In 2020, the Kansas City Chiefs turned in a 14-2 record — the best in franchise history — yet more than a few observers pointed out that even after beginning their season with four victories of at least 13 points, eight of their remaining 10 victories were by a touchdown or less. Had the Chiefs lost the ability to put opponents away during the first half?
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday in advance of the team’s 2021 season opener against the Cleveland Browns — a team that the Chiefs defeated by just five points in their Divisional round playoff game last season — head coach Andy Reid acknowledged the problem.
“We went through a little phase there where we didn’t start fast,” he admitted. “But [we] kind of picked it up as we went.”
But Reid also thought it was important to note that the Chiefs weren’t much different from the rest of the league’s teams in this regard.
“I’ll tell you: it’s a crazy stat,” he added. “But the number of games in this league that are determined by seven points or less is ridiculous. There’s so much parity. I analyze those things and look at them to get better. But with all the situational football that you prepare for, you prepare in case you’re in that mode. But just by the analytics of it, it’s ridiculous.”
Reid had a point. Last season, 123 of the league’s 256 regular-season games — that’s 48% — were decided by seven or fewer points, which shows that Kansas City wasn’t that much of an outlier. Every team in the league had at least four — and a dozen teams had more than Kansas City’s eight. But the Chiefs were the league’s only team to win all of those close games.
So from the Chiefs’ perspective, “starting fast” is more about starting the season fast.
“We stress the importance of starting the season fast,” said quarterback Patrick Mahomes. “We have a very tough training camp — as everyone knows — where we really compete and go at it every single day of practice. That prepares us to be ready to go from Day 1. We’ve come up against — in my time, at least — a lot of really good football teams early in the season.”
“We know that if you lose a game in September, it can cost you at the end of the season as far as seedings when you’re trying to get into the playoffs,” added Mahomes. “And so we just stressed the importance, knowing that we’re playing a lot of really good football teams at the beginning of the year.”
But according to tight end Travis Kelce, this is hardly something that the team is just now beginning to emphasize.
“That’s every single year, right? You want to get off to a great start [to] set yourself up for the long haul,” he said. “I mean: start fast, finish fast. Start fast, finish strong. That’s always been the mentality here: to be able to come out the gates ready — both mentally and physically — and then be able to finish the game physically and mentally in the same regard. It’s something that we trust Coach Reid with. That’s why we had training camp the way we did — and it’s why we work the way we do.”
The Chiefs would probably prefer to start every game fast, too — thereby allowing them to shift into running the ball more often behind their newly-revamped, beefier offensive line. But if they can start the season fast — getting to Week 6 with a record of 5-0 or even 4-1 — it’s hard to imagine they won’t repeat 2020’s success.