You expect some teams to take their lumps.
The bottom dwellers of the league are quite clear, and even those with promising rookies at quarterback who have reason to be excited realize the games will remain ugly through the learning curve. With or without hope, the NFL has a recognizable tier of teams where the road is expectedly bumpy.
Then there's the Kansas City Chiefs, an unexpected entrant among the young-and-upcoming or outright-horrible teams that comprise those learning such painful lessons. They made the playoffs last year. They sent 10 players to the Pro Bowl. For most NFL fans, the Chiefs stand outside these ranks -- somewhere between playoff hopeful and middling franchise, depending on your level of optimism and appreciation for Andy Reid.
When the Chiefs kicked off the 2013 season, they were the eighth-youngest team in the NFL (25.68, average age). This August, they were the third youngest (25.34). Despite the presence of impact veterans on offense and defense, the Chiefs, by definition, were (and are) a work-in-progress, desperately in need of the weekly reps each game provides, with plenty of growing pains both in the rearview mirror and also directly ahead. The Chiefs have a lot to learn.
The painful loss to the Indianapolis Colts in last year's wild card round showed the Chiefs just how green they were. T
hree minutes into the third quarter, the Chiefs were up over the Colts 38-10. In the next nine minutes, the Colts scored 21 points, and the Chiefs' spiral ultimately ended in a 45-44 loss. (Editor's note by Joel: Still too painful) An inexperienced team with depth issues let a dangerous team back in the game and went home with a painful lesson learned.
"I think it's a great lesson to learn, and something that will help us in the future this coming season," said Reid in March at the AFC Coaches Breakfast at the NFL Annual Meeting. "We were a young team, second youngest in the league or somewhere in there. You live and learn. You can't take your foot off the accelerator against any team in this league let alone a good football team like Indy, and win the game. You learn from it and move on."
Unfortunately, the lessons didn't stop there. The Tennessee Titans delivered an unexpected blow to the team's growth in Week 1, as the Chiefs were dominated in every possible facet. Reid even took his licks in the media for being outcoached by Ken Whisenhunt, and the Chiefs looked like a team that had taken a major step backward. After the game, Reid was asked if his team was any closer to learning how to finish out a game.
"Well, I thought they played hard, that's what I thought," said Reid. "That's a positive that you can take out of this game. We've got to get our execution right, particularly on the offensive side and I've got to make sure again that I put these guys in the right positions to do that. And we'll get that done. We need to get back to the drawing board here and make sure the players see the game tape, go out and have a good practice, and we learn from our mistakes and move on."
Despite the 0-2 start, however, the Chiefs looked like a different team in a Week 2 loss to the Denver Broncos. Then came wins on the road against the Miami Dolphins and at home over the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football. Even on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, the win was there for the taking. Once again, unfortunately, the Chiefs were unable to close it out.
The Niners loss was marked by untimely penalties and unfortunate miscues as much as it was by the promise of De'Anthony Thomas, Travis Kelce and the offensive front.
Such is life as a developing team. The veterans are certainly in place, but this is a young Kansas City football team, one that will only get better. For the 2014 season, that's important to remember. Unfortunately, a growth curve requires growth pains, and the team is likely to feel them all season long.