Dec 1, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; General view of the Arrowhead Stadium before the NFL game between the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 Kansas City Chiefs: Recalling the Season With Clarity

During preseason, I predicted this Kansas City Chiefs team would end the season with a record of 10-6 and a Wild Card berth. I predicted losses against the New York Giants, the Houston Texans, the Indianapolis Colts, the Washington Redskins and splits with the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers.

I was wrong on both counts, but in different ways. Obviously the Chiefs went 11-5 on the season, which was a nine game turnaround from last year’s 2-14 debacle. The losses piled up differently as well. Strangely enough, though the Chiefs lost five games, they only lost to three teams. Oddly enough — or was it? — those were the three best teams they faced, and all will be playing in the second round of the playoffs.

Was this team good? Did the Chiefs have what it took to be in the playoffs to begin with? Were they the fortunate recipients of a favorable schedule and facing teams who were having injury trouble at the right time?

Sep 8, 2013; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) is tackled after a run by Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny (51) during the game at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Starting out in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars was the equivalent of the National Champion Crimson Tide of Alabama starting the season against a Division III school. It was the confidence booster that this new and improved “reloaded” Chiefs team needed. Though the Jags finished with same record as the Chiefs in 2012, they hadn’t done nearly as much to correct the problems on the field for the 2013 version of the team. Beating that substandard Jaguars team 28-2  was nothing miraculous, but gave the Chiefs momentum rolling into their home opener against the Dallas Cowboys.

Playing the Cowboys for the emotional home opener at Arrowhead Stadium — one which featured a first ever red on red uniform combination — was a good test for the young team. Despite what any Tony Romo hater would like you to believe, the Cowboys’ signal caller is an elite quarterback in the NFL and capable of winning games. The fact that the Chiefs were able to hold on and win that game 17-16 was a huge gut check for the young team and a big victory.

Sep 19, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs free safety Kendrick Lewis (23) tackles Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86) during the fourth quarter of the game at Lincoln Financial Field. The Kansas City Chiefs beat the Philadelphia Eagles 26-16. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Probably the biggest test in the first quarter of the season was turning around from a hard-fought victory against the Cowboys and facing the Philadelphia Eagles on a Thursday night game on the road at the ‘Link. Not to mention the fact that this game was full of all kinds of “storylines” that make for good t.v., which is why it was picked as the Chiefs only scheduled prime time game. The Chiefs were able to tune all of that out and come out of a hostile Philly stadium with a win, rolling to 3-0 with a score of 26-16.

Heading into Week 4, I thought the Chiefs were going to get brought back down to earth. Yes, the New York Giants were playing poorly. Yes, so-called elite quarterback Eli Manning was leading the league in interceptions at that point. Yes, the Giants had already been decimated by injuries. I didn’t matter. This was still the New York “Football” Giants who had just won the Superbowl two season ago. I was convinced the Cinderella Story was about to come to an end. But where the defense was a key reason the Chiefs had rolled to 3-0, the special teams quickly showed why they deserved to be 4-0. With a punt return for a touchdown, Dexter McCluster reasserted his value to the team and helped lead the Chiefs to a 31-7 victory.

At this point, the national media was starting to wake up regarding the Chiefs. After all, this was the worst team in the league last year. Granted, they hadn’t beat anyone of too much substance yet, but they had still won four games. The Cowboys were the early favorites to win the NFC East and the Chiefs had beaten them. Eagles’ rookie head coach Chip Kelly was supposed to revolutionize the way that NFL offenses performed. The Chiefs defense made short work of that scheme. Then, they easily handled one of the oldest powerhouse teams in the league, the Giants. It was true that the Chiefs offense — historically head coach Andy Reid‘s pride and joy — was struggling, but the Chiefs defense was surprising. They were leading the league in most statistical categories including stats and scoring. It was the best case scenario for last year’s laughing stock Chiefs.

Where I picked the Chiefs to go 3-1 in the first quarter of the season, I picked them to do the same in the second and I thought they would lose to the Texans. The Week 5 match up, many — including myself — said the Chiefs were playing themselves in that the Titans had a good running game, a mediocre quarterback and a strong defense. It was also the first game the Chiefs played a so-called back up quarterback. The Titans QB Jake Locker went down the week prior with a debilitating hip injury, giving the start to Ryan Fitzpatrick. “Fitzy” was only a couple years removed from his huge payday with the Buffalo Bills. Saying he was a mere “backup” is a bit of a stretch, but he wasn’t the the guy who started the season for the Titans, so technically it was true. The Chiefs ended up being the better version of “themselves,” besting the Titans 26-17. The most interesting thing about this game was it was the first time the Chiefs were behind and had to “come back” and win a game. They did just that with a long drive capped with a Jamaal Charles touchdown capped with a couple more solid drives ending with Ryan Succop field goals. It was a good team victory where all three phases pitched in to secure the win.

Oct 13, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs fans cheer during the second half of the game against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Week 6 brought an emotional game for the Chiefs as well as the “Sea of Red” faithful at Arrowhead stadium. The “Loud and Proud” movement had worked to bring a representative from the Guinness Book of World Records to Arrowhead so that the fans could attempt recapture the “Loudest Open-Air Stadium” record. In the middle of a 24-7 Chiefs victory, they did just that. The Chiefs hadn’t beat the Raiders for a long time and the victory was huge. After winning only two games the previous season, the Chiefs had already tripled their total wins from 2012. After the sixth game of the season, the team had won as many games as many said they’d win all season.

The following week, the Chiefs got a taste of another back up quarterback as rookie Case Keenum was now calling the shots for the Houston Texans. The Texans were in a complete tailspin, which nobody saw coming. In fact, the Chiefs should have recognized what they saw as the team who now claimed the Chiefs original name as their own came to visit. Last season, the Texans were a playoff team, and many predicted them to be a Superbowl contender coming into the 2013 season. There was a lot of talent on the Texans team with a solid quarterback, elite receiver, all-pro running back tandem and the reigning defensive player of the year. However, coming into Week 7, the Texans had lost five in a row after starting the season 2-0. That “solid” quarterback, Matt Schaub had been injured and then benched and the keys to the franchise were handed to an undrafted rookie free agent. With all the dysfunction going on with the surprising Texans team, the Chiefs had trouble handling them, and it took a huge gut check defensive play to seal the victory. The Chiefs won their second game by won point with an identical score as the Cowboys game, 17-16.

Regardless of the score, the Chiefs were 7-0, but more questions had risen about this team than answers. Many called quarterback Alex Smith a “game manager” and he appeared to be living up to that moniker through seven games. In fact, he hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass since the Week 4 game against the Giants. If it wasn’t for the defense, special teams or Jamaal Charles scoring TD’s, would the Chiefs be 7-0? What would happen when the team faced a team with a winning record?

Many — including most of us at this website — overlooked these criticisms. The Chiefs were 7-0 so what difference did it make? I still stand by that opinion and attitude for the most part. Was it the Chiefs fault that they were playing teams who weren’t performing as well as expected? Was it their fault that Schaub was benched or Locker was hurt? They could only play — and beat — the teams they were scheduled to play. And they were. All of them.

Oct 27, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) is hit by Cleveland Browns defensive end Desmond Bryant (92) during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

As the Chiefs moved to the final game of the second quarter of the season, they faced, yet again, another team with a “backup” quarterback. The Cleveland Browns had finally abandoned the failed Brandon Weeden experiment. Replacing him was former Redskin, former Raider, former Chicago Bears quarterback Jason Campbell. Again, like Fitzpatrick in Tennessee, Campbell had started in this league and had found some success. In fact, calling him a back up was unfair as he was, without a doubt, a thousand times better than Weeden. Still, the Chiefs continued to roll and Alex Smith even found his groove again throwing a pair of touchdowns. At the end of the game, the Chiefs were 8-0 and the only unbeaten team in the NFL. However, somewhere along the way, the Chiefs forgot how to rush the quarterback, only managing to get one sack in the game.

The following week, the Chiefs would face their third backup QB in a row. As Buffalo Bills rookie starter E.J. Manuel had good down with a sprained knee, they would start another rookie, undrafted Jeff Tuel. This was the Chiefs final game before the bye and the goal was to go into the mid-season break with a perfect record. That’s what they did, without any help from the offense. Not one, single offensive player found the end zone during the game. The Chiefs won the game 23-10 on a pair of defensive touchdowns and three Succop field goals. Another interesting aspect of the game, for the first time the entire season, the team failed to register a single sack on the Bills quarterback. The team that led the league at that point in the season had registered only one sack in the final two games leading into the bye.

This was disturbing to say the least. As the Chiefs prepared to take a week off and rest those bumps and bruises, there were a lot of questions forming. Many national media outlets were calling the Chiefs a fraud, citing the fact that the offense was unable to score at will and that opposing coordinators had figured out the highly touted Bob Sutton “Attacking 3-4″ defense. Of course, this was when CBS Sports personality Pete Prisco gave his now famous — infamous? — quote that this Chiefs team was the worst 9-0 team he had ever seen.

Hindsight being 20/20, perhaps there’s some truth in the criticism. Yes, the Chiefs had the #1 scoring defense in the league to this point in the season. That was due in large part to the fact that the team was able to get to the quarterback at will. As the pass rush began to diminish, the Chiefs secondary became more and more exposed. At the halfway point to the season, there likely wasn’t a Chiefs fan worth his salt that wouldn’t have voted for cornerback Marcus Cooper as defensive rookie of the year. The Chiefs defense could do no wrong. On the other side of the ball, many were becoming frustrated with the Chiefs offensive performance. Reid was known as an “offensive minded” head coach, and many couldn’t understand why the offense continued to struggle. Alex Smith was blamed for all the offensive woes, and the biggest complaint was Smith’s unwillingness — inability? — to throw more than 10 yards down the field.

However, it was the bye week and Reid would have an extra seven days to work out these issues. Could the defense get its pass rushing mojo back? Could the team beat a quarterback who wasn’t second on the depth chart at the beginning of the season? Could the offense score points when they needed to? These were all questions everyone was asking as the Chiefs reached the end of their bye week.

The answer to all these questions was: “they better.” They better because their first opponent after the bye was the Denver Broncos, a team many had already crowned as Superbowl Champions strictly because a guy named Peyton Manning plays quarterback for them.

November 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) passes the football against the Kansas City Chiefs during the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Chiefs 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

As the Chiefs Week 11 match up against the Broncos approached it was right in the middle of the national media frenzy. The game had been “flexed” to the coveted Sunday Night Football  spot, thrusting the circus into the national spotlight. If the Chiefs won, they would win big. But if they lost, especially badly, they would be exposed with the entire football world watching.

As it turned out, it was the latter. Remember when I said that Chiefs Kingdom were ready to name a street in Kansas City after Marcus Cooper in the first half of the season? That tune changed after Manning got a hold of him. Peyton completely exposed the Chiefs secondary as the weak link of this football team. The Chiefs “elite” defense had not let an opponent score more than 17 on them the entire season. Three minutes and two seconds into the third quarter, Manning and the Broncos ended that streak with a Montee Ball touchdown. Just 27 short minutes later, the Broncos would end another streak. The Chiefs were unbeaten no more.

At this point, it was time to start making excuses for the Chiefs. The first one was:

“The Chiefs defense held the Broncos to their lowest score all season.”

This was true. The Broncos had been lighting up the scoreboard all season behind Manning’s eventual record-breaking play. The 27 points the Broncos scored was the lowest point total to that point and the second lowest they would be held to all season.

The next excuse was:

“Manning was using pick-plays and crossing routes to throw off the Chiefs secondary.”

Again, very true. In fact, this was the Chiefs defensive kryptonite all season. The secondary seemed unable to defend intermediate crossing routes. Many attributed this to the attacking defense as well as the man-to-man coverage employed by Sutton’s scheme. Either way, the Chiefs were unable to adjust to this all season.

Still, the Chiefs who were less than one year removed from 2-14 were now 9-1. It was a blemish, but a small one.

The next week brought a home game against the division rival San Diego Chargers. The biggest story line heading into this Week 12 match up was “how well would the team who hadn’t lost this season bounce back after they did?”

The answer for 59 minutes was: “they bounced back quite nicely.”

Yes, the defense was unable to get to quarterback Phillip Rivers more than once. Yes, the defense, once “elite” and league’s leader in scoring allowed the Chargers to hang 34 points on the Chiefs at home. Yes, Alex Smith figured out it’s okay to throw the ball for more than 10 yards at a time. It seemed to be that even though the defense had eased up — losing your top two pass rushers, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, will do that to you — the team was coming together and the offense was finally opening up. Alex Smith did what good quarterbacks do and led his team on a touchdown drive to take the lead with two and a half minutes left. But, that’s when the wheels came off. The defense quit playing and allowed Phillip to march back down the field and fire a game winning shot with less than a minute on the clock.

And that’s when the season changed for good.

The following week they lost against the Broncos for the second time in three weeks, giving the team from Denver a firm grasp of first place in the AFC West and the number one seed in the forming playoff picture.

Dec 8, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) carries the ball past Washington Redskins strong safety Bacarri Rambo (24) and Redskins outside linebacker Rob Jackson (50) in the third quarter at FedEx Field. The Chiefs won 45-10. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Bouncing back from a three game losing streak, the Chiefs traveled to Washington D.C. and faced the Washington Redskins. This was another team in complete disarray. A playoff team just a year ago, they were now competing with the Texans for the worst record in the NFL. If the Texans were last year’s Chiefs, the Redskins were the Jaguars. The Chiefs completely dismantled them. If it wasn’t Alex Smith throwing touchdowns it was Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis running for them. Add in a little special teams magic and it was the perfect way to make a statement after dropping three in a row. A 45-10 win against any team in the NFL is something special. The Chiefs savored it.

The following week, the Chiefs entered the black hole in Oakland and faced the Raiders once again. If 45-10 is hard to do, 56-31 to is even harder, but that’s what happened. With Charles finding the end zone five an amazing five times, the Chiefs looked to be  back to pre-bye form, but even better. The offense was firing on all cylinders. The defense, while not getting to the quarterback like they were, was performing better as well. The best of all, with the win, the Chiefs clinched a playoff berth for the first time since they won the AFC West in 2010.

Heading home to Arrowhead, the Chiefs were ready for a match up against the likely playoff opponent, the Indianapolis Colts. It was the worst display of the season. After scoring a touchdown on the first drive of the game, the Chiefs wouldn’t even sniff the red zone for the rest of the game. Alex Smith had an uncharacteristic three turnovers during the game and the Chiefs lost 23-7.

To end the season, coach Reid made the controversial decision to bench his starters. As the Chiefs traveled to San Diego to face the Chargers — who only needed a win to enter the post season — 20 of 22 Chiefs starters were on the bench. And the Chiefs nearly won the game. If it wasn’t for a missed Succop field goal with eight seconds left and two huge botched calls — one the NFL actually acknowledged and reprimanded the official for — the Chiefs starters would have pulled off a huge upset. As it was, the Chiefs ended their season with an 11-5 record, a nine game turnaround from the previous season and a ticket to the playoffs.

Everyone knows the story heading into yesterday’s game. The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game in 20 years — since January 14, 1994 to be exact — when Joe Montana was the signal caller. Everybody believed the Chiefs were a “one and done” team in the playoffs. Though Andy Reid had done the impossible with a Chiefs team who was in complete disarray one short year ago, could he really lead them to a playoff victory just 12 short months later? Through two quarters and two minutes, it appeared the answer was “yes.”

Then the wheels fell off. For good.

I’m not going to relive the Chiefs playoff loss in detail, but it was ugly. The defense refused to stop quarterback Andrew Luck. The

Jan 4, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter of the 2013 AFC wild card playoff football game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

offense was unable to score in the second half. The concrete floor of Lucas Oil Stadium injured more players than I’ve ever seen in my life. It was the biggest collapse I’ve ever seen.

When the clock struck 00:00 and the Chiefs were on the losing end of a monumental comeback, losing to the Colts 45-44 the magical season that was 2013 came to an end.

As this team moves forward there’s a lot to look forward to. We found out this season that this defense wasn’t exactly what we thought it was in the first seven games. Once the pass rush was neutralized, the secondary was exposed as the weakest link on the team.

On the other side of the ball, though Alex Smith and the offense really began humming in the second half of the season, Smith never really made a connection with one single receiver. In fact, the leading receiver on the Chiefs team wasn’t a receiver at all. Jamaal Charles became the first running back to lead his team in receiving and rushing yards since Marshal Faulk did it with the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams.

The biggest questions for the Chiefs going forward still remain. Is Alex Smith the answer at quarterback for the near future. Just shy of 30 years old, he’s no spring chicken, but he’s the best guy to play the position in Kansas City since Trent Green ten years ago. However, when he came to KC, he was under his original San Francisco 49ers contract which only leaves one year remaining. Will general manager John Dorsey try to lock Smith up long term in the offseason? Did Smith earn a long term contract based on his performance this season?

How about the receiving position. Should the Chiefs go after a big name receiver in free agency to line up across from Dwayne Bowe. Bowe signed a huge contract in the off season, so he’s not going anywhere soon. The Chiefs still need a receiver who can stretch the field.

The offensive line could be in flux with Branden Albert in a contract year, although they played some of their best ball when he was sidelined with an injury.

Jan 14, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey (left), chairman Clark Hunt (middle) and coach Andy Reid pose for photos during the press conference at the University of Kansas Hospital Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

However, I still think the defensive side of the ball is where the biggest questions lie. Given the absolute defensive collapse in the second half of the season — and the second half of the playoff game — should Sutton get the opportunity to redeem himself next season? What exactly does Dorsey need to do to fix that secondary that had more holes than the Titanic?

Free agency is only two months away and the draft follows just after that. Many of these questions will be answered then and before we know it, we’ll be in the midst of OTAs and training camp once again. The core players will return with a full season of Reid’s system under their belt. The schedule promises to be more difficult. In addition to the AFC West opponents, they will face the very tough NFC West and AFC East in addition to playing the Pittsburgh Steelers and Titans from their second place finish.

If this year was interesting, next year will have you on the edge of your seat. Keep the faith, Addicts. I have a feeling we’re just getting started.

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Tags: Alex Smith Andy Reid Branden Albert Dwayne Bowe Jamaal Charles John Dorsey Kansas City Chiefs

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