The Chiefs held their opponent to only three points and less than 300 yards until late in the fourth quarter — when the outcome was essentially decided. Speaking after the game, Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark credited defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his assistants for helping the team quickly move on from the disappointing outing it had in Week 15’s 30-24 overtime win against the Houston Texans.
“I give hats off to our coaches,” Clark declared. “They prepare us, usually. Start Monday, fresh off a victory usually — or a loss — you come into the building, you know you’re prepping for a new team and a new week. Our coaches, they started off the week doing just that. We had a tough game in Houston — so when you come back, you’ve got guys dwelling on it.
“Our coaches do a good job of washing it away from our memory [and] getting us back into the week. We had a short week, so of course we’ve got to get rolling. You’ve got to get the ball rolling faster. Coach Spags did a hell of a job giving us the game plan — and it’s just on us to execute. And you [saw] some execution out there today.”
Some of the Chiefs' defensive inconsistency has stemmed from a reliance on rookies and second-year players who are playing key roles. Clark sees it as his job to raise the play of all his teammates — whether they are rookies or veterans.
“I try my best to inspire the man next to me — and then bring along another person in the process,” he explained. “Whether that’s inspiring an older guy or a younger guy, that’s typically what I tend to do. In this game, it’s our [defensive backs], honestly. I look at my young guys — I look at that back end — and I just tell them, ‘Just keep playing.’ You’re making mistakes while you’re young — you make them early.
“So when you get to this point of your career — year eight, year whatever — you understand what’s asked of you. You understand what’s needed of you in those clutch moments. You see guys make mistakes — holding or whatever it is — we always tell them, ‘You’re good, man. Wash it away. Have a short-term memory — and get out there and make the best play you can the next play.’”
While the Chiefs’ rookie defensive backs have needed to make adjustments down the stretch, a rookie in Clark’s room has come on strong the last month. Defensive end George Karlaftis dropped Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith for a seven-yard loss on Saturday for his fourth sack in the past five games. He also had a key batted pass to stop a Seattle drive.
“I love it — I want to see more,” Clark said of the rookie. “I look at George the same way I look at myself: just never being satisfied. I tell him that all the time: ‘Don’t be satisfied with being drafted in the first round. Don’t be satisfied with your family or everyone voicing your head up. Don’t ever get satisfied — don’t ever listen to it. There’s always more work to do.’”
Clark joined the Chiefs in 2019 — and was a key part of winning Super Bowl LIV. He admits the Chiefs have spent too much of the three seasons since then by not heeding the advice he now give to Karlaftis — although he feels this year’s team can change that approach.
“I feel like over the past few years — after we won the Super Bowl — we had some complacency in there,” he acknowledged. “You can see it. You watch certain games where they might have said ‘This team got bullied’ or ‘This team just played more aggressive than the Chiefs did.’ I don’t see that this year. I feel like we’re learning from our mistakes better this year. We’re making more plays at the end of games. We’re finishing stronger at the end of the season as far as the turnover battle.
“I feel like as a defense, we’re complimenting our offense pretty well. Whether they’re having a good game or a bad game, we’re on our side doing our part. We’re not making it worse. If they’re having a good game, we’re helping them have a better game. We’re telling them ‘Run the score up a little more.’ Sorry other teams.”
The Chiefs were able to persevere Saturday through frigid conditions. For that, Clark attributed the work his teammates have put in since the start of training camp.
“That starts in camp,” he said. “When you’re out there [and] you’re doing 20-play drives and things are getting tough out there in the 100-degree weather out there in St. Joseph, you think about these things. When you’re out there in five-degree weather in the tundra in Kansas City, you think about those things.”
Saturday’s dominant win gives the AFC West champions some much-needed momentum going into the playoffs. Though the Chiefs are most visibly led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes — still the face of the NFL — Clark reiterated that the team has many leaders who are ready to steer them to its ultimate goal.
“It’s not just Pat as the only leader in the locker room,” he claimed. “I know it seems like that — but you have a lot of leaders in the locker room. [There are] probably four or five other guys that speak outside of Pat. It’s not my job to give you specifics on who [they are.] That’s why it’s called a locker room.”