Kansas City Chiefs

Trend or blip now, gold or fool’s gold in the end, Chiefs’ identity remains to be seen

If your mother says she loves you, goes one well-known journalism aphorism, “check it out.” Which sounds like something my own mom would have said to me.

I’ve tried to heed and apply some of my father’s magical words to the work, too: Like, “Just because a donkey is carrying gold doesn’t mean it’s a gold donkey.”

But maybe my favorite journalism adage is that twice is a coincidence and three times is a trend story. Because it’s as true as it is ridiculous and has all kinds of handy applications.

All of which brings us to the Chiefs, whose 4-0 start has been obscured by two straight home losses with an injury-ravaged rapid turnaround to play Thursday night at Denver.

What if it becomes three straight?!

In a time when instant impulse and snap judgment is the coin of the realm and living in the moment is considered a virtue, the back-to-back losses have stirred enormous immediate concern — validated by the fact the Chiefs have an obvious vulnerability that is being exploited with no sign at all of getting fixed.

So just imagine the fan panic looming in the event of a third loss in a row for a perceived preseason Super Bowl favorite.

“Our backs may be up against the wall if we lose another game,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “That (wouldn’t) be pretty for us.”

Especially considering that coach Andy Reid is 22-3 against the AFC West and that the Chiefs suddenly have beaten the Broncos seven straight times … including being 3-0 with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback.

In that less-than-likely-but-entirely-possible-event, it would be entirely appropriate for consumer confidence to plummet and followers to be more dismayed. Particularly in this, the 50th season since the Chiefs beat Minnesota in their last Super Bowl appearance, a moment in time set up by the 2018 season preamble of being on the brink of a return before a loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

But a third straight loss hardly would need to be defining for the people who actually will determine what happens from here.

For a lot of reasons.

Consider, for instance, that nine of the last 14 Super Bowl champions lost back-to-back games at least once. Last season, the Patriots actually had that happen twice along the way.

So did the 2015 Broncos and 2010 Packers.

Four of the 14 had losing streaks of three games or more.

As researched by The Star’s Sam McDowell, the 2011 Giants (9-7) went through a four-game losing streak, the 2005 Steelers and 2012 Ravens lost three in a row during the season and the 2009 Saints lost their final three regular-season games.

Viewed through the Reid lens during his time in Kansas City, the start of a regular season hardly has been a reliable indicator of what’s to come.

Remember when his first team started 9-0 in 2013 … then went 2-5 and lost to the Colts in the playoffs in, you know, that 45-44 fiasco?

Remember when his third team started 1-5 … then won 11 straight, including the franchise’s first playoff game since the 1993 season?

None of this is to say nothing to see here, everything will turn out great.

But all of it is to say nothing remotely has been determined — good, bad or ugly — and that NFL seasons are anything except tidy and neat and linear. They’re always works in progress.

The Chiefs obviously have plenty to tend to and mend, mostly on a defense that almost couldn’t have been more extensively renovated (new coordinator, scheme, most of the staff and lineup) toward no apparent improvement yet.

Just how they can get better might look hazy from where we all sit.

But coaching is all about adjustments, playing all about resilience.

Heck, Mathieu went as far as to say he figures adversity is a crucial part of growth and development.

“You really don’t know who you are until you have it,” he said, reiterating a point he’d made earlier. “I feel like (struggles) will help bring us together. If our mindset is right. Which I think it is.”

Time will only tell on that.

As it will with injuries, another X-factor.

Every team deals with them, but the Chiefs have been particularly bashed up with many expected to return in the weeks to come — including the pivotal likes of left tackle Eric Fisher, defensive tackle Chris Jones and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (who may play Thursday).

Add it all up, and it seems the real story is what’s ahead now, not behind.

“It’s a week-to-week league,” center Austin Reiter said. “You put the mule blinders on. I like to just keep my head down and work.”

To his point, this is about trying to win a Super Bowl, not going undefeated.

“It’s a hard league: The margin is this small,” said veteran running back LeSean McCoy, holding his fingers barely apart. “So you’ve got to just stick with it. You can’t panic. It’s not the end of the world. …

“You don’t go from being, like, one of the best teams in the league to you lose two games and now you’re terrible. It doesn’t work like that.”

Or as put by Mathieu, clearly the defensive leader in his first season with the Chiefs: “My mindset is to obviously stick with the process, believe in the process, understanding that great things do sometimes take time.”

And make for what he called a chance to “kind of, you know, rewrite the story.”

One that could yet go anywhere … no matter how it’s trending just now.



Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.
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