It should probably come as no surprise that on Sunday, fewer than 24 hours after one of the biggest collapses in playoff history, Chiefs coach Andy Reid and his players were still trying to make sense of it all.
“As far as yesterday goes, it’s final,” Reid said. “It hits you just like you get hit upside the head with a bat.”
A very heavy bat, mind you.
Because the truth is, it's hard to imagine the Chiefs continuing their string of playoff losses in a more agonizing way than they did Saturday, when an unconscionable string of injuries and a leaky defense helped them blow a 28-point second-half lead in a devastating 45-44 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Only the 1992 Houston Oilers blew a bigger lead — 32 points — in their first-round loss to the Buffalo Bills.
“For the way that the game played out, I don’t think as players and coaches (we) feel that it was acceptable,” Reid said. “When you have a lead like that, you have to finish it and take care of business there.”
The disappointment was evident Sunday, when Reid conducted exit interviews with his players and was able to gauge the overall temperament of his team.
“I sat there and talked to them this morning and there were a lot of long faces,” Reid said. “There weren’t guys laughing and high-fiving and all that. That wasn’t going on then. It was a bunch of guys with their heart ripped out.
“I can work with that. I can handle that. We’ll get better because of that. It should hurt. It’ll make us better.”
The upcoming offseason will provide the Chiefs with an opportunity to do so. Change is a part of the NFL, and Reid acknowledged that some of the people involved in this year's success may not be back. For instance, reports have linked director of player personnel Chris Ballard to Tampa Bay's vacant general manager position.
Reid did give a definitive answer when asked if he planned on making any changes to his coaching staff.
“No, there won’t be changes on the staff,” Reid said. “No.”
If so, that will put additional pressure on the Chiefs to have a good offseason and upgrade the roster, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, which came apart after a dominant start and allowed opponents to score an average of nearly 30 points in its final eight games of the season.
Decisions will also have to be made on several key free agents, including receiver Dexter McCluster, offensive tackle Branden Albert, offensive guards Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz, inside linebacker Akeem Jordan, defensive end Tyson Jackson and safety Kendrick Lewis. And quarterback Alex Smith — who turns 30 next year and is coming off a big season — is only under contract for one more year.
But for now, Reid said the staff will immediately begin the process of evaluating talent and compiling their end-of-year evaluations of players. There will be some time for rest and reflection after that, though not much with the NFL Draft and free agency on the horizon.
Reid said his players, many of whom are banged up after the grind of a long season, need to take advantage of the offseason.
“They need to take a little time off right now and get themselves back both mentally and physically,” Reid said. “The guys that are hurt or who possibly need offseason surgeries or who have already had surgeries, they need to make sure they take care of their business there.”
So yes, the 2013 season will soon to fade into the rearview mirror for these Chiefs, despite the disappointing way it ended. But Reid also made sure to remind everyone Sunday of all the positives that occurred this year.
Reid said he will remember the 2013 Chiefs as a group that worked hard, sacrificed for one another and put their faith in a new coaching staff after an embarrassing 2-14 season and was rewarded with an 11-5 record and the return of meaningful January football.
“They gave it up (for us),” Reid said of his players. “Unconditionally, they gave it up and said, ‘Hey, show us what we need to do to be better’ and they did that every day. They tried to do that every day.”
Offensive tackle Donald Stephenson said he looks at this season as a building block for bigger and better things.
“We’ve set a foundation, expectation to win,” Stephenson said. “That’s a lot that you can get out of it, especially it being coach Reid’s first year here. We’re taking a lot of positives out of this year.”
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, after their excruciating loss to the Colts they'll have to wait at least 12 more months to try and get their first playoff win since the 1993 season and truly erase the bitter taste of Saturday's defeat.
“We shoot for Super Bowls,” Reid said. “We’re not shooting to be a good football team, we’re shooting to be a great football team.
“(The 2014 season) can’t get here soon enough, honestly.”