Chiefs, without PA’s Charles, stick to plan in turnaround

Published 3:15 pm Monday, January 4, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — There was no “Eureka!” moment in the Kansas City Chiefs’ remarkable turnaround.

No moment of clarity, no major shake-up in scheme or personnel. The Chiefs didn’t abandon the run game when Port Arthur’s Jamaal Charles got hurt or stop blitzing quarterbacks when Justin Houston went down.

Rather, they stuck to their convictions behind the steady hand of coach Andy Reid, and it paid off with a franchise-record 10 consecutive victories and a return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.

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“Andy said the key was to keep focused on the next opponent, and that’s what he did,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said. “We got that first victory and I really think that lifted the team spirit. We went to London, had a good experience and won that game, and the team took off from there.”

The Chiefs (11-5) actually clinched a wild-card spot with one week left in the season, then beat the Oakland Raiders on Sunday to secure the No. 5 seed. They head to Houston on Saturday to face the team they beat in their season opener before they lost five straight games.

“Clearly when you’re 1-5, you’re not thinking about the playoffs or Super Bowl. You’re thinking about getting a victory,” Hunt said. “Once you start stringing victories together, I was optimistic we could carry it all the way to the end and make the playoffs.”

Even during the doldrums, though, nobody in the Kansas City locker room seemed to lose hope.

For good reason, too. The Chiefs weren’t far off.

Those first six games included five opponents that have since qualified for the playoffs, so it wasn’t as if they were losing to cellar-dwellers. They had the Broncos beaten in Week 2 before allowing two late touchdowns, the decisive one on a fumble return, and had the Bears beaten a few weeks later before they allowed a late touchdown pass in a one-point loss.

The only games where Kansas City seemed clearly overmatched were on the road, in Green Bay in Week 3 and Cincinnati the following week. Both of those teams are in the playoffs.

“I’ve been on a lot of teams that they never would’ve gotten his far,” defensive tackle Mike DeVito said. “At 1-5, guys would’ve been thinking about going home. … So this team is very mature, and it really speaks to Coach Reid and the philosophy and culture that he brings in here. There’s a system and guys follow by the system and it works.”

Depending on the bookmaker, the Chiefs had a roughly 5 percent chance of making the playoffs after their 1-5 start. The sports analytics site numberFire put the odds at 1.5 percent, and gave Kansas City the fifth-best odds of having the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.

Not since the Bengals in 1970 had a team started 1-5 and the made the postseason.

“We’ve got a great group of leaders in this locker room, man, and we never questioned ourselves or doubted ourselves that we could get to this point,” said rookie cornerback Marcus Peters, whose eight interceptions landed him in the Pro Bowl. “There was never any doubt in this locker room.”

Reid has said all along that he liked the makeup of his team, even during the long, hot days of training camp. It wasn’t just the talent on both sides of the ball, though there is arguably more than his first two years in Kansas City, but the mentality that they carry into the huddle.

They firmly believe they will win every time they step on the field.

The last 10 weeks, they’ve made good on that belief.

“They’re a pretty humble crew. They don’t get caught up in accolades or wins and all that stuff. They just go play,” Reid said. “That’s the way they practice. They practice just like the way they play. They go out and go a hundred miles an hour and they do it every day. Every team has got its own personality, but that’s kind of this group. Humble group that work hard. They don’t think anything is impossible.”

NOTES: Reid said Monday that LB Dee Ford was being tested for a concussion. He did not have an update on C Mitch Morse (concussion). … LB Justin Houston (hyperextended knee) is still day to day. He returned to practice Friday but did not play Sunday. “See how he does,” Reid said. “The positive is he practiced a little bit last week, which is a good thing.”