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Why Sunday’s roller-coaster was like the whole season — and why the ride isn’t over

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There’s been a lot of emotion — both good and bad — in the 2019 Chiefs season. Sunday’s game was just a distillation of what we’ve been through.

AFC Championship - New England Patriots v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

For Kansas City Chiefs fans, it’s been a full year of raw emotion — ever since the team was stopped just short of a Super Bowl berth in last season’s AFC Championship.

It’s been a year full of highs and lows. The turnover of the defensive staff gave many fans hope for improvement, but evidence of positive change seemed slow to arrive. Fans had to say farewell to star players — and get used to new ones. Reigning MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes was injured in the first game of the season. More injuries followed. It took many weeks for him to return to the form we saw in 2018.

As recently as mid-November — after the Chiefs notched their fourth loss in six weeks — it seemed like the season might be lost. But each week, another win bolstered fans’ confidence. Earning a postseason bye with a six-game winning streak — along with improbable help from some South Floridians who had their own agenda in a cold Northeastern city — seemed too good to be true.

So the roller-coater ride during last Sunday’s Divisional round playoff game against the Houston Texans — when the team came back from a 24-point deficit to secure a 20-point victory and a return to the AFC Championship — was, in essence, a microcosm of the whole season.

“It went from a nightmare to a great dream, really,” said Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub during the team’s media session on Thursday. “I was really proud of our guys in the way they bounced [back] and the way they stuck together and went about moving on to the next play — and making plays. They had one play, then they had another play — and we ended up getting five big plays after that; we had two bad ones and then five good ones. It was fortunate it ended up the way it did. I’m just so proud of our guys.”

But for offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, his pride in the players extends over the whole season.

NFL: JAN 12 AFC Divisional Playoff - Texans at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

”I’m very proud of the way our guys have rallied through adverse situations,” he said. “I’m very proud of how we’ve handled things through tough times. If life, everything is not perfect, OK? Things happen. The only thing that you’re going to measured on is how you handle it. And one thing I kept talking to the guys about was, ‘Just remain poised.’ You never want to spot a team 24 points — you never, ever want to do that — but one thing [for which] I commend our guys is that we did remain poised.”

Mahomes acknowledged that he and his teammates are excited to have another opportunity for the AFC title. But they still have to remain devoted to the process that allowed them to get to this point.

”This is what you want to do: play a home game for the AFC Championshiip and get a chance to win in front of the fans,” he said. “But I try to stay with the process. That’s been the biggest thing for me all season long: to not try to get too high or too low — to just focus on the process of being great day-by-day; getting the best out of every single day.”

Mahomes and his teammates deserve credit for remaining focused on the task at hand. But Dustin Colquitt — now in his 15th season as the team’s punter — admitted that the dreams about the postseason’s final challenge are always in every player’s mind.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

”Every player that works at this game [can] envision going all the way,” he told reporters. “It’s what you work for. It’s what you work out for. It’s why you stay in the weight room. It’s why you do a lot of things professionally.”

And for many players and coaches, they aren’t thinking about it just for themselves. They’re thinking about head coach Andy Reid, too — one of the NFL’s best coaches, but one who has never won a championship.

Colquitt said that when Reid arrived in 2013, all the talk was about how Kansas City is a smaller market — one that might not be big enough for Reid.

”It’s kind of changed the trajectory,” Colquitt recalled. “So to win for him and for all of us — this city that is so hungry. They were hungry during preseason games. It’s amazing seeing the fans and the barbecue and the excitement in this crowd — just the vibe — that was there even when we weren’t doing well.

“And now it’s just a monster,” he continued. “You’re like, ‘I don’t think they can get any louder.’ And they just... do. It’s fun to see that. Of course you want to win one for Big Red. Everybody says he’s a player’s coach, but I don’t think that exists. He’s just a man who wants to make other men — and win a championship.”

”I’d probably be happier for him, for sure,” said Mahomes. “But I think I’ll be pretty happy for myself, too.”

But Mahomes was quick to put the focus back on the process.

”The work that he’s put in every single day — everywhere he’s been, he’s had success. So obviously we want to get him that Super Bowl — but we understand it’s a process. First off, we’ve got to come in and have a great practice today, then play great this weekend to give ourselves a chance to be in that game and get a chance to give him that trophy.”

For Toub — who has known Reid for more than 30 years, since both of them were coaching assistants at the University of Texas-El Paso — it’s something he’s wanted Reid to have for a long time.

”I’ve thought about this a lot,” he said. “You know, nobody deserves it more than Andy. He’s such a great coach to not have a Super Bowl win under his belt. I mean, this would be huge. I don’t know if I’d stop crying with him. I’d probably hug him forever. I’m just so proud of everything he’s done in his career. He needs this.”