All they do is win. And dance.
And play dominating defense in support of an effective offense that is led by a quarterback who is a former No1 overall pick. But since they don’t play in a big market, the football world is only beginning to pay attention.
Another Carolina Panthers column? No, that was last week. This is about the team threatening to become the Panthers of the AFC, and the team with the longest active win streak in the American conference in the wake of New England finally losing: the Kansas City Chiefs.
After opening the season 1-5 and being left for dead (and/or AFC South relocation), the Chiefs have reeled off fives wins in a row in impressive fashion. Those wins, including three against contenders Pittsburgh, Denver and Buffalo, have been by an average margin of 19.8 points. The Chiefs are more dominant right now than Andy Reid at a punt, pass and kick competition.
The turnaround has seen Reid go from supposedly being on the hot seat to – a month and a half later – being one of a handful of contenders for coach of the year, an award he first won in 2002 in Philadelphia.
Ah, yes. Philadelphia. As though this season hasn’t been painful enough for Eagles fans, watching Reid build a winner in Kansas City while their supposedly superior coach/genius can’t get out of his own way has to make it all feel even worse. One bright spot for Philly, though: the Eagles aren’t on Kansas City’s late-season schedule. That schedule is almost as easy as playing Chip Kelly’s team, though. The toughest remaining game is Sunday’s trip to 5-6 Oakland. After that, Kansas City’s final four games are against teams with a combined record of 14-30, and three of those contests are at home.
It’s not inconceivable that Kansas City could barrel into the playoffs on a 10-game win streak, possibly even as the odds-on favorite in the AFC – depending, of course, on if the Patriots have 11 healthy bodies by then to field a team (and if Tom Brady is one of those bodies, then eight or nine healthy team-mates will still probably work fine).
How did we get here? Oddly enough, the KC turnaround began soon after the Chiefs lost their best player for the season to injury. Running back Jamaal Charles tore his ACL back in week five. Not surprisingly, the Chiefs blew a 14-point lead after Charles went down and lost by one point to Jay Cutler and the Bears. A week later, the offense started slow without Charles and fell 16-10 to the Vikings. The Chiefs were 1-5 and the season was over. But Reid felt he saw something in that loss to Minnesota. His offense scored all 10 of its points in the final quarter, prompting Reid to say after the game that in the last 15 minutes his team “functioned the way I know we can function.”
Not exactly an inspirational rallying cry from a man who can give Bill Belichick a run for most boring postgame comments, but Reid has been proved right. Beginning the next week with a 10-point win over the Steelers, which was followed by a 35-point win over Detroit and then a 16-point win in Denver that may have ended Peyton Manning’s career, the Chiefs sure have been … functioning.
In Charles’ place there have been two running backs that no one outside of the Chiefs’ equipment manager who sews names onto jerseys had heard of six weeks ago: Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. In five starts, West has run north-south quite well, putting up 326 rushing yards, 190 receiving yards and four total touchdowns, helping turn around a KC offense that previously had been as bad as the west-north-south play on words at the beginning of this sentence. When West, the pride of Abilene Christian University, hurt his hamstring two weeks ago, third-string back Ware came in and has run for 210 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries. As Ohio State quarterbacks were to the 2014 football season, Kansas City running backs are to 2015: the deeper you go into the depth chart, the seemingly better they get.
The performances by West and Ware, and those of the Kansas City linemen who open running lanes, has also helped the passing game develop in the (tiny) hands of Alex Smith and new receiver Jeremy Maclin – another player that Chip Kelly brilliantly let walk from the receiver-starved Eagles this offseason. Back in week three, Maclin ended KC’s embarrassing 18-game streak of games without a wide receiver catching a touchdown. He grabbed another in the win over the Lions and a third on Sunday, to go along with 160 yards and 11 receptions in the game. Smith’s 41-yard score to Maclin in the third quarter was his first TD pass of longer than 30 yards since 2011, underscoring Kansas City’s new commitment to stretching the field. It’s pretty amazing to think that Andy Reid went 20-12 in his first two seasons in Kansas City and made the playoffs once, all without using a modern offense that actually included the wonders of the forward pass. It’s no surprise the Chiefs are dancing now.
And for all the “game manager” criticism Smith has long received, it’s hard to criticize the fact that the Kansas City offense has zero turnovers in the past five games, a period in which their ball-hawking defense has 14 takeaways. An efficient offense paired with a defense that features stars Justin Houston and Eric Berry? That’s even scarier than a horse.
The Chiefs aren’t perfect. Of course. Any team that goes 1-5 over a stretch of games has its flaws. But all the top teams have flaws. Even the Super Bowl champion Patriots have been hit hard by injuries and just lost to a team quarterbacked by a guy with a tattoo typo. And while the Panthers are undefeated, the people at the website that provides awful NCAA Tournament bracket advice every year says they’re not actually all that good.
Be embarrassed, Panthers.
But do the Chiefs, dead and buried back in October, have just as good a shot as any other playoff-bound team? Yes. A better shot than most, in fact. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the Chiefs haven’t lost a single game since the Kansas City Royals won the World Series. Maybe Kansas City sports teams will never lose again. A team that were 1-5 are now unquestionably one of the best teams in football, so anything is possible.
This article was written by DJ Gallo, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 1st December 2015 13.31 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010