It says a lot about Jeremy Maclin’s mentality, and the respect he’s earned from his teammates, that he was named one of the Chiefs’ six year-end captains for their postseason run a year ago.
Maclin, after all, had been a Chief for all of nine months when he stepped onto the NRG Stadium turf in Houston for the wild-card game in January, sporting a clean white jersey with a large “C” on the upper right part of his chest.
But he’d earned that respect, due to his play — he caught 87 passes for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns as the Chiefs’ undisputed No. 1 target — and overall attitude, as he emboldened the Chiefs’ young receiving corps with his attitude, work ethic and general edge.
So it’s little surprise that, in the midst of a 2-2 start to 2016 marked by the offense’s underwhelming play, Maclin felt the need to shoulder some of the blame for the unit’s poor showing.
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When asked Sunday if he’s been okay with his individual performance this year, Maclin — who dressed at his locker following the club’s embarrassing 43-14 loss to Pittsburgh — shook his head and spoke sharply.
“Not at all,” Maclin said. “I think mentally, I just need to regroup. I’ve had some stuff kind of go on that I need to … ”
He trailed off for a split second before regaining his footing.
“You know, as a professional, you’ve just got to be better,” he said. “So I feel like I haven’t played my best, and maybe that’s the reason why we haven’t gotten things going the way we need to.”
Maclin, of course, is probably overstating things some. The Chiefs, as a team, are big on accountability, and when it comes to diving on grenades for the media, many players follow the lead of their head coach, Andy Reid, who always does so.
But as Maclin alluded to, he has been dealing with some “stuff.” Before the Chiefs’ Week 2 loss to the Texans, he missed practice due to a personal matter. He returned the next day and played against the Texans, though he only caught six of 15 targets and had two uncharacterstic drops.
The next day, Maclin posted a message on multiple social media platforms about the recent death of Isaiah DeLeon-Mares, a longtime friend he grew up with in St. Louis and who later managed Maclin’s foundation when Maclin played for the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I don’t even know where to begin … this hurts,” Maclin wrote. “For 18 yrs he was by my side thru everything. He (saw) me at my worst and my best. One of the most selfless ppl I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. I’m sorry we didn’t get to talk or see each other over the last couple of years but you will always be my brother. Rest easy Zay. I love you bro. #RIP.”
Maclin has consistently, and respectfully, declined to comment on the situation since then, other to confirm that it has been on his mind of late.
“Yeah, but I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me,” Maclin said after Sunday’s game. “That’s not the reason for anything.”
Statistically, Maclin — who has 20 catches for 244 yards and a touchdown — is on pace to finish a touch off last year’s number. If he continues at this rate, he’ll finish with seven fewer catches (80), about 100 fewer yards (976) and four fewer touchdowns (four).
But for a perfectionist like Maclin, that’s not good enough — especially in his second year in the offense and second year working with quarterback Alex Smith.
“He knows what’s expected of him, and he’s got high expectations for himself. He has high standards,” receivers coach David Culley said. “And he doesn’t feel like — and as his coach, I don’t feel like — he’s played to those standards to this point.”
Culley noted that there are some technical, X’s-and-O’s reasons for that, though Maclin — who has, surprisingly, appeared to be slightly out of lockstep at times with Smith this year — would never use that as an excuse.
“We’re doing some things a little bit differently,” Culley said. “We added a couple things that we’re doing that we didn’t do last year, and we’re getting better at that. It’s just a few little things that we haven’t done.”
But Culley, who also coached Maclin in Philadelphia from 2009 to 2012, has been around the 29-year-old long enough to know that he’s not one of those players he needs to worry about.
“I don’t see it being a problem — he’s been in this league for a while; he understands what’s up,” Culley said. “Last year after six ballgames we were 1-5, and the first thing that went through his mind was, ‘What have I got myself into?’
“Well, obviously the thing flipped when he understood what he needed to get done and make himself right.”
There is obviously some hope, from Maclin and the staff, that the break will be good for him, although Reid made it clear that Maclin, who caught five of eight passes for 78 yards against the Steelers, has been coming on of late.
“I thought he did some good things (Sunday),” Reid said. “I think the time off will be good for him.”
Maclin thinks so, too, though he said after the game that he won’t be getting away from Kansas City for the bye.
“Nah, I’m staying here, man,” Maclin said. “(I’ll) stay, get my body right and prepare for the next opponent.”
His hope, he said, was to get into the training facility to look at tape and receive treatment for his body. Just general maintenance stuff, all in hopes of reporting next week refreshed.
“As professionals,” he said, “we understand what we’ve got to do to maintain and keep up.”