Like someone selecting a wardrobe, Chiefs coach Andy Reid laid out his plans Tuesday for Sunday’s game at San Diego.
“We’ll mix and match,” Reid said of how he’ll blend a combination of starters and reserves in a regular-season finale that will have no bearing on the Chiefs’ No. 5 seed in the upcoming NFL playoffs.
“I’m going to work some guys in,” Reid said. “Most of them have already worked in. I talked to the team, and I will have it figured out by the end of the week exactly how I’m going to work it.”
Translated, that means the Chiefs, 11-4, likely will approach this game against San Diego, 8-7, much like Reid did four times in Philadelphia when his Eagles’ teams were locked into playoff positions going into a final week, the same way most teams approach a final preseason game.
He’ll give the starters a series or two and then go to the backups. Unlike in the preseason, a team with 53 players on the active roster can’t rest everyone. But don’t expect to see much of quarterback Alex Smith, running back Jamaal Charles or outside linebacker Tamba Hali, who did not practice Tuesday because of a swollen knee.
Smith, who has started all 15 games in his first season with the Chiefs, said he was preparing to play.
“If you play, the argument is you’re staying in rhythm, you’re keeping your timing, you’re staying used to the speed of the game,” Smith said. “The negative is an injury.
“By not playing, the benefit there is you’re getting healthy and fresh. The downside is you’re missing out on some game experience and rhythm and maybe some momentum heading into the playoffs.”
If Smith gives way to backup Chase Daniel early in the game, it will be the most meaningful playing time Daniel will have had in his five-year NFL career. Daniel attempted nine passes in his four seasons in New Orleans, and he mopped up fourth quarters in victories over Washington and Oakland with the Chiefs.
“Anytime you can get on the field as a backup when your starter is
hurt is a good thing,” Daniel said. “It means your team is in a pretty good spot. I was doing everything I could to take advantage of it.
“My mind-set going in this week is to prepare like the starter, just like I have my entire career and see what happens later in the week.”
Daniel may be handing off the ball to rookie running back Knile Davis and throwing to Junior Hemingway and seldom-used A.J. Jenkins, but it doesn’t make this game meaningless.
“It’s definitely meaningful to this team,” Daniel said. “We want to end the season on a high note. We want to end it with a win, especially with how we came out and played pretty sloppy against the Colts. We still have a bad taste in our mouth right now.
“It’s a meaningful game to everyone in this locker room, every coach on the staff. To the Hunts, to everyone who is part of the Chiefs organization, it’s a meaningful game.”
The backup players understand what’s at stake for their careers.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” said Jenkins, who had just four offensive snaps against Indianapolis. “Every time we step onto the field, we’re being evaluated, regardless whether it’s one play or 80 plays. You have to have the mind-set the guys who play a lot have. It will feel good to be out there.”
Backup linebackers Frank Zombo and Dezmon Moses should be busy as well. Zombo, who has been filling in for the injured Justin Houston, could slide over in place of Hali. And Moses, strictly a special-teams player this season, could get some snaps on defense in place of Houston, if he’s still not available to start or not fit enough to play an entire game after missing four games.
“It’s good experience being able to get some snaps in this defense,” Moses said. “We definitely want to win. We’re all professionals. We’re competitors. We want to go into the playoffs with momentum because momentum carries on no matter who’s out there playing.”
While the Chiefs are locked into their playoff spot, the Chargers are a long shot. But they’ll know what position they’re in before kickoff: Either they’ll have been eliminated by a Miami or Baltimore win, or they’ll have a chance to clinch the sixth wild-card spot.
“We could face two different teams,” Zombo said. “Regardless, it’s the NFL, and guys are playing for their own brand and are going to give it everything they have.”