Nothing punctuates the anticlimactic 2017 Chiefs season and its hollow frills — a 5-0 start and gaudy offensive numbers and the franchise’s unprecedented second straight division championship — more than the way this NFL season will end.
New England will play Philadelphia in Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis in a matchup of teams the Chiefs beat in the first two games of the season.
What might have been is drowned out by whys.
If that isn’t bitter enough stuff for Chiefs fans after the team’s latest postseason mess, a 22-21 loss to Tennessee in an AFC Wild Card game at Arrowhead Stadium after botching a 21-3 lead, the game also is built on another twist to make you wistful:
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Two crucial cogs of the Eagles are coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Nick Foles, both of whom have been stamped by Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
Distinct as Pederson and Reid might be, you can see Reid’s mentoring influence in everything from schemes to operations to philosophies of his former offensive coordinator.
Heck, at a news conference on Monday, Pederson echoed words Reid has used many times about players: “I want them to let their personalities show.”
Reid made Pederson his first quarterback when he took over the Eagles in 1999 and gave him his first coaching job in 2009. That led to Pederson being the only NFL coach who personally worked out Foles, the quarterback at Arizona, before Reid’s Eagles drafted him in 2012.
All of which accentuates the fact that two teams built with similar coaching blueprints veered in different directions by season’s end.
And the one run by the guy in his second year as a head coach whisked his team to the Super Bowl despite an insane amount of injuries that included starting quarterback Carson Wentz being lost in early December to a torn ACL.
Why it ultimately played out this way for the Eagles, who are seeking their first NFL title since 1960, and not Reid’s Chiefs is a matter of conjecture even beyond the obvious differences in quality of defense.
Every team, every season, every game is defined by its own fluid dynamics, and it’s easy to oversimplify distinctions between the two teams that make it to the end and all the rest who don’t.
That said … it’s intriguing to zero in on an apparent microcosm: the common pivot points of what happened early in the second halves of the Eagles’ and Chiefs’ last games, with each team holding sizable leads:
The Chiefs were up 21-3, and the Eagles led 24-7 (after a hurry-up drive starting with 30 seconds left in the half led to a field goal).
On the first drive of the second half, the Chiefs allowed the Titans to take 8 minutes 29 seconds and 15 plays to move 91 yards and send a shudder through the stadium on Marcus Mariota’s 6-yard touchdown pass to himself off Darrelle Revis.
Trouble was rumbling, but it could have been offset or even snuffed out with an offensive answer.
Instead, whether it was Reid’s mind-set or former offensive coordinator Matt Nagy’s, the Chiefs turtled up offensively.
On the ensuing drive, a short pass from Alex Smith to Albert Wilson went incomplete on first down. Kareem Hunt then ran 9 yards on second down, but a puzzling right option run call for Smith lost a yard and forced a punt.
The Chiefs were given a reprieve, though, taking over at the Tennessee 28 after a muffed punt.
But as if playing for a field goal, they stayed conservative and went minus 2 yards on three plays. Then they didn’t even get the field goal when Harrison Butker hit the left upright from 48 yards out.
The collapse was on.
Now, consider Pederson’s approach after his Eagles took the second-half kickoff.
After they maneuvered for three first downs, on first and 10 from the Minnesota 41-yard-line the Eagles called a flea-flicker that proved the backbreaker on Foles’ pass to Torrey Smith that made it 31-7.
Never mind that it was all Foles could do not to smile at the play call and somehow tip the Eagles’ hand.
Or that he had never recalled being part of a flea-flicker before and that he knows sometimes trick plays go “really bad.”
“I just told myself before the game I was going to maintain the aggressiveness in this ballgame,” Pederson said afterward, adding, “You win, you keep playing. You lose, you go home. I didn’t want to go home and regret any decisions.”
On Monday, Pederson amplified what Foles calls his “great feel for the game” this way:
If you’re not “sort of staying ahead of the game, so to speak, then you’re playing catch-up and you’re not winning these games.”
Yes, the flea-flicker was risky and could have been intercepted and offered an escape hatch for the Vikings.
But it also seems there may be something about the approach for the mentor to absorb from the mentee in this — especially since Reid has fallen to 1-4 in the postseason with the Chiefs and is 4-9 in the playoffs starting with the Eagles’ 2005 Super Bowl loss to … New England.
You will tempt fate if you play not to lose with a major lead, which Reid seemed to do against the Titans and might be considered a factor in blowing a 38-10 second-half lead in the 45-44 playoff loss at Indianapolis in the 2013 playoffs.
If that is worth embracing by Reid, there was something for all of us to take away from Foles, who threw for 27 touchdowns with just two interceptions in 2013 for the Eagles but lost his way with a bad Rams team in 2015 and still was off-kilter with the Chiefs in 2016.
He labored at times in replacing Wentz, too, only to complete 26 of 33 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions against the Vikings in the biggest game of his life.
Any athlete, any person, could learn something from his perspective.
“I’m sure down the road I‘m going to play a bad game again. That’s the game of football. You’re going out there and you’re competing at a high level,” Foles said. “(But) you should never get down. You should always learn from those experiences and look forward to working through them. Because that’s the beautiful thing.
“When you look back at the journey and you realize that it wasn’t always great. There were bumps in the road, but you were able to overcome them with the people who are around you, the people who believe in you and love you.”
One day, Chiefs fans will be able to relate to all that comes with such a breakthrough — much the way you could only appreciate the 2014 and 2015 Royals for all the hopelessness in between 1985 and then.
Until then, though, the Chiefs are only adding to the buildup with their ongoing drought … and absence from a game they demonstrated early this season they were capable of playing in.