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A pep talk: Why I can't stay angry at the Chiefs playoff loss

I can't stay angry.

It's not that I don't get it. In many ways, I'm right there with a lot of you — those of you who are still fists-clenched about offensive ineptitude. The conversative play-calling and overlooked deep ball. The time management issues and gimmicky play calling. I was just like you, yelling at the television, hands moving from my hips to my head, pacing in my living room like a lion posturing before a zoo crowd in its cage.

The loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers drove me crazy like everyone else for all the same reasons, but once it was over, once the dust settled on the season, it was easier than I thought to gain perspective. I never even had an inclination to pick up a torch or pitchfork. Why? Because the Chiefs had a helluva season.

* * *

I've lived in Nashville, TN for the last few years. Titans country. An acquaintance of mine, and Titans fan, sees everything in black and white. His entire world is easily divided into one of two categories, and you're either right or wrong, in or out, in pretty much every facet of life. This goes for the right beer to drink, religious beliefs, and it certainly is true of the Titans.

"The Titans are no better than the Cleveland Browns," he said, recently.

My acquaintance has more hot takes than Skip Bayless but he truly believes what he says. There's no TV ratings at stake here. He believes what he says and he believes the Titans, who went 9-7, have Marcus Mariota and narrowly missed the NFL playoffs and AFC South crown this year are as bad as the 49ers and Titans. The reason? They missed the postseason.

"That's all that matters," he explains. "If you don't win the Super Bowl, you're a loser. And whether you're one type of loser or another, you're still a loser. No one in that building [Nissan Stadium] should feel good about how they finished this year."

I happen to think he's an idiot.

* * *

My own worldview couldn't be further from my Titans-loving friend. I believe in nuance, in more questions than answers and certainly can allow for a team to have a good season even if they aren't hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at season's end.

The reality is that only one team will enjoy such a moment, leaving the rest to scramble for reasons why it didn't work. Such searches for what went wrong are natural, but not every should team should continue to search for long. One team has to win, by definition, which means another one loses. You figure out what went wrong, adjust course and keep going. For those teams who are among the NFL's best, there's usually not a need to clean house or continue to ask one serious question after another.

The reality is that the Chiefs are as deep and talented as any other in the NFL. Do they lack a Hall of Fame quarterback? Absolutely. Do they make up for it with numerous playmakers and tremendous depth all over the roster? Certainly.

The morning after the loss to the Steelers last week, for whatever reason, it was easy for me to appreciate the accomplishments despite what might have been. The team's best player on both sides of the ball (Jamaal Charles, Justin Houston) were gone for most or all of the season. The Chiefs lost several other playmakers along the way for the season (Derrick Johnson, Josh Mauga, Allen Bailey, Jaye Howard and Parker Ehinger) and others for longer stretches (Jeremy Maclin, Phillip Gaines, Justin March-Lillard, Spencer Ware).

Down the stretch the Chiefs were receiving meaningful minutes from formerly released players like Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Ramik Wilson. Newly acquired players like Kenneth Acker and Terrance Mitchell were given serious assignments in the secondary. For a team that relies so heavily on its defense, a considerable portion of that starting unit was a patchwork quilt of former castoffs.

Despite the circumstances, the Chiefs took home their first AFC West title since 2010. Even more impressive is the fact that the AFC West was undoubtedly the toughest division in the entire NFL, and the Chiefs ran the table on everyone inside it, going 6-0 against their divisional foes.

* * *

I think the Titans had a great season. They're an ascending team in a weak conference with teams who continue to make stupid decisions (the Texans QB situation is laughable, the Colts coaches, the Jags everything). There's no reason to be negative about a 9-7 team unless you're so consumed by your passion that you can't have perspective.

The same can be said for the Chiefs. We're only a few years removed from Tyler Palko starting a quarter of the season and a .500 season being a cause for celebration. We've weathered Romeo Crennel, Todd Haley, Herm Edwards, Dick Vermeil (although some good things happened here) and Gunther Cunningham. There has been much more sorrow than satisfaction since the early '90s, a long enough stretch for an entire generation of Chiefs fans to become accustomed to mediocrity.

Now the Chiefs boast one of the most stable leadership units in the league. The front office is incredible. The coaching staff has enjoyed strong continuity and Reid himself is a proven winner. And just because it hasn't happened doesn't mean it won't in the future.
* * *

I still believe the Chiefs beat themselves in that game against the Steelers. Dropped passes. Silly penalties. Emotional outbursts. Despite the presence of several notable veterans, it's easy to forget the Chiefs top to bottom are one of the youngest rosters in the NFL. They played like it in their playoff loss. They weren't ready for the stage.

That's on Andy Reid and his staff. They admitted as much and they have significant work to do as they evaluate their position, their needs, their salary cap situation and more. But the holes the Chiefs have to work on aren't all that great and they have a bevy of assets as their disposal to address those concerns. All eleven draft picks provided to John Dorsey are now tradeable. The Chiefs can make some pretty obvious moves to free up more money. While they might lose a player of note (perhaps Eric Berry or Dontari Poe), it should be the only significant loss, and Dorsey's eye for talent and track record should be trusted to fill any holes that arise.

The Chiefs will come into the 2017 season with as much reason to hope as any other NFL team — even with Andy Reid as head coach and Alex Smith as quarterback. There are a lot of exciting young players in Kansas City who will benefit from a full offseason working out with the team, learning the schemes and gaining the reps. Maybe Jamaal returns. Chris Jones and Tyreek Hill will make the post-rookie leap. The injured will heal and return.

The window, in other words, is as wide as ever. I can't be angry anymore.

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