The Chiefs’ season has taken a wrong turn into Loserville. But they’ve been there before recently and found their way out.
Six games into the 2015 season, the Chiefs’ weren’t kaput but toe tags might as well have been ordered.
They stood 1-5, precisely the current Chiefs’ record in their past six games ahead of Sunday’s visit to the New York Jets.
We know what happened then, in 2015, and it was amazing. The Chiefs won their seventh game, and their eighth, and so on. Their winning streak stopped only because the regular season did.
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The 2017 Chiefs have five regular-season games remaining after this losing stretch, but can some degree of muscle memory kick in?
“Our backs were against the wall and every game was a must-win game,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said of their start in 2015. “We pulled together, and once we started winning we made it habit.
“It always is just one win away from getting that ball rolling in the right direction.”
No teams or seasons are entirely alike. There are personnel changes on the roster, in the starting lineup and coaching staff. But if nothing else, the Chiefs’ belief that they can dig their way out of a hole is based on experience.
Here’s what quarterback Alex Smith said in 2015 a few days after a loss at Minnesota dropped the Chiefs to 1-5: “Obviously, with where we’re at there’s a great deal of urgency, and I think our guys know that.”
Johnson on Thursday: “I don’t want to say must-win, but it’s there, and the Jets have to feel our sense of urgency, (our) hats-on-fire type of energy there to get this win. We’ve been making a habit of losing, and that’s not good.”
Johnson pointed out one of the big differences this season compared to 2015. The Chiefs opened 2015 on the skids and charged home to become the second team since the AFL-NFL merger to reach the playoffs after starting 1-5.
These Chiefs were the toast of the NFL in starting 5-0. They dropped games to the Steelers and Raiders, temporarily regained their footing with a victory over the Broncos, but have since lost consecutive games to the Cowboys, Giants and Bills.
This week, the Chiefs have talked about attention to detail, hammering home fundamentals, not pressing. But at least one analyst believes it’s next to impossible for a team to get its mojo back once it’s reversed fortune as much as the Chiefs’ has.
“Once it kind of dies and that engine stops; it’s hard to restart it in the NFL,” said Phil Simms, the former Giants quarterback and CBS analyst. “And Kansas City does look like that team right now.”
The Chiefs looked like a dead team walking in 2015, especially after running back Jamaal Charles was lost for the season in the fifth week with a torn ACL.
But eventually, those Chiefs started catching some breaks. Their losing streak was broken with a home victory over the Steelers, a game in which Ben Rothlisberger didn’t play because of an injury. A week later, the Chiefs blasted a less talented Lions team in London. Next came the bye week.
Also, from a fan outrage standpoint, if there was ever a perfect time to slump, the 2015 Chiefs found it. Across the Truman Sports Complex parking lot, the Royals were wrapping up a division-winning regular season and starting a postseason quest that would end with a World Series title.
When KC’s attention shifted back to the Chiefs, the schedule broke easier, just as it has this season. And the they took advantage, piling up victories all the way through the playoffs when they won at the Texans for their first postseason triumph in more than two decades.
Chiefs players who were with the team then said they don’t remember many details from that victory over the Steelers in 2015. But they recall the confidence generated from that one game.
“You get the first one and get it going,” Smith said. “That’s the toughest deal, to get the ball rolling and get the momentum again. You have to scratch and claw and fight.”