It is Christmas Day in chilly Kansas City, and the Chiefs are back-to-back AFC West champions.
And it is so deserved after a ride so unique.
Kansas City, at 5-0, was unanimously regarded as the league’s best team. ESPN wrote, “No team is ever a lock to make the playoffs after five games, but the Chiefs are pretty close right now,” on its weekly power rankings article at the time.
Alex Smith was the “it” MVP candidate and Kareem Hunt was accomplishing things no other player in NFL history had before.
Then, what no one could have predicted—the fall—and not just the fall, but the biggest of falls.
The Chiefs lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who softened their coverage to counteract Andy Reid’s innovative college-style offense. The next teams on the schedule followed suit with similar looks, and the Chiefs dropped five of six games.
Following the 16-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills, I wrote it was time for the Chiefs to hand the ball over to Patrick Mahomes, and it wasn’t so much that I had lost belief in Smith, but more so I had lost belief in the Chiefs.
If they weren’t going to make the playoffs this season, I reasoned, they may as well give Mahomes the experience and be prepared for next.
To their credit, the Chiefs’ locker room stayed rock solid through all of this unforeseen adversity and the media questioning that went along with it. Asked point blank about moving on from Smith midseason, and Reid defended his guy.
“Without getting philosophical, and I’m not sitting here with a crystal ball, or projecting things like that, that’s not how I roll,” Reid, seeming almost bothered by the thought, explained. “We’ve all got a responsibility to do our job at all positions, starting with me, and that’s not getting done the right way. Right? It’s not one guy, and that has to be understood. It’s not one person. We’ve all got to pull together as a football team, in this case, an offensive football team, right now, and get that taken care of as a team. Not one guy. And that’s about as clear as I can be.”
In a move I never thought he’d make, Reid went on to bench himself, handing play-calling duties over to offensive coordinator Matt Nagy.
The “Matt Nagy effect,” as coined by our own Kent Swanson, led to an outburst of 31 points against the New York Jets, but the Chiefs still lost the game when the defense struggled and Marcus Peters frustratingly hurled a referee’s flag into the stands.
A week after benching himself, Reid benched his best defensive player. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton made what Reid would later describe as “subtle changes” along the defensive front, and for the first time in five weeks, the Chiefs won a football game.
Peters came back a different player, and the team stepped up in their biggest game of the season against the surging Los Angeles Chargers.
And finally, Sunday’s convincing division-clinching win.
Many teams in the National Football League, at 6-6, would have mentally crumbled.
But with the reemergence of the offense and the defense and the Eric Berry, the Chiefs fought back, won the division championship and now may be one of the scariest teams in the Super Bowl tournament when it begins.
Reid burst into the Chiefs locker room dressed as Santa Claus Sunday after the game, and he handed Clark Hunt a football that said the Chiefs were back-to-back division champs for the first time in franchise history.
There was a time I admittedly couldn’t believe such a thing was possible, but maybe in a way that is why Reid’s attire was so fitting.
The Chiefs never lost belief in their own Santa Claus, and on Christmas Day, they are champions once again because of it.
And now, five items of note from Sunday.
1. The Chiefs, with a game to play, made all kinds of history.
Alex Smith eclipsed 4,000 yards for the first time in his career on Sunday. Travis Kelce eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards for the second season in a row.
With those feats, the 2017 Chiefs joined the 1981 San Diego Chargers as the only two teams in NFL history to have a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard running back, a 1,000-yard wide receiver and a 1,000-yard tight end.
In case you were curious, those Chargers lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, 27-7, in the conference championship game.
2. I think the whether-Alex Smith-stays-for-2018 debate has been reopened.
Alex Smith has a career-high 4,042 passing yards on the season, and it’s the first time any Chiefs quarterback thrown for more than 4,000 yards since Trent freakin’ Green in 2005.
I have gone back and forth as to whether the Chiefs would keep Smith for one last ride next season, and after Sunday’s win I think I’m back in the there’s-a-good-chance camp.
With that said…
3. Will we see Patrick Mahomes start next week?
The Chiefs are locked in the No. 4 seed, and based upon what we’ve seen with Andy Reid in the past, with no movement available, I think we’ll see Patrick Mahomes start with a number of starters getting the week to rest.
Asked about it on Sunday, Santa Reid said, “We’ll see. I’m pumped about the back-to-back thing right now and obviously clinching. We’ll see. We’ll see about what coach does with the time and all of that.”
There is a case to be made for resting Mahomes in favor of Tyler Bray, as my podcast partner and former Chief Shawn Barber pointed out to me this week. It involves the idea that if the Chiefs do want to move on from Smith and save the 17 million dollars, they would be a taking a 17-million-dollar risk on a meaningless game if Mahomes were to suffer a terrible injury that would keep him out of Week 1 next season.
Never fun to think like that, but it’s worth considering. It remains to be seen what direction the Chiefs go in.
4. PrideHead Nick forgot it was Christmas obviously.
I tweeted out that I thought Tyreek Hill caught the damn ball Sunday.
Oh my goodness. I think that’s a catch.— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) December 24, 2017
I love you Pete but you never predict these close calls correctly— Nick Nelson (@NickNelson44) December 24, 2017
What the hell, Nick? It’s Christmas.
Nick was right.
Bonus: Here’s a good look from the stands of the play from PrideHead Syvauna:
Robbed #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/AicDV5KcTM— Syvauna (@syvaunamitchell) December 24, 2017
5. Postgame quotes of the week
8. JARVIS LANDRY
What was the most disappointing part of today? “We lost.”
7. KENNY STILLS
Are you sick to your stomach over the Marcus Peters strip? “Yeah, it’s frustrating to individually let the team down, but knowing that one single play doesn’t determine the game. We had an opportunity to make a comeback at that point in time, a crucial part of the game and I let the ball slip out of my hands. Yes, I’m sick.”
6. MITCH MORSE
Proud of my guys on the @Chiefs offensive line battling and clinching the AFC West title! Extremely upset that I was not out there with my buddies, but got the foot fixed last week and looking forward to being back out there next year! Happy holidays and God bless! pic.twitter.com/arR4g8LfmR— Mitch Morse (@MMorse61) December 25, 2017
5. KAREEM HUNT
Did you expect to have this kind of success in your rookie year? “(Spencer) Ware went down, I had the opportunity to step in and fill the role. I never want a teammate to get hurt or anything. He is a great player, he has been helping me out and coaching me up through some things.”
Sweeney note: Pro move for Ware to help the rookie when he went down. Berryesque, if you will.
4. ALBERT WILSON
Does this remind you of the way you started the year? “Definitely. Attitude, energy, that is our team. We have our energy back.”
3. REGGIE RAGLAND
First time winning the division for you, what is the feeling like? “It feels good. Still work to be done, though. I am never satisfied until we get that ring. That is my focus now. Trying to get that ring.”
2. TRAVIS KELCE
Will you consider this season a success if you don’t go further in the playoffs? “No, it’s not.”
1. ANDY REID
When did it come to you to wear this (the Santa suit) and have you done this before? “One of Santa’s helpers helped me with this. With the suggestion.”
Merry Christmas ya’ filthy animals.