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The Chiefs had their backs to the wall, and they responded

The 2015 season changed the way I view the football season.

You remember what happened that year. The Chiefs, after winning their first game, proceeded to drop five consecutive losses. And those losses were... well, they were ugly. A last-second heartbreaker to Denver. A pair of shellackings at the hands of the Packers and Bengals. Then a pair of utterly horrific “the offense really can’t do anything well, can it?” losses to first the Bears (where the Chiefs lost Jamaal Charles to injury) and the Vikings, both of which were basically games the Chiefs managed to be worse than a team that played badly.

They were done. It was over. I was writing articles about how maybe the Chiefs just weren’t that good (that was actually the title) and trying to figure out how much blame John Dorsey should get. We were already talking about the draft and it wasn’t even midseason.

You remember how that worked out.

Starting with Pittsburgh (of all teams. I’d completely forgotten that the last time the Chiefs beat the Steelers it was to spark the greatest season turnaround I’ve ever seen), the Chiefs reeled off 10 straight wins to earn a playoff spot. They then, improbably, went to Houston and dominated, getting that “they haven’t won a playoff game in 400 years” monkey off their back. It was glorious.

Why am I bringing that up? Because like I said, it changed the way I view a football season. As long as the Chiefs have talent (and they do, as limited as it may be in some areas) and are coached by Andy Reid, I’m not going to give up on a season until they are mathematically out of contention. Because I’ve just seen too much.

The Chiefs started the game Sunday dead in the water. They’d lost five straight games, during which first the offense and then the defense took turns being horrific. They were coming off having Josh McCown throw for what felt like a thousand yards and 10 touchdowns. Their best player in the secondary was suspended and the team looked like an absolute mess. They were completely beaten down.

Making matters even worse, the next opponent was Derek Carr and the Raiders, who completely torched the Chiefs a month ago. So naturally, this is what happened.

The defense proceeded to dominate the Raiders for 3.5 quarters (while the game was actually in question), the offense played well enough to move the ball and put points on the board (and actually look, well, watchable) for the second week in a row, and the Chiefs dismantled the Raiders at Arrowhead.

Frankly, I did not see that coming. Much like Marshawn Lynch didn’t see a suddenly-revived Derrick Johnson coming.

In a game that wasn’t remotely as close as even the two score deficit would indicate, the Chiefs actually left a few opportunities on the field (Demetrius Harris’s drop, Mitch Schwartz’s ineligible man downfield penalty, Alex missing Albert Wilson on a post). This really could have very, very easily been a 30-point blowout.

The funny thing is I can’t think of a lot of Raider “mistakes” that could’ve turned things around for them. They just got whipped up and down the field all day. It was glorious, like watching Chris Jones sack Carr with his own offensive lineman.

Despite some of their missteps on the day (the aforementioned mistakes that took points off the board and made the blowout look slightly less like a blowout), the Chiefs suddenly, when they needed to most, looked like the team we remembered from the 5-0 start:

  • The offense was attacking vertically.
  • Kareem Hunt was punishing defenders on the ground (as the OL actually, you know, opened holes) and making things happen after the catch.
  • Tyreek Hill was terrorizing guys down the field.
  • The run defense (led in large part by Reggie Ragland, who is proving to be an absolute steal and will probably get another article written about him this week) continued to look vastly improved against what had been a recently revitalized Oakland running game.
  • The defense was generating pressure as a whole.

In short, the Chiefs resembled the team we thought they were back in early October for the first time since... well, early October. They took a talented team that had won three of its last four games and made them look totally, utterly inferior. It was fun to watch.

What’s more, the WAY the Chiefs did it was ... different. It’s impossible to analyze or quantify things like fire or pride or whatever other talk radio catchphrase you want to throw in there, so I don’t talk about those things often. But you could SEE the defense out there playing with more pride. Guys were flying to the ball and wrapping up (with few notable suggestions, but I digress). It was the same on the offensive side of the ball, especially with the line.

A lot of people are going to chalk this up to the Marcus Peters suspension, with Reid having sent a message to the team. I have no idea if that’s the case, but given everything I’ve heard about that suspension (including Peters’s remorse regarding how it’s all gone down), I think the net result of it may well end up being a positive.

However, I’m not sure that’s what happened yesterday. I noted prior to the game that this was the first time all season the Chiefs had to REALLY play with their backs to the wall. It was their first actual must-win of the season, with a loss putting them a game back on the Raiders with no shot at the tiebreaker (and likely a game back on the Chargers with them coming to town the next week).

The question I had was how the Chiefs would respond. Based on what we’d seen in recent play, the easy answer was “they’re gonna roll over like me when my wife tells me it’s time to stop watching Chris Jones tape and actually help with the kids.”

Yet ... I somehow couldn’t get 2015 out of my head. A lot of the same guys are around (though obviously not having Eric Berry is a big, big deal). I just couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe we haven’t quite seen the last of the good version of this year’s team. I couldn’t shake the feeling that rather than fold, the Chiefs would instead finally find some pride.

Sometimes you don’t really know what you’re made of until your back is to a wall and all you can do is give in or start swinging. The Chiefs did the latter Sunday and found out that they still have some haymakers left.

Despite everything ... DESPITE EVERYTHING ... this is still a Chiefs team with Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt on offense. They really can score on anyone when they’re not shooting themselves in the foot. And the defense showed Sunday that when they’re not... well, shooting themselves in the foot (see a pattern here?) they can still show up and punch teams in the mouth.

I don’t know what next week holds. The Chargers gave the Chiefs a heckuva game when the Chiefs were at their best, and they boast a terrifying defense (and Phil Rivers is some kind of vampire, so there’s that). But for one week, the Chiefs reminded me of the lesson I learned in 2015: it’s really not over until it’s actually over.

I know it’s crazy, but there’s some part of me that finds these moments the most exciting as a football fan. Maybe I’ve read too much Tolkien, but there’s something about the hopeless heroism of a (probably) doomed cause that fires me up like no other. Give me the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Give me Hector standing before Achilles. Give me the final battle of Spartacus.

Maybe I’m just a sucker for a good story. Or maybe I feel like I can learn more about the character of a person (or a team) when they’re almost out of time. Whatever it is, I’m here for last stand. And against everything we’ve seen over the last month, it looks like Kansas City won’t go quietly into the night after all.

Backs to the wall, mouth bloodied, eyes blackened, but with head unbowed and fists raised ... the Chiefs wait for the Chargers. I hope to see them throw a few more bombs before it’s all said and done.

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