After the Kansas City Chiefs’ devastating 27-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 7, the team’s defense was at or near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories — and with 3-4 record, most observers gave the team little chance to reach the postseason.
But the team finished the regular season 9-1, clinching its sixth straight AFC West title and the second seed of the postseason — primarily led by a defensive resurgence that made them the league’s eighth-best scoring defense through the regular season.
Almost everyone within the organization who’s been asked about it has named the acquisition of defensive end Melvin Ingram — who joined the team in a Week 9 trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers — as one of the key factors in that resurgence.
“He’s a great teammate, and you don’t know those things about him when you watch him from afar,” said Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo last Thursday. “He’s passionate about the game of football, and he’s a real intuitive football player. He gets football. When you go over and explain something to him, or, ‘We’re doing it this way because of,’ it makes sense to him. Some guys you coach through the years, they’ll shake their head and say that they’ve got it — but you’re not really sure if they do.”
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Ingram said there was a specific reason that he’s meshed into the organization so quickly and easily.
“I just came in and bought in — just buying into whatever they already had going on,” he explained. “That’s the best way you can fit into anything — don’t try to come in and do your own thing [and] you don’t try to come in and be somebody else. Just buy into what they’ve got going on — and come in and do what they need you to do.”
For the Chiefs, that was being able to play on the outside of the defensive line — so that Chris Jones could go back to being where he was most effective: on the inside.
“Melvin’s been huge to this defense,” said Jones. “Bringing Melvin in — I felt like he’s been a spark for this defense as a whole. And I know statistically-wise, his numbers don’t show it, but he’s been a huge part for this defense, whether it’s his presence on the field, whether it’s just setting the edge, whether it’s just causing a fumble for our rookie linebacker to win the game.”
Since his arrival, Ingram has appeared in ten Kansas City games — two of them against the Steelers and another against the Los Angeles Chargers, with whom he put in nine seasons before becoming a free agent last spring. But he said that those matchups against his former teams — all victories — didn’t hold any special significance for him.
“To be honest, I haven’t really thought about it,” he said. “I came here to try and win a Super Bowl. That’s what my goals are set on. Beating them? That wasn’t a goal I had. It was another team on the schedule [and] we were trying to get a win, but I never put too much emphasis on it.”
Ingram said he’s been impressed with Spagnuolo.
“I think he’s a great leader. I think he’s a great coach — and I think most of all, he’s a player’s coach. He understands how to relate to players and how to be there for players — and that’s what I think is so good about it. He’s definitely always in there — no matter what’s going on. Even in practice, he’s always right there: hands-on. So that makes him a great coach.”
But he pushed back on the idea that his own role includes being a coach. In his mind, everyone on the team is learning from each other.
“I wouldn’t say I’m teaching anybody the game,” he insisted. “I feel like when you’re in a room — and when you’re at this level of football — everybody is learning from each other. It isn’t anybody just really teaching somebody. It’s everybody learning from each other — and all of us learning from the coach.”
Ingram said that he’s even been able to learn from the youngest players on his new team.
“We’ve got some elite young guys here, and they’ve got a chance to be very special — which helps any team that they’re on and this team that they’re on. So it’s definitely been a blessing to be in that room with those guys — and have an opportunity to kind of show them some of the things I’ve learned and [get] from them some of the things they’ve learned. It’s definitely dope!”
Ingram’s contract runs only as far as Kansas City’s postseason goes — and in the minds of many, the 32-year-old has earned an opportunity to return for at least the 2022 season. But for now, that isn’t Ingram’s focus.
“I’ve definitely got a lot of desire [to stay with the Chiefs],” he said, “but that’s looking too far ahead into the future; I’ve never been a person that looked far in the future. I’m just focused on the task we’ve got at hand right now, man. That’s trying to win another playoff game — taking it step-by-step, day-by-day and game-by-game.”