KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs entered 2013 in transition with new leadership under general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid.
Success was eventually expected given their respective track record, but did anybody truly see this coming so fast?
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. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Dorsey and Reid worked magic to improve a team that finished a dismal 2-14 in 2012 en route to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth.
NFL and franchise records were set throughout the season, the Chiefs produced eight Pro Bowlers and The Associated Press named running back Jamaal Charles and safety Eric Berry as first-team All-Pro, among other team and individual accomplishments.
Still, not everything proved perfect.
From Charles to a playoff collapse, the past season had good and bad highlights for the Chiefs.
Naming all of them would require a magazine or perhaps a book, so it’s best to select five areas of significance for both, sprinkled in with two personal acknowledgments.
Since the golden rule is to always finish on a high note, let’s begin at the low end of the spectrum.
It wasn’t that the Chiefs lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the playoffs.
It was how they lost by blowing a 38-10 lead and allowing 35 second-half points in the second-largest postseason comeback in NFL history.
“This is going to hurt all offseason, there’s no question about it,” defensive end Mike DeVito said in the locker room after the game. “This is going to be difficult, but now you have to be future minded. You got to focus on next season.”
Let the healing begin.
Nov 24, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston (50) leaves the field with an injury against the San Diego Chargers in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. San Diego won 41-38. Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
• Houston goes down
Outside linebacker Justin Houston subluxed his right elbow late in the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers in Week 12.
And the vaunted Chiefs defense was never the same, as Houston didn’t see the field again during the regular season.
Prior to his injury, the Chiefs entered the Week 10 bye with 36 sacks and were once on pace to set a new single-season NFL record.
Unfortunately, the defense finished the season with 47 sacks, 11 over the final seven regular season games, with Houston out of the lineup.
Needless to say, Houston’s pass-rushing presence was sorely missed.
Houston ended the year with 11 sacks after a fast start that saw him garner AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for Week 1 and AFC Defensive Player of the Month for September.
• Secondary slides
The Chiefs came off the Week 10 bye ranked sixth against the pass (208.3 yards per game), but ended the regular season tied at 25th (247.6).
The troubles began in Weeks 11-13 when the Chiefs faced Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning twice and San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Manning and Rivers combined to throw for 1,118 yards and nine touchdowns in that span, resulting in three straight losses for the Chiefs.
The troubles in the secondary could be linked to the power outage in the sacks department.
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme relies on getting pressure to the quarterback since he incorporates press coverage.
Manning and Rivers combated the scheme with rub routes and quick drops.
The atrocious free safety play down the stretch also didn’t help matters, as the Chiefs were victimized numerous times with big plays down the field, including the playoffs.
• Wide receiver play
Dwayne Bowe signed a five-year, $56 million contract in March 2013, while Donnie Avery signed a three-year, $8.55 million deal in March 2013.
The starting duo had their moments, but finished the season combining for 97catches for 1,269 yards and seven touchdowns.
Statistically, Bowe turned in his second-worst season as a pro, catching 57 passes for 673 yards and five touchdowns.
The seventh-year receiver has now gone two straight years without a 1,000-yard season.
Bowe also had legal issues after getting arrested in early November for allegedly speeding and possession of marijuana. He’s due in court on Jan. 22.
• Officials blow it
Kicker Ryan Succop missed a potential game-winning 41-yard field goal attempt in the final week of the regular season, a game that saw Chiefs backups go toe-to-toe with the Chargers starters.
However, the Chargers should’ve been penalized for an illegal formation after they loaded one side of the line of scrimmage with seven players.
Had the officials thrown the flag, Succop would’ve had another shot following the 5-yard penalty.
Instead, the Chargers went on to win 27-24 in overtime.
The league eventually admitted the blown penalty, but that offered little consolation to the group of Chiefs backups who played their hearts out.
• 9-0 start
Optimism was high entering training camp, but nobody really knew what to expect in coach Andy Reid’s first year.
And then the fun began once the team kept winning.
Of course, many of the early victories weren’t pretty, as the Chiefs did it with a dominating defense while the offense struggled with consistency.
The highlight of the winning streak proved Week 6’s home game against the Oakland Raiders.
The Chiefs recorded nine sacks (originally 10 before a stat change later in the week) and forced an amazing third-and-48 against the Raiders. All that occurred to the delight of 76,394 fans in attendance to break the noise record for the loudest outdoor stadium in the world, which would later be reclaimed by the Seattle Seahawks.
Meanwhile, how the Chiefs won games during the first half of the season drew criticism from some national media members, including Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com.
Much to the criticizers’ chagrin, the Chiefs would enter the Week 10 bye at 9-0.
By the time the winning streak ended in Week 11, the Chiefs became the first team in NFL history to start 9-0 after recording the league’s worst record in the previous season.
• The fans return
The Chiefs averaged 75,322 fans at Arrowhead Stadium during the 2013 home stand compared to 68,509 in 2012.
Oct 27, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs do the chop to show support during the second half of the game against the Cleveland Browns at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 23-17. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
It’s remarkable what winning will do.
Better yet, it’s even more amazing what happens when fans believe what’s being sold and are made a part of the success.
That’s exactly what happened this season under general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid.
Reid made it a point to thank fans for support throughout the year and the loyal supporters genuinely felt the love.
That feeling was captured by Marty McDonald, who co-founded the “Save Our Chiefs” movement in 2012.
“I think the tell-tale sign of the new outlook is how much the Chiefs have actually embraced the fans this year,” McDonald said in a recent interview. “In the past with Scott Pioli, the fans were basically shoved off to the side at times. That’s how some of us felt.
“To see and hear Arrowhead Stadium rocking, that’s what made this franchise so special and I knew Andy Reid and John Dorsey had our hearts. When you get the heart of a Chiefs fan, it’s special. You really can’t describe it.”
• Locker room atmosphere
From the videos of postgame locker room celebrations posted on the team’s official website to the overall cheerfulness of the players, what wasn’t there to like?
Gone are the arrogant days of “the evaluation process” and “I will only talk about the players practicing.”
The new leadership changed the culture and made it easier to report on the team.
Reid was transparent in all his pressers and would answer questions about injuries.
With Reid and Dorsey at the helm, the players are no longer robotic and more willing to talk with reporters and beat writers who have a job to do.
• Alex Smith vindicated
Flash back to Feb. 27, 2013, the day the Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers announced the trade that sent quarterback Alex Smith to Kansas City in exchange for a 2013 second-round draft pick and a 2014 conditional pick, which later turned into a second-round pick.
The early returns were split, as one side preferred the Chiefs to draft a quarterback, while the other side liked the move.
Smith’s early production didn’t endear the masses who questioned the trade, but he quickly won many over with clutch play as the season wore on.
With 3,313 yards passing and 23 touchdowns on the season, Smith won’t produce the gaudy numbers of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning or New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
However, Smith is a winner and his win-loss record on the field speak for itself.
The eighth-year pro did an exceptional job of limiting turnovers, throwing just seven interceptions on the regular season. That total ranked as the fewest interceptions in the league among quarterbacks who started every game for their team this season.
Smith also established a career-high in pass attempts (509) and completions (308).
Along the way, Smith entered the record books as the first quarterback since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to win nine straight games with a new team.
Proving he could get it done on the ground, Smith finished the season with 431 yards rushing, which set a single-season team record for rushing yards by a quarterback, on 70 carries. Former Chiefs quarterback Tyler Thigpen previously held the record of 386 yards rushing established in 2008.
Smith’s 70 carries also set a record as the most rushing attempts by a quarterback in team history.
Dec 15, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) catches a 71 yard touchdown pass against the Oakland Raiders in the third quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Chiefs defeated the Raiders 56-31. Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
• Saving the best high for last
There’s no doubt running back Jamaal Charles continues to show he’s one of the NFL’s top stars.
His five-touchdown performance in Week 15 against the Oakland Raiders announced his candidacy for league MVP.
Charles became the first player in NFL history with at least four receiving touchdowns and one rushing score in a single game. The NFL recognized that performance by naming him the AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
But all he did all season was produce.
When the Chiefs offense struggled early in the season, Charles bailed them out.
When the Chiefs needed a dependable receiver, Charles was there to the tune of a team-high 70 receptions and team-high 693 yards receiving.
When the Chiefs needed a first down, Charles produced 104 (72 rushing, 32 receiving), a total that ranked first in the NFL.
When the Chiefs needed to milk the clock in the fourth quarter, Charles notched 80 carries, which tied for most fourth-quarter carries with Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy.
His 438 yards rushing in the fourth quarter ranked second in the league behind Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (441).
Charles finished the season with 1,287 yards rushing, marking his fourth straight 1,000-yard campaign to become the first player on Chiefs history to achieve that plateau.
The sixth-year pro finished the regular season establishing career highs in yards from scrimmage (1,980), rushing touchdowns (12), total touchdowns (19), receptions (70), yards receiving (693) and receiving touchdowns (7).
The AP named Charles a first-team All-Pro, the second of his career, and he was named to his third Pro Bowl.
Top quotes of the season
Coach Andy Reid when asked by a reporter what he thought of the photo of “Baby Andy Reid” that went viral:
“Well I thought there were some similarities,” Reid said to a chorus of laughter.
Running back Jamaal Charles, who was dealing with blisters heading into Week 3, responding to media questions in the locker room when asked to give a percentage on his availability:
“I’m ready to play percent,” Charles said.
Defensive back Quintin Demps, a newcomer to the Chiefs-Raiders rivalry, in Week 6 when informed Oakland had won six straight games at Arrowhead Stadium:
“Oh, have they really?” Demps said. “That’s extra motivation, man, that’s not good. You don’t come in my backyard and beat me up.”
Kicker Ryan Succop surrounding his reaction upon seeing NBA superstar LeBron James wearing a No. 6 Chiefs jersey on SportsCenter:
“I’m just excited LeBron might be a Chiefs fan,” Succop said.
Outside linebacker Tamba Hali in the locker room following a Week 6 win on the team’s turnaround:
“It’s the coaches, I promise,” Hali said. “We had the same team here last year minus a couple guys and we’re having this much success, so credit to the coaches.”
Joel Thorman of ArrowhadPride.com (left) and me in the Arrowhead Stadium press box.
• A righteous dude
Joel Thorman of ArrowheadPride.com catches playful flak from his brother, Chris, for wearing sweatpants. And the banter between the two on Twitter is priceless at times.
However, it can be confirmed Thorman does indeed wear regular pants or as he’s fond of saying, “Pic or it didn’t happen.”
Sitting next to Thorman in the Arrowhead Stadium press box for every game during the 2013 preseason and regular season further confirmed he’s one the nicest guys in the Kansas City media.
Moreover, it’s difficult to find a more knowledgeable person when it comes to the Chiefs.
Pick a significant Chiefs game, Thorman can immediately name the year and statistics off the top of his head.
He’s passionate about what he does and that’s all one could ever ask for.
• Chiefs media
Professional competition among reporters can be high at times in a cut-throat industry.
However, there’s genuine respect among the small pool of Chiefs beat writers who work 9-5, often times later, every day out of the media room covering and filing stories on coach and coordinator pressers, and locker room media sessions.
Readers mostly know them by their work: Adam Teicher of ESPN.com; Terez Paylor, Randy Covitz, Vahe Gregorian and Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star; Dave Skretta of the AP; Bob Gretz; and Sean Keeler and Jeffrey Flanagan of FOX Sports Kansas City.
But outside of the printed words, these gentlemen are true professionals and fun to be around.
The behind-the-scenes banter over the best “Rocky” movie, AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” X-Men vs. Avengers or ribbing over respective alma maters made coming to work more than enjoyable.
By the way, major kudos to Keeler for agreeing the movies made Storm seem weak despite her being one of the most-powerful mutants in the comics.
We’re all human, after all.