SAM MELLINGER

These Chiefs are eager to face an old nemesis in playoff game

Updated: 2013-12-31T21:21:52Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

— The information went from a staffer’s smart phone to the head coach to the team, passed along after the men gathered in the locker room and there was nothing left to say about a game managed as a glorified scrimmage.

“Our postseason will start,” the Chiefs coach said, pausing for drama, “in Indianapolis.”

The reaction was … well, the reaction was nuanced. One player called it excitement. Another “focus.” A third said it was like hearing your boss hand out the week’s assignment.

They had just played a game that didn’t mean a thing to their playoff seeding. All but two starters rested. The biggest stars weren’t even active. The rest of the league would determine whom the Chiefs would play, and the point could not have been more dramatically made than Ryan Succop missing what would’ve been a game-winning field goal and it not being the Chiefs’ most important play of that moment.

Almost simultaneously, in a football stadium 3,000 miles from here, LeGarrette Blount sealed a Patriots win that conspired with a remarkable year-long rebirth in Kansas City and the razor’s-edge ways of the NFL to determine the Chiefs’ playoff opponent.

So after the Chiefs’ J.V. eventually lost 27-24 in overtime here, the players weren’t upset as much as they were curious. And when they heard they’d have a rematch with the Colts, the same team that overmatched the Chiefs at Arrowhead last week?

“It was like a grunt,” says linebacker Derrick Johnson, one of many stars who did not play against the Chargers. “Like, ‘Yeah, yeah, OK, let’s go.’ It was a good moment. A good, ‘Yeah, yeah, we need to get them back.’”

This really was a bizarre scene, and even more bizarre the more layers you pull back. The Chiefs had nothing to play for, and made that obvious with a lineup pulled straight from the fourth preseason game. The Chargers had everything to play for, but you wouldn’t have known that watching them get pushed around by the Chiefs’ backups and scout teamers.

A year ago, the only drama left for the Chiefs’ last regular season game was whether the head coach would be fired before or after the flight back from Denver. On Sunday, it was the locker room of a group that lost in overtime but congratulated each other anyway and spoke more passionately about what is coming than what had just passed.

If anything, the Chiefs’ B-Teamers may have done themselves a favor by losing. This way, the Chargers are in the playoffs as the No. 6 seed instead of the Steelers. The Chargers have beaten the Broncos in Denver, perhaps the most impressive win of any team in the NFL. You would think they would be a stronger threat to win two playoff games than the Steelers, which is what it would take for the Chiefs to play again at Arrowhead.

Of course, the chances of the Chargers winning two road playoff games are slim, and the Chiefs have some major issues to solve before anyone should believe they can win one playoff game, let alone two.

But, still, to recap: Chiefs kicker misses a game-winner that was the second-most important NFL play of that moment, team loses a game they had no immediate reason to care about, and now will play the franchise’s biggest game in at least three years against what has become their grand nemesis.

For sports fans in Kansas City, the idea of a playoff game against the Colts after a season that brought so much joy and relief fits right into the monster-around-every-corner existence of rooting for a franchise that hasn’t won a postseason game in two decades.

Sports heartbreak can be measured in many ways, but the Colts have killed two 13-win Chiefs teams with playoff wins so brutal they are known simply as The Lin Elliott Game, and The No Punt Game.

That the Colts emasculated the Chiefs at Arrowhead just last week isn’t giving anyone outside the Chiefs’ locker room confidence, but inside those walls, the bravado of professional athletes and the unpredictability of the NFL create a different tone.

“We want them again,” receiver Junior Hemingway says.

“We get another shot,” defensive back Dunta Robinson says.

“The things that didn’t work, we’ll correct,” Johnson says. “It’s hard to beat a team twice. Everybody knows that…We’re excited to play Indy.”

The Chiefs haven’t shown enough for optimism based upon anything except hope. The secondary is a weak link. The receivers struggle to get open. Jamaal Charles makes the offensive line look better than it really is. Justin Houston will presumably be healthy, but still hasn’t played in more than a month. They begin the week as the betting underdog.

There are more reasons to think one of the NFL’s great one-season turnarounds will end in Indianapolis on Saturday than extend to the division round the next weekend.

But, then, who could’ve believed Sunday would play out the way it did?

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow him at Twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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