As Chiefs coach Andy Reid on Wednesday announced a one-game suspension of volatile dilemma Marcus Peters, a decision that was absolutely appropriate and signals deeper implications for Peters, he declined to specify just what the punishment was for.
But it’s testimony to the necessity of the suspension — and growing uncertainty about Peters’ fit and future here — that it’s unclear exactly what aspect of Peters’ latest shenanigans during a game finally crossed the line in the 38-31 loss on Sunday to the New York Jets.
Was it the mere act of heaving a penalty flag into the stands?
Might it have been for abandoning the team by leaving the field … even if it was on the misguided belief he had been ejected and with an escort from Chiefs’ security?
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Perhaps it was the strangely playful way he walked off the field, smiling and slapping five with a Jets player?
Or maybe it was the way he came back out when informed he had not been disqualified — in cleats with no socks and likely not ready to play if the Chiefs perchance had tied it late.
Most likely, it was the blurred components of the moment, which had little to do with the Chiefs’ sixth loss in seven games yet spoke to an intensifying sense of disarray and decline of discipline on defense.
That’s why Reid had to do this, breaking from buttoned-down form to bring up the consequences in order to send a message — and perhaps to try to hit a reset button for his listing team.
And that in turn is why this has short- and long-term ramifications for the team and Peters, who essentially had been emboldened to misbehave because of no apparent disciplinary action before — which surely was part of this decision.
Even if Reid denied that, it’s hard to imagine he’d have suspended Peters if not for the mounting maddening behavior that has included altercations with officials, opposing players, fans and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton — to say nothing of his previous less-confrontational yet still ill-considered maneuvers such as punting the ball into the stands.
(No, the suspension has zero to do with Peters’ protesting during the national anthem, which since a talk with Chiefs’ owner Clark Hunt has been expressed through not being on the field when it was played).
The move has more teeth in it because it’s boiled up to critical mass just as the Chiefs prepare for the most pivotal game of their season to date:
Win against Oakland (6-6) on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, an opportunity greatly diminished by Peters’ suspension, and the Chiefs (6-6) retain an inside track to the AFC West title along with the Los Angeles Chargers (6-6).
Lose, and they’ll no longer have control of their playoff prospects.
Because it’s a game with such meaning and against Oakland, where Peters grew up, the discipline will sting.
Trouble is, that’s no assurance of how he’ll respond in the final three games of the season — starting when he presumably rejoins the team on Tuesday from wherever he’ll be spending his week in exile.
He needs to be able to understand Reid’s actions as being for his own good, for instance, but he may or may not be capable of that.
Since he’s typically laughed off these oddities, it seems entirely possible the cryptic “Lol” he tweeted on Tuesday was in response to being told he’d be gone a week — though certainly it could have been a reference to something else.
Whether or not that was what he was alluding to, the following three games will be telling for Peters’ future in Kansas City — where he has one year left on his contract with a fifth-year option available.
The complicated task of coaching Peters long has been to harness his abilities while not neutering his spirit.
And if the Chiefs don’t feel this adequately gets his attention, it will be time for them to start considering whether he’s more trouble than he’s worth as a premier coverage cornerback who at times is contact-averse and prone to tantrums.
If he’s unable to appreciate being disciplined, if he feels Reid’s punishment was unjust, it might also reasonably be wondered how much he might want to remain a Chief.
Peters, who rarely is available to the media, was not available to comment on this.
For that matter, he hasn’t yet commented on how he felt about what Hunt called a “great conversation” the week before the Dallas game.
Ever since that talk, which Hunt indicated included reminding players “we prefer for them to stand” during the anthem, Peters has gone from sitting on the sideline during the anthem to staying out of view.
While that demonstrates a willingness to cooperate with suggestion, it’s also possible Peters resents that.
Beyond his reaction to this call to shape up, of course, there are other complicated layers to this.
That includes the way a number of fans have turned on him for his expression of patriotism: protesting racial injustice by taking advantage of free-speech rights that distinguish our country and that our military has fought for.
Those who see that as disrespectful will see this through the same prism and thus see their sentiments validated, likely making for further anti-Peters sentiment.
But here’s the thing: The Chiefs are a better team with Peters than they would be without him, as we’ll likely be reminded of on Sunday.
And while how fans view him isn’t insignificant, the most meaningful place to gauge his fit is in the locker room — where he has many friends and supporters who admire his passion and want to see the best for him. …
And the best for the team.
Which could be one and the same.
But now that’s entirely up to Peters, who has finally been served notice he’s not above the team.
He should embrace this as a turning point, lest it make his future under a player’s coach in Kansas City untenable and his future elsewhere a question mark, too.