Should Kansas City Chiefs fans be scared of the postseason monkey?
By Jalon Dodson
With the Kansas City Chiefs off to arguably one of their best seasons in recent years, should fans be worried about the postseason monkey?
January 8th, 1994. Nearly 25 years ago. The crowd of raucous Kansas City Chiefs fans at Arrowhead Stadium erupts as Chiefs kicker Nick Lowry sends a 32-yard field goal through the uprights in overtime to win the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1993 AFC Wild Card game.
Fast forward another 8 days, January 16th, 1994. Chiefs running back Marcus Allen sealed the game with a 21-yard rushing touchdown to beat the Houston Oilers, 28-20 in the AFC Divisional Round. The Chiefs would go on to lose in the AFC Championship against the Buffalo Bills, which started a new NFL record—not the good kind.
Twenty-two years. Eight playoff games. That’s how long it has been since the Chiefs won a playoff game. Over two decades later, the Chiefs would finally win a playoff game in the 2015 AFC Wild Card against the Houston Texans, although they’d fall to the New England Patriots the following week in the Divisional Round. The next two seasons would leave fans disheartened, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans in January, both times at home.
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Twenty-two years ago, Chiefs quarterback Joe Montana completed a feat that still stands tall today: winning a playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. Since the 1993 season, the Chiefs are on a six-game losing streak in home playoff games. Chiefs history, as far as the playoffs go, is nothing to be proud of, more so in recent years. Steve Bono, Elvis Grbac, Trent Green, Matt Cassel, and Alex Smith are all former Chiefs quarterbacks who have attempted to break the long-standing ‘Arrowhead Curse’.
(Almost) The End of the Losing Streak
Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, but perhaps it’s a useful term here. One of the closest attempts at breaking the playoff losing streak came by way of the aforementioned Smith, who led the Chiefs to a 21-3 lead against the Tennessee Titans at halftime in the 2017 AFC Wild Card round. The Titans stormed back in the second half, shutting the Chiefs out and winning the game.
I still get flashbacks wondering, ‘What could have been?’ What if Smith was able to lead the Chiefs on a game-winning drive on its final possession with time expiring quickly? What if the defense was able to hold strong and keep the Titans at bay? What if we had Eric Berry? All of these questions deserved to be answered but had unfortunately fallen into the deep abyss of playoff games at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Beginning of the Patrick Mahomes era
There had been speculation as to whether or not Smith would return for another season with the Chiefs, but those speculations had been shut down not long after the playoff loss. Smith was traded to the Redskins in exchange for cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick. Many Chiefs fans looked upon then-rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes to guide their beloved team to the promised land: a Super Bowl.
The 2018 offseason for the Chiefs was rather rough. Fans and analysts had begun to worry whether or not Mahomes would be a bust or a star. He had only played in one NFL game, and that was in Week 17 of the 2017 season, where he threw for 0 touchdowns and 1 interception. This game had been what we thought was a glimpse into the future.
As a fellow Chiefs fan, I implore you to remember the last time our revered Chiefs had a quarterback you could brag to your friends about. Try to remember the last time you watched the Chiefs head into a season thinking, “Is this truly our year?” I’ll admit I had hope that the Chiefs would take a deep dive in the playoffs for the 2017 season. It’s a dream that I had thought about many-a-time throughout all of last season. Emotions were plentiful as we watched our Chiefs falter. Many called for the end of Smith (which they got), and some had even raised pitchforks at Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. Then Patrick Mahomes happened.
In training camp, reports surfaced about Mahomes throwing 7 interceptions in 6 days, including 3 in a 15-minute span. He completed less than 50% of passes and threw an interception in every 7-on-7 drill on a crisp practice day. As those reports garnered more notoriety, (some) Chiefs fans began to panic. Worry had settled in, with questions as to whether or not the Chiefs would even hit .500 (an even-split 8-8 record) for the 2018 season. In the 2018 preseason, Mahomes performed quite well, although there were some bad plays in the mix as well.
One of the most notable plays by the young gunslinger in the preseason was a touchdown pass to lights-out wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Mahomes threw the ball a whopping 69 yards through the air, which was 7 yards more than any pass through the air since the 2017 season. Worrisome fans still, for good reason, had doubts about Mahomes, who would start the 2018 season as a first-year starter.
The Chiefs have had a winning record in each of its last five seasons, but it never experienced winning like it would under Mahomes. Fast forward to opening day for the Chiefs at the Los Angeles Chargers. One of the most hyped up teams for the 2018 season, lots of eyes were on the Chargers. Mahomes threw a whopping 4 touchdowns that week, coupled with 256 passing yards. It would be the last time he threw under 300 yards until Week 10 against the Arizona Cardinals.
Can Mahomes Break the Arrowhead Curse?
Sure, there’s been no shortage of regular season success, but is Mahomes the one to lead the Chiefs to its first playoff win in Arrowhead Stadium since Joe Cool did it in 1994? While not guaranteed, the Chiefs have a pretty solid shot at the top seed in the playoffs. In their final five games of the season, the Chiefs will face the Raiders twice, and the Ravens, Chargers, and Seahawks. No win in the NFL is guaranteed—history will show as much. I would personally be surprised if they lost any of the next 5 games. Best case scenario, the Chiefs win out and finish the season with a 14-2 record (which would be a franchise record).
Finishing the season with a 14-2 record would guarantee them the No. 1 seed in the AFC, with the likely No. 2 seed being the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers were able to keep up with the Chiefs in Week 2 of this season but fell short to Mahomes’ 6 passing touchdowns and elite performance. Regular season wins are one thing, but will Mahomes and the Chiefs break the playoff dry spell that has cursed Arrowhead Stadium for 25 years? Even through adversity, Mahomes proves to be a force to be reckoned with time and time again. With center Mitch Morse and potentially offensive guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif returning, Mahomes would get a lot of help from his offensive line in terms of pass protection.
Mahomes will not go quietly into the night. That was evident in the Week 11 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams, where he threw for 478 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. While his performance was not one of his best, his tenacity to continue to fight gave hope for this postseason. After everything we’ve seen thus far, I can confidently say that Mahomes will not fold under pressure. He will continue to give it his all, and hopefully, lead his team to victory.
Eric Berry’s Impact
Getting star safety Eric Berry back will definitely help. Berry’s return had been a mystery, with fans growing restless as to whether or not he would play this season. Berry could likely return, although limited, as soon as Week 13 against the Oakland Raiders. He has been a staple on defense for many years, even when sidelined as he hypes the defense up.
The defense of the Chiefs has been nothing to write home about. Although it has been improving as of late, there are still several issues which could prove to be insurmountable. We’ve all heard the age-old parable that “defense wins championships”. The Chiefs could potentially rewrite this saying to “a standout offense and decent defense win championships”. Berry won’t be able to turn the defense into a No. 1 defense on his own, sure, but his return will surely help.
Food for Thought
I’ll leave you with this. Mahomes is the quarterback we can brag to our friends and fans of rival teams about. He is the next franchise quarterback for the Chiefs, and I wholeheartedly believe he will lead this team to the promised land. No longer will we have to worry about that horrid playoff monkey. Chiefs fans around the world will rejoice as Mahomes leads the Chiefs to victory in its first home playoff win in nearly 26 years. Fear not, Chiefs fans, for the ‘Arrowhead Curse’ will be lifted.