Sprung from the miserable ruins of the 2012 season, the Chiefs enter their game on Sunday at Buffalo with a chance at a chunk of history as they try to tie a franchise record with a 9-0 start.
But the moment also offers a pause for some cautionary considerations.
For those who are fit to be tied, the 2003 team, this more modest matter isn’t quite a parallel with the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who went 17-0 and still celebrate that their perfection remains peerless.
“It would be a great thing,” said Chiefs Hall of Fame guard Will Shields, who played on the 2003 team. “You want them to do even better than you.”
Those Chiefs, champions of the AFC West, finished 13-3 and lost the AFC divisional playoff game to the Indianapolis Colts in a wild 38-31 tussle.
The game featured no punts and included such oddities as a 31-yard touchdown pass from Trent Green to Tony Gonzalez that was nullified by an offensive pass-interference call.
That was followed by a rare Morten Andersen missed field goal and, later, a 48-yard Priest Holmes run ending with the ball torn loose from behind.
All of which still leaves Green thinking, What if?
“Morten Andersen makes that field goal 99 times out of 100,” he lamented, adding, “And if we have (those touchdowns), it’s a great day.”
Or as then-coach Dick Vermeil put it: “We go deep in the playoffs if we don’t play Peyton Manning.”
But that still spoke to the Achilles heel of that team, which was fundamentally different than this one in the most obvious ways.
The 2003 version led the NFL in scoring (30.2 points a game) but was 19th in scoring defense (20.8), and this year’s edition, halfway through, anyway, is 14th in the league in scoring (24.0) but leads the NFL in scoring defense (12.2).
“Priest Holmes breaks the NFL TD scoring record. Hell, if he would have been in New York or Dallas, they would have enshrined him by now. And we had the best offensive line in football; we just couldn’t get enough guys on defense,” Vermeil said. “We were just the opposite of those guys If we had the defense that (coach Andy Reid) has, we would have won a world championship.”
But there are ample common denominators between them:
Each is the best in the league in turnover ratio and is marked by dynamic special teams play. Each also had a friendlier first-half schedule. And each was vastly improved over its predecessor:
In 2003, the Chiefs enjoyed what was then the greatest improvement in club history from the year before, winning 13 games after winning just eight the year before.
That was trumped with a six-game improvement from 2009 to 2010, a mark that already has been tied this season after the Chiefs won just twice last year.
All of which leads to a few warning labels from those who’ve been here before, including one that’s plenty applicable now as the Chiefs enter a road game against a Buffalo team (3-5) they ought to beat.
“It’s just so easy to start believing that you really are that good,” said Carl Peterson, the general manager of the Chiefs’ 2003 team.
For all the statistics out there about no 8-0 team ever failing to make the playoffs, even 8-0 holds no guarantees beyond that.
“No,” Vermeil said, laughing. “It guarantees you’re going to be 8-0.”
Those Chiefs had their 9-0 season-opening streak snuffed out in a 24-19 loss at Cincinnati against a Bengals team that had been 2-14 a year before and finished 6-10.
That defeat still grates Vermeil, who recalled that the Chiefs won their next two games.
“We should have been 12-0,” he said. “We allowed a losing team to beat us, and you just can’t do that when you have a winning streak going.”
Said Shields: “We were flying high, thinking we were the best thing since sliced bread. They saw it on film, that we were actually a little too high on the horse, and they took us out.”
And that’s the challenge of the moment for these Chiefs, who have become accustomed to someone making a play when it has to be made.
“You can almost get baited into thinking, ‘Well, somebody’s going to make a play,’” said Green, now an analyst for Westwood One radio. “So you don’t want to relax.”
That’s part of what Vermeil and Reid spoke about last week when Vermeil visited for about three hours. Vermeil is close to Reid and had advised Chiefs CEO and chairman Clark Hunt to hire Reid and then told Reid, “Go.”
And while Vermeil says, “Nobody is doing it better than” Reid right now, he also knows the season remains to be defined.
“When you’re a good team, sometimes what happens is you feel so good you lose the sense of urgency that you need to play well on Sunday,” Vermeil said. “You lose that full emotional edge, you start taking what you’ve done for granted, and you think it’s going to happen again because you made it happen eight times in a row.
“As soon as you relax in this league, a little bit, especially on the road, you’re in trouble.”
The Chiefs should be somewhat fortified against that, particularly because so many key veteran defensive players remember last season well.
“What they’ve been through and had to endure these last couple seasons,” Green said, “I don’t see them letting up at all.”
“It’s like anybody when you’re hungry; it doesn’t take long to get filled up,” Vermeil said, laughing. “As a coach, me, I remember, geez, you feel so good that sometimes you overlook things. You’re not on their (butts), you’re not pushing your coaches hard enough.
“And all of a sudden you’re strutting a little too early and, wham, you get hit in the mouth.”
If these Chiefs can avert that trap, the primary difference between this team and that seems to give it the foundation for a playoff run.
“They definitely have a great formula,” Green said. “You have a defense that teams can’t score on and the offense isn’t turning the ball over. And when they need timely drives and timely scores, when they need to use up the clock, for the most part they’ve been able to do that.”
So even without the offensive firepower the 2003 team had, these Chiefs could make good on Shields’ hopes of more for them.
“They’ve got difference-makers on defense, some real difference-makers; I don’t see (difference-makers) on offense so much, that’s why they’re struggling. It’s glaring,” Vermeil said. “But very seldom are they going to have to score a lot of points to win, so the big thing is to make sure you don’t turn the ball over and beat yourself. Don’t give the ball away. You don’t have to play high-risk offensive football.”
And just stay tuned in on one game at a time, Green said.
At least if they want to create something timeless, which matters a lot more than 8-0, or 9-0, for that matter.