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Pain from playoff loss fuels motivation

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – To a man, it was clear in the Chiefs players’ voices the anguish lingered from a disastrous playoff meltdown against the Indianapolis Colts.

Jan 4, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) dives in for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs in the fourth quarter during the 2013 AFC wild card playoff football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 4, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) dives in for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs in the fourth quarter during the 2013 AFC wild card playoff football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Chiefs surged to a 38-10 lead in the third quarter on Jan. 4. But one Colts’ score led to others, resulting in a stunning 45-44 final score and the second-largest comeback in NFL postseason history.

While many on average likely prefer to wipe away that devastating memory, the Chiefs haven’t forgotten.

“It’s still not out, to be honest with you,” strong safety Eric Berry said during Monday’s media session. “Just because there is so much stuff you can learn from that game. And it ended your season the way you didn’t want it to end.”

Like Berry, defensive end Mike DeVito, who enters his eighth professional season, admitted he wasn’t over the loss.

DeVito, who joined the Chiefs as a free agent last season from the New York Jets, has stewed over the game.

“All the games I’ve played, two AFC Championship games, losing in those AFC Championship games I don’t know if that hurt more than after that game,” DeVito said. “And then you have to sit on that for 3 ½ months, it’s not fun.”

Meanwhile, the disappointment over the loss carried into how inside linebacker Derrick Johnson handled the recent months.

Johnson, who said he often watches game film, admitted he still hasn’t watched the game.

“Maybe I’ll look at the tape during this offseason now that we’re in football again,” he said. “But it also gives you time to get away from that game because that was disheartening to lose the way we did.”

So where does the team go from here?

While it would be easy to continue mulling over what-if scenarios, the Chiefs are focused on improving from the experience.

“I think there are great things you can learn from that game,” coach Andy Reid said. “(We were) a young football team. We were somewhere around the second-youngest team in the National Football League last year, in that area.”

DeVito adds the Chiefs could also use the loss as a inspirational tool as they prepare for the upcoming season.

“You can’t dwell on it and let it bring you down,” DeVito said. “You don’t want to let one game beat you again, so you want to use that as motivation going forward.”

Still, the biggest message to take from the playoff loss is not to allow a team score 35 second-half points after being down 38-10.

For the Chiefs, it boils down to not letting up on offense, defense and special teams regardless of the score until the final second has expired from the game clock.

“To come into a playoff football game, to get this great lead, you learn right there that you have to keep your foot on the accelerator for four quarters,” Reid said. “You can’t let up an inch, not against a good football team. You can’t do it in the National Football League, particularly in the playoffs. We can take some things out of that game that will make us better this year.”

Berry agreed with his head coach.

“We talked about it today, as a matter of fact, what can we correct from that?” Berry said. “And you know the biggest thing we talked about was just finishing. I think that was the whole overlay of our season, especially as a defense. We started out good and we kind of fizzled out a little bit, and then we came back, but we just have to finish.”

Ultimately, the playoff loss resides in the rearview mirror. The Chiefs reported Monday for the offseason workout program, signaling the shifting of focus to the upcoming season and an opportunity to improve with a lesson learned.

And should the team return to the playoffs, there could be a different result.

“If we can get back to that position again,” Johnson said. “I promise we’ll do a lot better.”