As a Chiefs fan born in the 80's, I, like many others, became a fan during the Joe Montana years. More specifically, I became a fan watching Joe Cool forever erase the idea that John Elway was even sort of his equal on Monday Night Football.
As such a fan, I've seen some very good teams. Of course, the problem was I was too young to really appreciate them most of the time. I just kind of assumed that the Chiefs defense was ALWAYS going to be awesome, and that they'd ALWAYS win 10-plus games. That's all I'd ever really known. When The Kicker Who Shall Not Be Named did the things he did that could day at Arrowhead, I didn't realize the significance of it. After all, they'd have another shot next year, right?
Such is the naiveté of youth. By the time I'd really started to get into the game, it was 2000 and the Chiefs had been mediocre for several years.
Since I became old enough to really get what football is all about, the Chiefs have had exactly three playoff appearances. Of those appearances, only once did they have any realistic shot of making noise in the playoffs.
In 2006 and 2010, the Chiefs made it in, but I don't think anyone thought they were going to contend for a Super Bowl. And both years, our team went back and forth between looking decent and being borderline unwatchable at times (does anyone else remember getting blown out by 20 multiple times in 2010? Because I do. Blech). Only in 2003 did the Chiefs have a team that looked like it could do something in the playoffs and dominated teams on multiple occasions.
Why am I giving you this background information? To try and make you understand why for me, this year has been something pretty special. Regardless of what happens Sunday (and I think the Chiefs have got a great shot at getting that elusive playoff win), this is perhaps the best Chiefs season I've ever been able to truly enjoy. 2003 comes close, but I was an 18-year-old at the time who was still too busy being stupid to really enjoy a great season.
With that in mind, let's take a walk down memory lane for this season. Because it's been a blast, and there have been a ton of great moments to look back on fondly.
1. Realizing The Chiefs Might Not be Terrible
Remember that feeling before the first game of the year? I don't know about the rest of you, but I was nervous. Sure, the Jaguars were terrible last year, but so were the Chiefs. The Chiefs had made a ton of changes, but it was anyone's guess how they would play out. My biggest hope was that the Chiefs would win the game so when the Cowboys beat them the Chiefs would be 1-1 at least (I hide it well, but I'm something of a pessimist at heart).
When that first drive resulted in a 3-and-out and a safety, I got that sinking feeling. Everything was the same. The Chiefs were awful. Dave Toub was a lie. The Chiefs were going to finish 5-11 at best. Andy Reid was washed up. Alex Smith was a horrible mistake. And bad luck was again going to kill us all year. Alfie from Big Cat Country had been right all along.
The Chiefs then proceeded to score 21 unanswered points and had the game in the bag by halftime. Final score: 28-2, and it really wasn't even that close. The defense absolutely destroyed the Jags.
That game was the first step in the healing process for Chiefs fans. The Chiefs had completely blown a team out of the water for the first time in years. I don't care one bit if it was the Jaguars, that was a special moment.
2. Watching Poe Put the NFL On Notice
Almost no one plugged harder for Dontari Poe than I did after last year. When the Chiefs drafted him I figured it could go one of two ways: either he'd be great, or he'd be awful. When he proceeded to not be awful his rookie year (despite some pretty serious technique issues) and improved the whole way, I knew the Chiefs had found our guy at nose tackle.
Of course, dominating a weak Jaguars line didn't mean much, Cowboys fans told us leading into Week 2. Their amazing rookie FredBeard was going to make Poe look stupid, they warned us. He was going to handle Poe one-on-one all day, and we'd all come crashing back down to Earth.
On the Cowboys first drive, Dez Bryant started off what would be a long day for Brandon Flowers with a big gain and the 'boys looked to tie things up at seven. Then on 2nd-and-9, Poe just ... humiliates the rookie. There's no other word. A quick fake to get FredBeard off balance, then a swim move to go right by him to destroy the Cowboys' chance at a touchdown with a sack.
I could watch that all day.
That one play was enough, and the Cowboys started doubling Poe the rest of the way (though he collected another sack later on), an example the rest of the league has followed since. That moment of KNOWING Poe's Week 1 hadn't been a fluke might have been the best of the season.
3. Alex Smith's First Clutch Pass As A Chief
The Chiefs had won the first two games and were in the process of beating the Eagles when the defense suddenly started struggling. LeSean McCoy and Mike Vick were running all over the field, and McCoy had just destroyed the Chiefs D to pull within a score early in the 4th quarter. A botched kickoff and a sack later, it's 3rd-and-10 from the Chiefs own five and things are looking grim.
Until Alex Smith, with pressure bearing down on him, threw a laser into a 2-foot window to Donnie Avery (who was "Good Donnie" that night) for 15 yards and a 1st down. You could almost hear the air being deflated out of the Eagles fans after that pass. The Chiefs proceeded to go 73 yards down the field and bled 8:15 off the clock, with a field goal putting the Chiefs back up 2 scores with hardly any time left.
Smith is a controversial topic around here, and that's fine. But that pass was ridiculous, and also a major reason the Chiefs won that game. It was also the first moment I felt like the Chiefs would have to really lean on Smith, and he came through in spades. That's my quarterback, yo.
4. Watching Justin Houston Morph Into a Top-10 Defensive Player
We all knew Houston was solid after his rookie year. Then we knew he had a lot of potential after his 2nd year. But we couldn't be completely sure whether he'd found his ceiling as a player, or if he'd continue to grow.
Houston answered those questions this year by becoming one of the best players in the league on defense.
The numbers alone are staggering. 11 sacks, 8 QB hits, and 42 QB pressures (along with four passes batted down) is an impressive year. The fact that Houston did that in LESS THAN ELEVEN GAMES is staggering. He was a legitimate DPOY candidate before he went down with his dislocated elbow around Thanksgiving.
And that's just the pass rushing numbers. What makes Houston unique is that he's a force against the run as well, holding the edge better than any other SOLB in the league. He's a complete player, and a nightmare for offenses to game plan for.
The most clear example of Houston's impact on our defense? Prior to his injury (which occurred almost halfway through the game) against the Chargers, the Chiefs had given up three points. In the remaining 32 or so minutes of the game, the Chiefs gave up 38. Is that ALL on Houston going down? No, but to act like it's a total coincidence is insane.
We'll get to see Houston back in action this Saturday, and I can't wait. It's not every season you get to watch a player develop into a dominant force, and we got to see it this year.
5. 3rd-And-48 And The (Real) Sound Record
The fact that I don't have to tell you what I'm talking about when I say "3rd and 48" is a testament to how special that moment was. But let's look at it again anyway.
The Raiders were at the 50-yard-line and moving the ball, looking to come back. A holding penalty (forced by pressure), a stud Tamba Hali sack, a delay of game (forced by an insane Arrowhead), and an Eric Berry sack later ... the Raiders are facing 3rd-and-48 at their own 12. I have never seen anything like that in a football game. Never. That's a series I won't forget.
Then, of course, there was the sound record moment. See, Chiefs fans didn't break the record during some stupid, cheesy "everyone stand and cheer so we can be famous" moment. Nope. the Chiefs broke the sound record during a play where Pryor was dropped to the ground. That's how you break a record. (Also, Seattle's defense is full of juicers. Just saying.)
6. Dex Looking Like Dante
The initial spin move is ridiculous, the moves to get into the open field are fun. But that last juke is disgusting. Dex really came into his own this season as a returner. Of course, he was helped by...
7. The Dave Toub Phenomenon
I have only once been as excited to watch every single kickoff / punt return than I've been this season, and that was when Dante Hall was being an alien. This season has been different in that it's been more than just one guy. Knile Davis, Quintin Demps, Dex ... it doesn't seem to matter who is returning. They've all made spectacular plays, and the blocking unit has been exceptional.
One of the big reasons the Chiefs are heading to the playoffs is all the fun moments the return unit has provided this year. I won't forget Knile Davis out-running a cornerback, or Demps running angry through a wall of blockers.
8. The Sean Smith Billion-Yard Pick-Six
The game against the Bills wasn't especially pretty. In fact, I spent a lot of that game thinking the Chiefs would lose. When they drove down the field and had a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard-line, I settled into "Well, we had to lose sometime" mode.
Of course, then Akeem Jordan made a great play. Then Dontari Poe made a great play. Then on 3rd-and1, Jeff Tuel missed a wide open Steve Johnson (karma, no?) and forced a pass that Sean Smith took to the house. It was one of the most radical momentum swings I've ever seen.
9. Close But No Cigar Against The Broncos
Generally speaking, I don't look back on losses fondly. But that Arrowhead game against the Broncos was a well played game where the Chiefs made them sweat. Additionally, it featured more great throws from Alex Smith than I've seen a Chiefs quarterback make in years (and one heartbreaking throw. Sigh...). Hate the loss, but that was a heckuva fun game.
10. The Beatdown In Washington
How long had it been since the Chiefs had legitimately, totally, completely, and utterly demolished another team? Feels like forever. The Washington game was a case of "this has gotten hilarious" by the time the 2nd quarter was up. I'll re-watch that game dozens of times. It was that much fun.
11. Eric Berry Ends The Debate
For way too long the best player in the secondary has gone under-appreciated or ignored. People rolled their eyes at his Pro Bowls and claimed they were based on name recognition alone, or insisted that Berry is a liability against the pass. National pundits often said that Berry has been "good, but not great." Some here (I won't name names) said Berry isn't enough of a "playmaker" to be called an elite safety.
That dialogue has changed this season.
With combined interceptions and fumbles, Berry has helped account for six of the Chiefs takeaways this year. He's also scored twice (which equals the number of TDs he's allowed in coverage) and collected a combined 17 sacks / hits / hurries of opposing quarterbacks. And he's done all this while continuing to be a monster against the run.
Earl Thomas gets most of the national media love, but for my money there's no other player like Berry in the league. He can do anything. He can play what amounts to linebacker. He can cover TEs and WRs one-on-one. He can drop deep and play center field (and should be more often, Bob Sutton). He can rush the quarterback. He stops the run. He even conquered his fear of horses (kind of).
Like Houston, Berry took the next step this year and is inarguably one of the best 2-3 players in the NFL at his position. Watching him this season has been a joy.
12. Jamaal Charles Starts The Debate
Prior to this year, the "Who is the best RB in the NFL" debate didn't exist. It was Adrian Peterson, then everyone else.
Jamaal Charles (and LeSean McCoy) have changed that this season. Some Eagles fan can make the case for Shady. Prior to this year, people argued JC isn't as good as Peterson because Peterson runs with more power, or that JC doesn't score enough touchdowns.
Then this year started, and Charles started laying fools out while finding the end zone constantly. He also became a ferocious pass protector, providing at least one highlight pancake per game. In the meantime, he continued to run around defenders to the tune of five yards per carry and caught nearly 700 yards worth of passes.
You can still argue that All Day is better than Charles. But it's no longer even close to a clear issue. Jamaal Charles is the best running back who has ever suited up for the Chiefs. Watching him run and catch has been the most enjoyable experience of the year, culminating to the day he made the Raiders look like a high school team. I won't ever forget the year Charles entered the conversation into "best back in the NFL."
A Year To Remember
All in all, this year has been a blast. I could have talked about the rise of Marcus Cooper, or being the last undefeated team in the NFL, or the return of the fullback starring Anthony Sherman, or a million other subplots that made this season fun.
Again, I can't say what's going to happen on Saturday. I think the return of Houston (combined with a ticked-off Chiefs team looking to repay their worst defeat of the year) is going to be too much for the Colts.
But really, this season has already been one I'll remember as a great ride. I hope you enjoyed it too, because if the last decade has taught us anything, seasons this fun are nothing to be taken for granted. Here's to hoping it doesn't end any time soon.
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- Where are you watching the game?