KANSASCITY, Mo. (AP) — In the span of a year, the KansasCityChiefs went from being a franchise in disarray to one with the best record in the AFC and a shot at winning their division with two regular-season games left.
It’s hard to believe even for those in the midst of it.
“You can’t really explain it by words,” said linebacker Derrick Johnson. “It’s a feeling that not everybody has, and to go through what we went through last year and to be in this situation to do some big things — making the playoffs before the season is over, it’s great.”
The Chiefs punched their ticket to the postseason with a 56-31 victory at Oakland on Sunday, one that pushed their franchise-best turnaround to nine games. KansasCity (11-3) also moved into a tie with Denver atop the AFC West, though the Broncos hold the tiebreaker by virtue of a season sweep.
Still, if the Broncos stumble in one of their two remaining games — at lowly Houston and Oakland — and the Chiefs beat Indianapolis and San Diego, it would be KansasCity that’s home for the playoffs.
The way this season has gone, even the most remote possibility is still possible.
“This team is wired maybe a little different,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday. “I think they’re going to finish out strong no matter what the outcome is. I feel as a coach you tell them to go get them, they’ll go get them. I kind of feel they’re wired that way.”
That wasn’t the way they were wired before Reid’s arrival.
While the Chiefs have churned through their roster, about half of which is new this season, most of the key players remain from that 2-14 team. Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Dwayne Bowe were all part of the most forgettable season in franchise history, one that resulted in the firing of coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli and an overhaul of the entire front office.
Shortly after Reid was hired, John Dorsey was brought in as the GM, and team owner Clark Hunt vowed to take a more hands-on role with the organization. The results have been nothing short of spectacular: The Chiefs are heading to the playoffs for just the second time since 2006, Arrowhead Stadium is packed and there’s a buzz throughout the city.
“That just shows you how hard work pays off,” Charles said, “and every guy in that locker room has worked their tail off. ... That’s what I told those guys, ‘Hard work pays off.’”
The performance by the Chiefs on Sunday may have been the most impressive yet.
While the defense gave up big chunks of yardage, it also picked off five passes and forced seven turnovers. Berry had two of those picks and returned one of them for a touchdown, the 11th time that KansasCity has gotten a TD from defense or special teams this season.
The only teams with more? The Cardinals (12) in 2010 and Seahawks (13) in 1998.
Alex Smith was 17 of 20 for 287 yards and five touchdowns without an interception, making him just the second Chiefs quarterback with a perfect quarterback rating. Trent Green did it on Sept. 29, 2002.
Then there is Charles, who made a mockery of the Raiders defense. He touched the ball 16 times but still piled up five touchdowns. He had 195 yards receiving, the fifth-most by a running back in NFL history, and his TD total was tied for the fourth-most in league history.
“As you know, that’s a tough position to play,” Reid said, “and this time of year, you see running backs, their production goes down a bit, and he’s been able to maintain a high level.”
The Chiefs put up all that offense despite missing starting left tackle Branden Albert, tight end Anthony Fasano and slot receiver Dexter McCluster due to injuries. All three of them, along with pass rusher Justin Houston, could be back for Sunday’s game against the Colts.
Reid said he wouldn’t hold anybody out who is ready to play, even though the Chiefs are already in the playoffs. After all, there’s still a division title to chase.
“If the guys can play, they’re going to play,” he said. “The rest of our season is as important to us as the beginning of our season. We’re not backing off on anything there.”