KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An undermanned Houston Texans team played the Chiefs to within a point. The Cleveland Browns, starting their third quarterback of the season, played the Chiefs to within a touchdown.
As the Chiefs reached the halfway point of the season this week as the only unbeaten team in the NFL, they’re prepared to get every opponent’s best shot, whether it’s the rebuilding Buffalo Bills this week or the high-powered Denver Broncos next month.
“It’s the NFL,” running back Jamaal Charles said after the Chiefs’ 23-17 escape against Cleveland on Sunday. “Last year, we tried to give everybody our best shots. So we know it’s the other way around, and teams are going to give us their best shot.
“We really prepare for that. We’re really excited to get everybody’s best shot. We don’t want anybody to hold anything back. We know we’re 8-0, and everybody will come here and try to fight us hard.
“We want that. As a team, you want that, because it can take you long way. We need everybody’s best shot. We want everybody to have their best players … their best quarterback … to get that experience …”
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has been part of unbeaten streaks, both in college, when Utah when undefeated, and in the NFL, when he led San Francisco to eight straight wins after a 1-1 start in 2011.
“…We love it,” Smith said. “Coach (Andy) Reid talks about it all the time, and you want team’s best shots. You want the stakes to get bigger. That’s why you put in all of the work in the offseason. That’s why you do training camp. You want those opportunities. You want that honor. I think it’s a great thing, no question.
“Not that anybody sneaks up on anybody in this league, but yeah, when you’re the only undefeated team, I think teams recognize how we’re playing. We’re prepared for it.”
The Chiefs arrived at this point by taking advantage of a favorable schedule — their first eight opponents are a collective 20-41 — a remarkable run of facing three backup quarterbacks and a first-year starter in the last four weeks; and the good fortune to avoid any major injuries.
They also have melded a combination of an aggressive, turnover-crazed defense; a conservative offense that doesn’t turn the ball over; and spectacular special teams that dictate field position with its kicking and return ability.
The Chiefs lead the NFL in fewest points allowed (12.3 per game); most sacks (36); most takeaways (20); best turnover differential (plus-12); and best defensive third-down efficiency (25.2 percent).
And fewest apologizes for their lofty standing atop the NFL.
“The best you can be right now is 8-0, and that’s where we’re at,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “Everybody is going to give us their best .. we know that. If we can take that punch and keep rolling …”
No one appreciates being the hunted instead of the hunter than Johnson, who has endured the 2-14 seasons of 2008 and 2012 as well as a couple of playoff appearances during his nine seasons with the Chiefs.
“I’ve seen everything … the good, the bad and the ugly,” Johnson said. “That’s why our character is so strong, because of what we’ve been through. I’ve never been 8-0. I’ve never been 4-0. We’ve been working our rears off. I don’t want to say we deserve to be 8-0, but this is what it is, and we’re riding with it.”
After playing five of their first eight games in the comfort of Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs also know playing five of their last eight games on the road will present different challenges, starting this weekend in Buffalo, where the Chiefs have lost six straight, including playoffs, and not won since 1986.
This week, the Bills already have declared a “white-out” for a game that sold out two weeks ago, no guaranteed occurrence in Buffalo.
“We know it’s going to get even tougher from here,” wide receiver Dexter McCluster said. “We’ve been blessed to play at home these past three games, and now we have to take it on the road and keep that same focus and preparation.”
While delighted to be 8-0, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is far from satisfied. The Chiefs offense has not progressed nearly as fast as the defense, and even the defense leaked some big plays to Cleveland on Sunday.
After getting to play another inexperienced quarterback this week, the Chiefs soon will be facing Peyton Manning twice, Philip Rivers twice, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and an improving Terrell Pryor.
“It’s a great thing to win in the National Football League,” Reid said. “You treasure each one of them. There’s no style points or any of that. But I’m telling you there’s room to improve. And I’m taking that to heart. Those aren’t empty words I’m throwing at you.
“We’ve got a ton of room to improve in all three phases. You better get better at what you’re doing, and you get better at what you’re not doing well … and you go play.”
Reid declined to discuss areas for improvement.
“I can’t stand here and publicly (say),” he said. “That’s for the other coach to try to discover and for us to work on. It’s like an artist. Only the artist knows where all the mistakes are, and you don’t (know) when you look at it with a non-artistic eye.”
If he had to point to one area that has contributed most to the Chiefs’ 8-0 start, Reid said it went beyond sacks, takeaways and touchdowns.
“I appreciate their camaraderie and togetherness,” Reid said. “How they go about their business day in and day out. Since the offseason program, they’ve come to work. At this time of year, they’re sore, banged up, but they bring energy when they come to the building. That’s not the way it is everywhere.”
Until the Chiefs show up.