KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs are reeling after losing three straight games and sit alone at the bottom of the AFC West division, where the Denver Broncos (4-0) continue to rule supreme.
Instead of panicking entering Week 5, the Chiefs (1-3) prefer to view the past four games as the first quarter of a 16-game campaign. The team’s focus now surrounds rebounding in the second quarter before the Week 9 bye.
Nevertheless, the coming weeks are critical for a team that entered the 2015 season with playoff aspirations.
“We know we have to start getting some wins,” left tackle Donald Stephenson said. “We didn’t expect to be 1-3 at the beginning of the season, so we got to work our butt off to get that ship turned around. There’s a lot of sense of urgency. Guys are picking each other up, helping each other out, talking about what needs to be done to get this fixed.”
Strong safety Tyvon Branch echoed Stephenson.
“The first quarter is over and we’re on the wrong side of it,” Branch said. “Definitely a sense of urgency. It started a while back, but it’s increased since then.”
The Chiefs’ three losses came at the hands of the Broncos, Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals, teams that combine for a 12-0 record.
Still, the Chiefs believed they were one of the better teams in the league, yet allowed 30-plus points in each loss and quarterback Alex Smith was sacked 16 times during that span, among a litany of issues on both sides of the ball.
Coach Andy Reid, however, hasn’t lost faith in his players.
“I believe in this football team,” Reid said. “I would tell you we played good teams. That allows our young guys to get better. You got to feel that it’s not a four-game season. The season is not a four-game season, that’s not what it is. But at the same time, you’ve got massive urgency every play to be better and we’ve got to do that, whether it’s coaching, whether it’s playing, we’ve got to do a better job.”
Branch agreed, adding the performance on the field ultimately falls on the players.
“The easiest way to overcome this is execution,” Branch said. “Pay attention to the small detail and execute your assignment to the best of ability. Whatever else happens after that, it’s just what happens.”
Meanwhile, Kansas City has history on its side as extra motivation to turn the season around, which starts Sunday against the Chicago Bears at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Chiefs could use the next four games as a launching pad to get on a winning track, as the schedule shows favorable matchups against the Bears (1-3), Minnesota Vikings (2-2), Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) and Detroit Lions (0-4).
Run the table during that four-game stretch and the Chiefs have a chance to be 5-3 by the Week 9 bye, which would set the table for a potential postseason push.
Since the NFL installed the current 12-team playoff format in 1990, a total of 25 teams have rebounded from a 1-3 record to qualify for the postseason.
Four of those teams made it to the conference championship, while the 2001 New England Patriots turned it around by finishing the regular season with an 11-5 record before winning Super Bowl XXXVI.
And the Patriots offer the ideal template of overcoming a slow start given that team’s success over the past decade.
Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin points out New England’s game against the Chiefs in Week 4 of the 2014 season, a contest where the Chiefs obliterated the Patriots, 41-14, on Monday Night Football.
Numerous NFL analysts wrote off New England, then 2-2, following that embarrassing defeat on national television, but the Patriots used that week as a rallying point en route to a 12-4 record and a Super Bowl championship.
“Teams that are successful in this league and teams that ultimately go deep in the playoffs and win the whole thing have all been battle tested,” Maclin said. “Sometimes they come up short, sometimes they’re able to pull through. Look at the game last year when the Patriots came here. We had our way with them. It happens sometimes.”
What should also help the Chiefs maintain focus in the coming games surrounds the players knowing they have a battle-tested coach.
Prior to the current losing skid, Reid has experienced snapping a three-game losing streak twice in his 17 years as a head coach, both coming with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006 and 2007. The 2006 team finished with a 10-6 record and clinched a postseason berth, while the 2007 finished at 8-8.
Reid has experienced a four-game losing streak four times in his career: Twice in 1999 on a team that finished 5-11; 2005 on a team that finished 6-10; and in 2011 for a team that finished 8-8.
The worst losing streak under Reid occurred in 2012 with the Eagles, where he finished the season at 4-12.
Reid current overall career record sits at 151-108-1, and Maclin, who played four seasons with Reid in Philadelphia (2009-12), believes Reid’s history of turning things around applies to the Chiefs.
“He’s been in position where he’s helped his football teams get back in position and make the playoffs,” Maclin said. “He understands kind of where we are and he has what it takes as far as being able to put us in position to be successful. You couldn’t ask for a better leader to lead this team.”
Wide receiver Jason Avant, who spent seven seasons with Reid in Philadelphia (2006-12), agreed emphatically with Maclin on Reid’s approach to winning and how to handle losing.
“He’s pretty much had a winner his whole career; we take solace in that,” Avant said. “I’ve been on one losing season and it happened to be with Coach Reid, one losing team. He was coaching, we were 3-8 or whatever it was, he was coaching like when we won a game just like when we were going to the playoffs. He’s the same coach. We know the answers to this problem; we just have to execute.”
The Chiefs are focused on getting back on the winning track, and it starts by tackling the next four games head on.
While there is a sense of urgency in the locker room, the coming weeks will also let the Chiefs know if the preseason aspirations for the postseason was wishful thinking or a realistic goal.
Avant believes the team will find out soon enough.
“When you say adversity, I don’t believe it makes you,” Avant said. “I think it reveals who you are. Time will tell what kind of team the Chiefs are. We’ve got adversity and we’ll see what type of fighters we are.”