MINNEAPOLIS – Chiefs inside linebacker Derrick Johnson quietly dressed in front of his locker late Sunday afternoon, keenly aware of two beat writers patiently waiting on him.
The Chiefs just lost a fifth straight game following a 16-10 defeat to the Minnesota Vikings to drop to 1-5 on the season.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for a team many NFL analysts predicted would compete for the AFC West division or at the very least secure a postseason berth as a wildcard.
Yet, the Chiefs are a full five games out from the division-leading Denver Broncos (6-0), and Johnson may have spent the time dressing gathering thoughts on what has happened before he turned to address questions.
The answers, on the other hand, aren’t easy to find.
“It’s hard to put your finger on it,” Johnson said. “Obviously, we’re not closing the deal, making the right plays on both sides of the ball.
“The defense has just as much to do with a loss, every loss. As a defensive player, I have to worry about what goes on the defensive side, what I can do better to help the team. And it’s always a couple of plays, we make a couple of plays, we’re never far off. That’s the thing that sucks about it.”
As has painfully been the norm throughout the losing streak, the Chiefs started slow Sunday, gaining 51 yards of offense in the first half.
Johnson and the defense, however, kept the game close by holding Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to 60 yards rushing on 26 carries, an average of 2.3 yards per carry. Johnson finished the game with nine total tackles (six solo).
The Chiefs made the game interesting in the fourth quarter after quarterback Alex Smith connected with wide receiver Albert Wilson on a screen pass, which Wilson turned into a 42-yard touchdown to cut the score to 13-10 in the Vikings favor.
But the Chiefs couldn’t stop Minnesota on the next possession and kicker Blair Walsh capitalized with a 45-yard field goal to push the lead to what eventually became the final score.
That has become the standard throughout the losing skid where the Chiefs are close, but are unable to turn the corner and secure a victory.
“You look at the record and you say, ‘1-5, man, you all are way off,’” Johnson said. “We’re not and that’s the reality of it. Do we need to play a little bit better to get a W? Yes. We have to figure it out because this ball is rolling downhill.”
Johnson has seen a lot in his 11 seasons with the Chiefs, experiencing numerous highs and lows from making the playoffs to dealing with dismal campaigns.
But he believes this current experience is much different from teams that had similar starts.
“I’ve been through it before,” Johnson said, “and when I have been through a team that was 1-5 or wasn’t in the winning column at the middle of the season like this, that team was kind of supposed to be like that.
“This team is different. It’s a different 1-5. You are your record; you are what your record says. I don’t know. It’s a loss of words because we expect to win every week. We have a chance to, we’re not closing it.”
Punter Dustin Colquitt, who entered the league with Johnson in 2005, agreed.
“In the past, I feel like there wasn’t much we could do,” Colquitt said. “This year, obviously, we still have a lot of promise. We have a lot of football left and we’re running out of time to say that just in the fact that we need to start winning games. We played well in the second half, Minnesota just played better.”
Time is running out when considering an 11-5 or 10-6 record is the goal for most teams gunning for postseason consideration.
That means the Chiefs will need to reel of 10 straight win or go 9-1 to close the season in order to reach either. A 9-7 record is likely the lowest a team can hope for given the current landscape in the AFC, meaning the Chiefs would need to finish the season 8-2.
Either scenario offers a stout challenge, but Colquitt believes the team can pull together despite the precarious situation the Chiefs are in.
“Two years ago, we were 9-0 there because of three or four games there at the end where it mattered most,” Colquitt said. “We said, ‘Hey, gut check. We got to win this game.’ We did it and that’s what we got to do this year. It’s on everybody.”
It will take the entire team to put the burden on their shoulders, and that gives Johnson optimism it could happen even with the stunning losing streak.
“It is one of the best rosters I’ve had and that’s the crazy thing about the NFL,” Johnson said. “If the chemistry is right, and you make just a couple more plays and I’m talking about myself to put your team in a situation to win, it’s disheartening. We’re scratching our heads like everybody else right now.”