There are few places in professional sports more dour than a football locker room after a loss. Players are spent, emotionally and physically. Their bodies ache and the minds are fried, spurred by the knowledge that with every game, they lose a tiny piece of themselves, physically.
All of this is worth it, however, after a victory. It’s a tremendous feeling to spend six days preparing for something in meetings, practice, and film work, and see it pay off.
But after a loss … the frustration equals the giddiness of a win, the low matching the high. That’s why some players, every so often, vent after losses about playing time, the performance of teammates, the coaching, whatever. Sometimes it’s just too much to bear.
The Chiefs have lost four of their last five games, but so far, there has been none of that publicly. While some players duck out of the locker room quickly after the game — before the media can arrive and ask prying questions — many have stayed, dressing quietly, shaking their heads and talking to each other.
Those who spoke to the media following the Chiefs’ most recent loss — a 12-9 road defeat to the previously 1-8 New York Giants team — all seemed to repeat the same message: how the Chiefs pull together from this point will be important to their final record. After all, at 6-4, the Chiefs are still two games ahead of second-place Oakland and Los Angeles in the AFC West standings.
“We just have to come together, don’t let this pull us apart,” said tight end Travis Kelce, who noted that quarterback Alex Smith said that it’s time to “circle the wagons,” which matches his postgame comments to the media.
“You have to stay together and build off this,” Smith said. “All those goals we keep talking about … they’re still there for us.”
One of those goals, to be sure, is the Super Bowl. It sure looked feasible six weeks ago, when the 5-0 Chiefs boasted the league’s most dynamic offense. Since then, the offense has crashed under a rash of injuries as Smith has failed to duplicate his MVP-caliber form from the season’s first eight weeks for two consecutive contests, with the unit’s disjointed performance in a loss to the Giants — who entered with the league’s 31st-ranked defense — representing the nadir.
“I think it’s disappointing in the sense our defense held them to nine points (through four quarters) and in this league, that should be good enough to win,” Smith said.
Don’t think the defensive players don’t know that. Though the Chiefs’ defense has had its share of issues, particularly against the run and allowing big passing plays, it played well enough for the Chiefs to have a chance to win against Pittsburgh and at the Giants.
Still, after the game, safety Ron Parker refused to point fingers, noting the defense shares blame for the team’s struggles, and that players — not coaches — have to lift the team out of its slump.
“It starts with us, nobody else but us,” Parker said. “We’re the ones out there playing, so we’ve got to make the plays when our number’s been called. That’s all it comes down to. Point blank.”
Inside linebacker Reggie Ragland, who earned a season-high in snaps Sunday and led the Chiefs in tackles with nine, agreed. After all, they did allow the Giants’ offense to march 72 yards and kick the game-winning field goal in overtime.
“We’ve just got to finish, no matter what — it doesn’t matter if the offense is doing,” Ragland said.
The Chiefs can look at the Giants as an example of a team that bounced back the next week following a miserable loss. Prior to beating the Chiefs, they fell to the previously winless San Francisco 49ers in a game in which several players — including star cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who recorded an interception against the Chiefs — had their effort questioned.
“Tough times don’t last,” Jenkins explained. “Tough people do.”