KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs took care of their business with a thrilling come-from-behind overtime victory over the Los Angeles Chargers last Thursday, avenging an earlier loss to their AFC West rival and taking a two-game lead in the division.
Then the Chiefs sat back and watched everyone else help them out.
On Saturday night, the Colts leaned on Jonathan Taylor to run past the New England Patriots for a 27-17 victory in Indianapolis. The next day, the Pittsburgh Steelers turned to their defense to shut out Tennessee in the second half of their win over the Titans to keep their own playoff hopes alive.
The results left Kansas City (10-4) alone with the best record in the AFC, one game ahead of the Patriots and Titans and two up on the Chargers, Colts and Bengals in the race for the lone bye and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
“They were great games to watch,” Chiefs coach And Reid said Monday. “I was a viewer like everybody because we didn’t have the guys here. But I enjoyed the competition and I know how it lines up — I see that. But the important thing is we take are of our business now like we have been the last few weeks and you know, don’t count on anyone but ourselves to get hat done. You have to go back to the process and the hard work and all those things.”
Indeed, it’s been a striking about-face for the Chiefs, who began the season 3-4 behind an inconsistent offense and dismal defense as they pursued a third straight trip to the Super Bowl. Patrick Mahomes suddenly looked as if the league figured him out, injuries had begun to mount and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was at a loss on his side of the ball.
The low point came during a 27-3 loss to the Titans, when the Chiefs allowed them to score on their first five possessions and trailed 27-0 at halftime. Kansas City only managed a field goal in the second half of the lopsided loss.
The turnaround wasn’t sudden by any means.
In fact, the Chiefs didn’t look a whole lot better the following week, when they squeaked out a 20-17 victory over the Giants at Arrowhead Stadium. Or the week after that, when they took advantage of Aaron Rodgers testing positive for COVID-19 to beat fill-in quarterback Jordan Love and the Packers 13-7 in a game just as ugly as the final score.
Yet they were wins. And at 5-4, the Chiefs finally had some optimism about the second half of the season.
It’s gone better than anybody outside of Kansas City could have imagined.
They romped past the Raiders in Las Vegas, finally putting on the field the kind of offense that fans have grown accustomed to seeing over the years. Then their once-maligned defense held three straight opponents to nine points apiece in wins over the Cowboys, Broncos and Raiders. And with their stirring victory over the Chargers on Thursday night, the Chiefs take a seven-game winning streak into Sunday’s game against the playoff-contending Steelers.
“I’m not going to tell you that you can’t be excited to be in that position,” Reid, “but you better understand what got you in that position, and it wasn’t being giddy about it. It was about working.”
Or, as Mahomes said, “I think it shows the character of the guys in the locker room.”
“My first few years,” he said, “it’s always been jumping out to these leads and then we kind of try to coast almost into the playoffs. This year was the opposite of that. It was, we’re going to have to battle every single week to get to where we want to be at. But the job’s not finished.”
Not by any stretch.
The Chiefs can clinch their sixth consecutive AFC West title on Sunday if they beat the Steelers and the Chargers lose in Houston. After this weekend, they head to Cincinnati and Denver — two teams still in the playoff hunt.
“We have three more regular-season games, and then going into the playoffs, we have to find a way to continue to get better and better,” Mahomes said, “and try to build that momentum into the playoffs.”