Seeking to dispense some perspective after the Chiefs lost 35-28 to Denver on Sunday to semi-officially render their 9-0 start a matter of the past, quarterback Alex Smith considered their spiraling trajectory and tried to shrug it away.
“We’ve love to have gone undefeated,” he said. “The reality of that happening I mean, how many times has it happened in the history of football? It’s not likely.”
And coach Andy Reid struck a similar tone.
“I mentioned to the team that this isn’t college football,” he said. “This isn’t the end of the season.”
Their stances make sense. And what would be the point of panicking, anyway? Especially publicly.
Still, all these words would be more applicable and reassuring if the Chiefs had just lost for the first time rather than their third in a row to squander a considerable jump on a playoff berth and even a division title and home-field advantage.
More to the point, though, with the loss on Sunday, the Chiefs forfeited the benefit of the doubt on their overall direction this season.
Instead, they can only get the brunt of the doubt.
It may still be mathematically more difficult for the Chiefs to miss the playoffs than make them, but how they’re perched won’t matter much if this team has already peaked.
Any way you look at it, three straight defeats is at least a trend, pretty much a slump and, most worrisome, a potential prevailing tide in the season even if those concerned insist otherwise.
“This is not the end of the Kansas City Chiefs; this is not the start of a downslide,” cornerback Dunta Robinson said. “There’s too many strong-minded players in here to say, ‘Wow, what are we going to do now?’
“We didn’t win nine games in a row by coincidence. So that gives us a lot of confidence going forward. Hey, I know we’ve lost three in a row. But I’ve been in this league a long time. Ups and downs happen.”
Still, the burden of proof now is on the Chiefs to demonstrate that those first nine games weren’t fool’s gold forged on a favorable schedule.
And it’s on them to show that how they won those games — by gritting them out and making a lot of their own luck — was testament to how good they are and not some sort of fluke.
And, hey, chances are that’s just what they’ll do. With a caveat.
Yes, the Chiefs lost 27-17 to the Broncos two weeks ago in a game that they never were quite in even if they weren’t exactly outclassed. But a 41-38 loss to San Diego last week and the second loss to the Broncos on Sunday were exasperating because each was the Chiefs’ game to win and they didn’t.
Earlier in the season, as Smith put it, the Chiefs “were coming out on the other end of these.” He’s right. And that’s both reassuring and discouraging:
All season, it’s been clear the Chiefs have scant margin for error.
That works great when you don’t make crucial mistakes and the other guys do. And the Chiefs prospered over and over thanks largely to what had been a marauding defense and opportunistic special teams and an offense that wouldn’t turn the ball over and could eat clock when it counted.
But that was then, and this is now.
With its once-frenzied sack attack muted, the defense has surrendered 103 points in the last three games, including four touchdowns to receiver Eric Decker on Sunday, after giving up 111 points in the first nine games.
Meanwhile, the offense has come alive somewhat with 59 points in the last two games (not including Knile Davis’ 108-yard kickoff return). But a half-dozen dropped passes and the interception Smith threw from the 2-yard line, on the Chiefs’ opening drive, were major co-signing signatures on this loss.
“It was just a bad throw,” Smith said.
That it was, one that changed the dynamic of the game.
So they’re still close, which is a fine thing but somewhere between tantalizing and promising.
Now it’s the plays that got away that linger, of course, not all those ones that made the difference in their favor.
And flipping that obvious-but-elusive switch is the key to whether the Chiefs can go into the postseason with real purpose or just kind of hoping.
They’ve got four games left to gather themselves, including three on the road starting Sunday at Washington.
“I think we can go 4-0 down the stretch,” Robinson said, “and that’s how we have to look at things.”
Starting with everyone looking in the mirror, several players said.
For what it’s worth, don’t doubt they will. But what that reflection will lead to is anybody’s guess.
“It burned (to lose) last week,” safety Kendrick Lewis said. “I just couldn’t wait to get back on the field and get the taste out of my mouth.”
Only thing was he didn’t on Sunday.
“Now the burn is even deeper,” Lewis said.
Because it can’t be dismissed as just one game.
Close as the two losses were and as much as the Chiefs might want to tamp down any sense of alarm, they’re now on a different course until it’s proven differently.
And, really, the Chiefs know that, too.
“It’s a must,” Lewis said, “that we get it turned around.”