Kansas City Chiefs

For Chiefs, winning is all that matters

However it has happened, whatever role good fortune played and regardless of how pretty the wins looked, Kansas City has an undefeated football team. Inside the Chiefs' locker room, you can see what that means.

Players smile more often. They socialize longer at their lockers. They seem genuinely eager to see tomorrow, because tomorrow is exciting when good things are happening.

No, the Chiefs don't care much about how they got here, and they care less about whether they are one of the NFL's legitimate contenders. They're just enjoying the ride — and hoping it lasts a little longer.

"Nobody is riding on a high horse," linebacker Derrick Johnson said, "and we're not sticking our chests out.

"We've got a long way to go. We're a humble group. We'll fly under the radar and just win as many games as we can."

Johnson said the losing — the Chiefs lost a combined 38 games the last three seasons — is still too fresh to take the team's hot start for granted. Maybe that's how coach Todd Haley has convinced his team to play as if today is all that matters, because tomorrow, things could change. Things could go back to the old way, when this was an easy stopover on a better team's path toward the playoffs.

So before tomorrow comes, the Chiefs have to get through today; and today, they are playing San Francisco at Arrowhead Stadium. Haley said that this game is more significant than the Chiefs' first two contests; that no other game, at this moment, is this important.

"When you're winning games consistently," Haley said, "you realize real quick that no matter how big the previous game was, the next one is bigger. Some way, somehow, even though before you played that game before that one, you thought there's no way that the next one could be bigger.

"This is the biggest."

It might be Haley's latest attempt at a psychological breakthrough. The center of this one is that the Chiefs must play beyond their talent, because with talent alone, they are at a disadvantage. They have to outwork and outsmart their opponents; they have to be close to perfect. They have to make big plays. They have to be better, for part of one day per week, to keep the ride going, to shape tomorrow into what they'd like it to be instead of having it sneak up again with bad news.

Defensive end Glenn Dorsey, whom the Chiefs drafted in 2008 three months after he won a national championship at LSU, said he has never felt this energized as a pro. Winning does that, and it's a feeling that so many of the Chiefs forgot, and at this level anyway, too few ever knew.

Ask around, and there's no single reason why the Chiefs are one of eight teams with a 2-0 record. Johnson said it's because the Chiefs are learning how to win close games. Rookie wide receiver Dexter McCluster said it's because the team is learning to fight together. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said it's because this team is learning to be resilient and hungry.

"We tell them all the time that, if you keep fighting and give effort," Crennel said, "then you can be in it at the end. You can have a chance to win. That's what has been happening for us."

That and big plays, effective game plans and maybe a little luck, too. Haley said he believes that teams make their own luck, that good fortune is the marriage of preparation and opportunity. But no amount of work could've conjured that downpour 13 days ago, when the Chiefs stunned a depleted San Diego team on national television at Arrowhead.

No early-morning or late-night meeting could've predicted that Cleveland offensive lineman Alex Mack would be whistled for unnecessary roughness and Phil Dawson would miss a 42-yard field goal — his second miss against the Chiefs in his last 11 tries. That was the difference in the Chiefs' 16-14 win.

That is to say nothing of the Chargers' punt-protection team drifting too far to its left, allowing McCluster to run 96 yards for a touchdown. Or Cleveland quarterback Seneca Wallace starting in place of Jake Delhomme, then throwing a pass that Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers intercepted and returned for a touchdown. That is the marriage of luck and skill, when the Chiefs catch a break and capitalize.

"That's what we have to do," Haley said. "That's the landscape for us right now."

So what happens, then, if the Chiefs' luck changes? What if all those extraordinary plays run out and the Chiefs have to try to win an ordinary game, when nothing matters but skills and gumption?

"It's got to happen," McCluster said. "If it doesn't, I can't tell you the scenario."

That's not a scenario the Chiefs are eager to experience. And why would they, when the unexpected has been one of the team's most impressive plays?

Crennel said Friday that, whenever the Chiefs should lose their magic, they'll have to rely on fundamentals and technique. That's why coaches harp on players every day, point out mistakes in meetings and film study, put them through all those grueling practices.

"We've just got to fight, claw and scratch to get in the end zone, get six points, get a field goal, get a stop on defense," McCluster said. "Nothing is going to be given to you; you've got to go get it."

Because even players know that, at some point, there will be a dry spell on big plays. Luck will move on to another team.

"When it's not there," Haley said, "somebody, someone, some group is going to have to figure out a way to pick up the slack one way or another. We're going to have to be at our best, week in and week out."

Which is why Haley is spending his days keeping the Chiefs uncomfortable. He is back to his familiar mind games, breaking the regular season into "quarters" to simplify things. By speaking only in present tense, and flushing the past and delaying the future, because the Chiefs need players to focus on one game only: the next one.

"Critical," Haley said. "If you're thinking about something that's already occurred and you can't do anything about, or you're thinking about something that hasn't happened yet, then your focus is not on the task at hand.

"When you're not winning football games consistently, which was obviously the case here the year before, the year before that, I think you tend to not learn that internal feeling of what that feels like."

Now the Chiefs do know what winning feels like, and they're not ready to surrender that feeling. If losing is a habit, then winning is an addiction.

"Every game is a big game," Johnson said. "That's the way you've got to go into it, and that's when you play up to that high level. Each game, putting that same amount of energy into every game, and...."

Johnson pauses. Tomorrow is coming, and Johnson doesn't want to upset the cosmos.

"It's so close to us, the losing seasons," he said. "We just had those, the last three seasons. It's helping us out in the long run right now. At the end of the year, we can say: 'Oh man, we got to two-digit wins.' That's what we're trying to do."