games as a slump or a funk, but the past four games provide an indication of how much more weight has been put on the shoulders of Hill and Mahomes, as well as tight end Travis Kelce.
The first Oakland game came on the heels of the Chiefs' bye week and was their first action since their historically high-scoring Monday Night Football shootout with the Los Angeles Rams. It also marked the first game this season the offense played without both wide receiver Sammy Watkins and running back Kareem Hunt in the lineup.
Those absences magnified the missed chances to hit for a big play to Hill or Kelce.
Mahomes' first pass attempt in last weekend's loss at Seattle came on a run-pass option. The ball intended for Hill got batted down by outside linebacker K.J. Wright.
"The defensive player makes a nice play," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "He hits that one, it's a touchdown."
While Hill rushed twice early against the Seahawks, he didn't have a catch until more than five minutes into of the second quarter.
Defenses certainly have focused plenty of attention on Hill. In his last four games, including his big day against the Ravens, Hill has gone scoreless and has averaged 68 yards and 4.25 catches per game. In his first 11 games with a fully stocked arsenal of weapons in the offense, Hill averaged 100.6 yards per game with 11 touchdowns on 65 catches (5.9 per game).
"They had a good game plan for him," Mahomes said of Oakland. "They had a lot times (where) they were double-covering him, (and he) had guys on top of him. But there was also opportunities that I missed him on where he could've had a big gain. I know we had the shot down the middle where I overthrew him for a touchdown. There were several other ones where we could've connected on."
Hill, who left the locker room after Sunday night's loss without speaking to assembled media around his locker, enters this week needing just 14 yards to break the franchise record for receiving yards in a season. Derrick Alexander had 1,391 in 2000.
Hill having an early impact should alleviate the pressure on Mahomes, who got hit 11 times last week, and the rest of the offense. In the past two weeks, Mahomes has posted back-to-back games of fewer than 300 yards passing for the first time all season.
"You always want to get him involved," Mahomes said of Hill. "You always want to make sure he's getting opportunities to the big plays that it seems like he makes every single week, almost. At the same time, I think him just being there is such a threat that it opens up other guys.
"He knows how to get himself open, but he also knows how to help other guys get open as well. That's a vital part of our offense."