Kansas City Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen symbolizes team's defensive turnaround

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- On Sunday night, on the play that effectively allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to clinch their fifth straight win, defensive back Dan Sorensen was left with no responsibilities in particular. His job was to cover Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams but Williams stayed in to pass block.

Sorensen made an impact, anyway. He stayed in the middle of the field and then cut in front of intended receiver Tim Patrick to make an interception. His 75-yard return for a touchdown not only gave the Chiefs a commanding 19-point lead in the fourth quarter, but perhaps allowed Sorensen to complete the dramatic transition in the eyes of Chiefs fans from villain to hero.

"Dan had the running back," said Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu in describing the play. "The running back blocked so Dan did what any smart player would do. He just found some work."

The Chiefs continued their string of strong defensive games in beating the Broncos 22-9. They've allowed 11 points per game during their five-game winning streak, and just nine in each of the past two games.

No player personifies the Chiefs' defensive season like Sorensen. He was picked on by opponents repeatedly in pass coverage early in the season and allowed several big plays. His tackling was at times sloppy.

He was a symbol for Chiefs fans frustrated with the early-season play of the defense and caught a lot of criticism on social media. Sorensen said he paid little attention, though he certainly seemed aware of it.

"I don't care what people say, good or bad," Sorensen said. "I don't get on social media. I don't read articles.

"I'm more focused on the next task."

Sorensen was removed from the starting lineup around the start of the winning streak and since has played part-time in only some of the Chiefs' defensive packages. His play has improved dramatically. Sorensen had an interception in the second half of a recent win over the Las Vegas Raiders. In addition to his interception and touchdown against the Broncos, Sorensen was also a key figure in stopping Denver's two-point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter.

His teammates were aware of the criticism Sorensen was receiving before his play improved.

"He was taking a lot of heat so it was good to see him make big plays like I knew, like our team knew [he could]," Mathieu said. "We rely on him to do a lot. In our eyes, he's a special player, a very smart player, a player who can do a lot of different things.

"Nothing has changed about him. He still does the same thing each and every day as far as routine. He's somebody we can really count on."

The Chiefs replaced Sorensen with Juan Thornhill as the starting safety next to Mathieu. But they didn't give up on Sorensen, who plays now mostly on passing downs.

"There's a certain trust that you build up with a player along with his knowledge and toughness," coach Andy Reid said of his decision not to give up on Sorensen. "He's a good player and so he has a role on that defense. Everything's not going to go [perfectly]. We understand that. ... You've got to push through those things. He's wired that way. You just knew he would power through it. You always hope they come out the other end and so we trusted that.

"Guys can hang their head when things aren't going right, especially when things are as big as that was becoming. He didn't do that. He trusted himself. He trusted the coaches. He trusted the scheme and the guys around him."

Sorensen's touchdown against the Broncos was the fourth interception he's returned for a score since 2016. That's tied for second most in the league.

Three of those pick-sixes have come against AFC West opponents. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes said he thought Sorensen might score against the Broncos in the days leading up to the game.

"I actually told the QB room that it seems like every division game he gets a pick-six," Mahomes said. "I'd like to say I called it."