The Chiefs’ locker room was predictably quiet following their depressing 43-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football.
Some dressed quickly and efficiently, and shuffled toward the bus without a word. The players who remained sat on their stools, dressing slowly.
Most of those who remained possess key voices. Quarterback Alex Smith, inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, receiver Jeremy Maclin, safety Eric Berry, outside linebacker Tamba Hali, defensive tackle Dontari Poe and fullback Anthony Sherman all spoke following the game, which isn’t always a given in this league.
Yet it was no coincidence, either. Because while Chiefs coach Andy Reid put the blame on himself in the adjoining conference room, the Chiefs’ leaders wanted to make it clear they were present and accountable, ready to serve as the team’s conscience through the latest rough patch.
“It’s going to be tough next week just, you know, sitting on this,” Sherman explained.
Many other players were honest about the general displeasure they felt about taking a loss like this into the bye week, despite their 2-2 record.
“Obviously you’d love to go into it on a better note,” said Smith, who plans to watch tape and spend time with his wife and three kids during the bye. “Whether we like it or not, it’s here. We’ve got to use it, get healthy, regroup, bounce back from this.”
Berry, who possesses one of the team’s strongest voices, agreed.
“It does sour (the bye),” Berry said. “But all the things that happened are fixable ... it’s not anything like we’ve got to do anything drastic. We’ve just got to have a little more focus and lock in a little bit. That’s it.”
Reid echoed the latter point — that more focus was required on a play-to-play basis — in his press conference with the media on Monday. Reid, again, took responsibility for that, but players — particularly the ones on the Chiefs’ struggling offense, which ranks 23rd in total offense through four games and has looked flat far too often — insisted that the burden for improvement ultimately falls on them.
“That’s it, just execution,” Sherman said. “It has nothing to do with … I mean, Coach Reid puts us in the best situation possible, every week. We all know that. We just need to go out there and execute our jobs to succeed.”
Tight end Travis Kelce agreed, adding that the Steelers might have had a bead on some of the Chiefs’ tendencies — this is the third straight year the two teams have met, after all — but that worked both ways, and they were simply outplayed.
“They were very familiar with coach Reid’s system and our defensive system, but that’s vice versa, so you can’t (use) that to blame (anyone),” Kelce said. “You have to go out there and be able to execute.”
Kelce was even more candid when asked what kind of boost the return of star running back Jamaal Charles gave them Sunday.
“It doesn’t mean anything if you can’t just perform a play without any negative aspect to it, a missed assignment or something like that,” Kelce said. “We need to come together as an offensive unit and play mistake-free football.”
There was plenty of hope, though, as many players noted, correctly, that lots of season remains for a run.
“We’ve got a bunch of fighters here,” Hali said.
And while Johnson added that there’s no panic, but an increasing amount of urgency — “yeah, we need to figure it out,” he said — Berry even went so far as to hint that this thing could turn into a positive.
“It’s early, and I think it’s good that we get to sit down and look at this over the bye week, because it’s going to sting for a while,” Berry said. “And it’s going to make people reflect and see what we can change individually and collectively.”
A bounce-back is certainly possible. Remember the Chiefs’ 41-14 throttling of the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football back in Sept. 2014? The Patriots came back to win the Super Bowl that year.
It’s no coincidence Hali, Maclin and others all brought this up after the game. After an 11-5 season and the club’s first playoff win in 22 years, the goal this year remains the Lombardi Trophy.
“We’ve seen teams flip the script on this and take a beating like this and come back with a vengeance and turn the season around,” Maclin said. “I know here, the year before I got here, they beat New England pretty bad and New England came back and won the Super Bowl.
“That’s just one instance. It happens.”
Reid, who has guided the Chiefs to a 33-19 regular-season record during his three-year tenure, has confidence in his locker room leaders to get the rest of the team back on course.
“I have trust in certain players in there that they’ll take care of business,” Reid said of his group’s current state. “I think the team, if they don’t know, they will, here, in a minute. When you have good character guys, they take that to heart.”