In the moments following the defining performance of a still-blossoming career, Marcus Peters found himself surrounded by 40 of his teammates in the Chiefs’ locker room, charged with the task of breaking down the huddle following their victory over the Chargers.
The 24-year-old Peters, coming off a one-game team suspension for his behavior the previous week, spoke from the heart.
“Hey man,” Peters began. “They never said it was gonna be easy, they never said it was gonna be fun. But we’ve gotta make our own fun, man, and we gotta bleed and play for each other. We’re a family.”
At that, guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif — who had his left hand in the circle — looked at safety Daniel Sorensen. The two nodded in silent agreement as Peters ended the huddle.
“Fam on two. One! Two!”
So ended a roller coaster two-week period for Peters, the Chiefs’ star cornerback. By intercepting two passes and contributing to a forced fumble on Saturday, he reminded everyone why he’s a two-time All-Pro and one of the most dangerous corners in the game.
“Did you notice Marcus Peters?” defensive lineman Chris Jones said incredulously, and playfully, while repeating a question to a reporter after the game. “What, did he have two interceptions? Two interceptions and a forced fumble? Marcus Peters, we know that … his presence is huge. He knows how important he is.”
Also important was that Peters’ body language was much more positive than in his last game, when his frustration with losing finally bubbled over as he chucked a penalty flag into the stands and left the field prematurely during the fourth quarter of a 38-31 loss to the New York Jets with the latter action leading to his much-talked about suspension.
But given how much Peters loves football — few Chiefs are as passionate about the game as he is — his teammates were hardly surprised to see him bounce back with such a vengeance Saturday. Many actually saw it coming.
“You could tell he had a goal that he set for himself, whatever that was,” fellow cornerback Steven Nelson said. “Maybe it was three turnovers, who knows. But he made hella plays for us today.”
Meanwhile, quarterback Alex Smith, who as a team leader has found himself speaking about Peters’ suspension more than he would like in recent weeks, was happy to leave the past in the past and praise his teammate.
“Definitely not surprised,” Smith said. “He’s such a competitor, on top of the kind of player he is. He’s got amazing abilities, such great eyes. Such great feel for the game.”
Given his credentials — two years, two Pro Bowls and two All-Pro nods — Peters’ on-field abilities have never been a question. But when the Chiefs played well without him in a 26-15 win over the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 10, it opened the door for some to question if the improved effort and passion of his teammates had anything to do with Peters’ absence.
Many of Peters’ teammates, however, have soundly rejected that notion for over a week.
“No,” defensive end Rakeem Nuñez-Roches said passionately following the win over the Raiders. “All I can say is, with or without him — because we are a unit — we knew that this game (needed) a sense of urgency. Every individual out there, whether you were the big name guy or the backup guy, you had (to bring it).”
Nuñez-Roches said the improved enthusiasm against the Raiders was actually sparked by a message Andy Reid conveyed to his players during a meeting earlier in the week.
“It was something the head coach said earlier in the week that really gave everybody juice, that we all need to be on one page, we all need to feed off each other, it’s a team sport,” Nuñez-Roches said. “And he said that although things are not going our way right now, (we should) enjoy it, have fun. We’re at our best when we’re doing things like that, when we’re having fun, when we’re laughing, coming together.”
The payoff from that reminder continued on Saturday with Peters notching his first multi-interception game of the season.
“He wanted to prove to us that he missed us and he wanted to be here,” safety Ron Parker said.
Peters’ diligence toward proving that led Reid to allow him to break down the huddle after the game, an honor that, considering the previous two weeks, was just as important as a game ball.
“He’s done a good job all week, which I wouldn’t have expected anything less in that case,” Reid said. “He came out and practiced hard and played great and it’s a real tribute to him.”
“We feel like he’s a regular good guy, man, a good dude, on and off the field,” Nelson said. “He’s just an emotional player. That’s all it is.”
“Can’t say enough about him — he is an unbelievable teammate,” tight end Travis Kelce said. “Some of the things that the media may say about him, we don’t buy into. We know the type of guy he is and we love him. He is our guy, he is our brother.”
Nuñez-Roches agreed by offering one final defense of his teammate.
“The thing I want people to understand about this whole industry of the league is (this) — whatever they love you for will be the same thing they hate you for, and his passion is the one thing they love him for,” Nuñez-Roches said. “The way he was taking the ball (tonight), the way he was pulling it out of there, that’s a passion, that’s a want to. But that same thing is what’s getting him in trouble right now.
“He loves this. More than anybody trying to make him seem like a bad guy, he’s not a bad guy — he’s not. We’ll tell you when somebody’s a bad guy — he’s not. He just wants this more than anybody.”