The flag was thrown, the touchdown stood, and Marcus Peters was ... well, visibly ticked off.
This was Sept. 18 during the first half of the Chiefs’ 19-12 loss to the Houston Texans. Peters had just surrendered a touchdown to receiver DeAndre Hopkins, a nemesis of his, in press coverage and been whistled for a questionable defensive pass interference call to boot.
For the super-competitive Peters, it was a double whammy. He argued with the referee about the call, and continued to yell, to no one in particular, as he returned to the sideline with the rest of the Chiefs’ defenders.
That’s when coach Andy Reid went into action. When Peters arrived, he was greeted by Reid, who put his left hand on Peters’ shoulder. Secondary coach Emmitt Thomas joined the fray, putting his right hand on Peters’ other shoulder.
Within 10 seconds, Peters had calmed down. The second-year corner, it turns out, is well-aware of his emotional nature, and he owns it. But he also draws strength from it.
“It’s my weakness, for sure – it’s both,” said Peters, the reigning defensive rookie of the year. “It’s something my mom always told me, I’ve got to learn how to balance some of my emotions. They come out the wrong way sometimes and it’s at the wrong time. So it’s up and down, but that’s just how I like to play football.”
Peters is set to return to his hometown of Oakland on Sunday. His first game there a year ago was a borderline spectacle. He was flagged for two penalties, surrendered a big play or two and snatched an interception he eventually handed to his mother in the stands, but his teammates and coaches readily accept that duality from their Pro Bowl cornerback.
Peters, 23, is demonstrative on the field, and yes, he occasionally yells and rants – to the ref, to opponents, to others. But it is all coming from a good place, they say, showing the acceptance that has created an environment – with teammates who like him and coaches he respects – that has allowed him to flourish and thrive.
“I appreciate him as a player, and he’s a good kid,” Reid said. “He’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do. He comes to work every day and tries his heart out. I’m OK with that.”
If you’re wondering how Reid, who is in his 18th year as a head coach in the NFL, is able to calm Peters down in the heat of battle, that answer is a good example why.
“They’re just letting me be a man, they’re letting me by myself,” Peters said. “They told us they want us to be ourselves around here, so they allow me to be myself. Everybody’s going to (mess) up sometimes. You’ve got to fix it and move on.”
Entering the 2015 NFL Draft, Peters had plenty to fix. He is, remember, the same person who was dismissed from his college team at the University of Washington during the middle of the 2014 season after repeated disagreements with the new coaching staff.
To his credit, he owned his mistakes after his dismissal and was allowed to attend the Huskies’ pro day. The Chiefs did their homework on him and felt comfortable enough to take him with the No. 18 overall pick. To say it’s worked out would be an understatement.
After a rookie season in which he led the NFL in interceptions (eight) and finished second in pass deflections (26), Peters again finds himself at the top of the league leaderboard in interceptions (four). He’s also grown as a person since then, and roundly appears to be well-liked and respected in the Chiefs’ locker room for multiple reasons.
“Me and him are a lot alike — we talk about that all the time,” said safety Eric Berry, one of the Chiefs’ strongest locker-room voices. “We’ve got some similarities ... we love the game, man. We just want to win. You can’t hide that passion. He’s very genuine with it and it could take this team a long way. The more people we have like that, the better we’ll be.”
Berry added that Peters is also starting to realize that he has the potential to reach teammates and elevate their play with his intensity. Harnessed correctly, Peters can be a leader, but he’s still honing his instincts for that.
“People sometimes listen to how you say it instead of what you say, and that’s what he’s been working on, how he says things, because he means good in all of it,” Berry said.
Receiver Jeremy Maclin agreed, noting that Peters’ mentality – and the humble way he carried himself with his teammates a year ago – is a big reason he fit into the Chiefs’ locker room culture.
“When you come into a new locker room, being a first-round draft pick, there’s expectations,” Maclin said. “I think he met those early on, and his maturity level was something people respect. It was never about necessarily making plays, which absolutely helps. But just how mature he is as a man is more important.”
If you hang around the Chiefs long enough, you’ll learn that respect – both giving it and receiving it – is a common, and important, theme when it comes to Peters.
Peters’ Oakland roots have shaped him in immeasurable ways, but they’ve also given him the ability to read people and their intentions.
In other words, if you want to have a good relationship with Peters, you better be real with him. Period.
“You’ve got to shoot him straight,” cornerbacks coach Al Harris said. “One thing about Marcus – he knows what he’s going to get from me, I know what I’m going to get from him. So if he knows he did something he shouldn’t do, then he knows what he’s going to hear.”
Harris, a native of Coconut Creek, Fla., gets along well with Peters because of that mentality. Thomas does, too. But that’s not the only reason.
Peters has recorded an absurd 12 interceptions in his first 20 regular-season games – it took Hall of Famers like Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders and Darrell Green a minimum of 40 games each to get that many – and is an emerging star because of his advanced ability to dissect offensive concepts and take calculated gambles.
In other words, he understands football, and well; he is not someone that can be coached effectively by someone whose knowledge of the game he does not respect.
Thomas is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Harris was a two-time Pro Bowler and one of the most respected bump-and-cover men of his generation. That gives them credibility with all the Chiefs’ defensive backs, not just Peters, who he says accepts their coaching.
“That’s something he needs to keep doing,” Harris said. “As a professional athlete, at some point, you’re going to think you’ve got all the answers. We understand that; Emmitt and I both have played the position, so we just keep preaching, preaching, preaching what we want to get done. And for the most part, they listen.
“We’ve been out there in their situations. We’re not telling you something we read in a book; we’re telling stuff we’ve been a part of.”
With Peters’ return to Oakland looming – there’s no way he won’t be fired up for this one, especially with another budding rival, Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree, lined up across from him – his relationships with his coaches and teammates could play an important role, especially if Peters needs help balancing his emotions during the course of the game.
“I really can identify with the things Marcus is going through as far as his aggression and letting it out because I was the same way, and Coach Reid was a guy who helped me channel that,” said Harris, who played under Reid in Philadelphia from 1999 to 2002. “He always chooses the right words, and sometimes you may not want to hear it in the way he’s putting it, but he’s telling you the right thing.”
Reid, for his part, does not seem to be too worried about Peters getting too keyed up for his return to Oakland.
“No, he’ll be alright,” Reid said. “He loves to play the game, and that’s what I like about him. He knows. He gets it. It’s his second year now.”
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton agreed, noting that he’s already done this once.
“This isn’t his first time,” he said. “Whether we’re playing in Oakland or Houston, I don’t think he’s going to change a lot about how he approaches the game. He’s going to be ramped up, as we know, wherever he goes.”
That’s what the Chiefs like about him, Sutton added, and Peters, for his part, is confident he’ll keep it under control.
“With everything that happened last year, I was just so overwhelmed and ready to go home,” he said “But now it’s a regular game. Just trying to go back home and play some good football ... I’m going to have fun, a whole lot of fun.
“You know, we’re going to put on a show for ‘The Town’ and call it a day.”