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Chiefs choosing to embrace unfamiliar territory

How does Patrick Mahomes describe the 1-2 start? “Exciting.”

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

For a Kansas City Chiefs team who has been on the (very) right side of the records and statistics for half a decade, it has been a rather unusual week.

The popular fact to share this week is that the Chiefs haven’t had an under-.500 record (and in last place in the division) since the 2015 season, two years before the commissioner Roger Goodell called Patrick Mahomes’ name on draft night.

It has been hardly anything but success and winning for the Chiefs since then. Once 1-5 in 2015, the Chiefs ripped off 10 wins in a row to make the playoffs and win their first postseason game in 22 seasons. What followed were five AFC West titles amidst a passing of the torch from Alex Smith to Mahomes, two AFC championships and one Super Bowl title.

1-2 is thus unfamiliar territory indeed. But on Wednesday, Mahomes didn’t sound fazed about the Chiefs’ early-season predicament.

“As I’ve kind of sat back and thought about it, it’s exciting,” said Mahomes. “Now you know you have to go. There’s no kind of, ‘We’re going to try to get through and find a way to the playoffs.’ Now we’ve put our back against the wall, so how are we going to respond?

“I think this is where you’ll get the best out of everybody, you’ll get the best out of every person in this locker room because you know that it’s time to go now. Every game matters if we want to do what we want to do. I’m excited to see how these guys respond — and myself included.”

After coming back to defeat the Cleveland Browns in Week 1, the Chiefs blew an 11-point third-quarter lead against the Baltimore Ravens. The Chiefs might have escaped with the win had it not been for a fumble by Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

The second-year running back had another costly fumble in Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers — but he did run the football a bit better than he has, breaking the 100-yard mark for the third time in his career.

Much was made of Edwards-Helaire taking a step forward in the passing game this offseason — but through three games, he has just five catches for 38 yards. That hasn’t worried Mahomes all that much, either.

“I think it’ll open up naturally as we keep seeing more and more deep coverages,” explained the quarterback. “We’re going to have to start involving that running back room. Obviously, Clyde has a special skill set with it comes to catching the football. I think as the season goes on, you’ll see him get more and more involved in the pass-catching game. I thought we had a big week this last week of him running between the tackles, running tough — and it wasn’t those big splash runs, it was hard-earned yards. We’re going to need that if we want to be who we want to be at the end of the season.”

As Mahomes alluded to, opposing defenses have begun to adjust to Andy Reid’s ridiculous West Coast offense that is spearheaded by Mahomes. They’re playing the Chiefs a bit deeper — offering more chances to create turnovers — while giving extra attention to Tyreek Hill.

A 197-yard explosion in Week 1 for Hill against the Browns preceded a 14-yard output against the Ravens and 56 yards against the Chargers — both way low for what the Chiefs have (fortunately) become accustomed to expect from Hill.

“He’s such a good player,” Mahomes said of Hill. “He’s kind of seen this type of thing happen to him throughout his entire career. It’s our job to find him ways to get open, to find ways to get him chances to make plays. We have to do that to the best of our ability. He’s such a playmaker, so finding him ways to get the ball — and at the end of the day, other guys have to step up and make plays as well, myself included. It’s frustrating in the sense that we want to get him involved as much as possible, but I think we’re ready for the challenge of it. We’ve done it these last few years, and we’ll find a way to do it again.”

The frustration can only go so far, especially since the Chiefs would have likely won the game had they had one or two fewer turnovers. In a sense, the fact that they had the ball with a chance for a game-winning drive with a minus-4 turnover differential is truly remarkable.

Of course, under no circumstances will Reid live in the world of almosts.

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

“I’ve been honest with you just that you can’t turn the ball over in this league,” said Reid. “I think we all know that. So, we’ve got to take care of business. Still, let our personalities show, but you’ve got to take care of the football. Bottom line. There’s too much competition in this league not to do that. But at the same time, we do, we have good players, and we’re going to get it right. We’re all going to get it right—coaches and players.”

Reid noted that the urgency necessary to crawl out of the funk is there.

“I think the guys were real,” said Reid. “As coaches, we’re real with them, and I think this situation is very obvious on what needs to take place, and we’ve got to make sure we get it done. We’re all in it doing it together.”

Coming into the 2021 season, Mahomes had never lost (or thrown an interception) in September. Two losses and three interceptions later, Mahomes identified the reality Reid spoke about with his team this week.

“We’ve kind of dug ourselves a hole,” said Mahomes. “We’ve lost these games we don’t usually lose until later in the season. It’s my first time coming out kind of getting out of September or right at the end of it and not having a winning record, so it’s about how we respond.”

That response will come with a trip to Philadelphia to play a 1-2 Eagles team that also did not start the season the way it had hoped. And while every regular-season game is important, the Chiefs are at a point in their franchise history that won’t be defined by a bad stretch in September.

Instead, they’re at a point where they will be judged by what happens on an evening in Los Angeles this February.

“If you have that championship swagger, you don’t let a loss in September affect your mindset,” added Mahomes. “That’s getting better every single day so you can put yourself in the best chance to make a run at the end of the season.”