The Chiefs looked dead in the water after an unexpected 0-2 start in Andy Reid’s second season as head coach.
But they have reached the midway point of the season with a 5-3 record, and if the postseason were to begin today, the Chiefs would be a wild-card team, though that could change if they lost this Sunday at Buffalo, also 5-3.
The Chiefs trail the Denver Broncos, 6-2, by a game in the AFC West, and Denver visits Arrowhead Stadium on Nov. 30. Best of all, the Chiefs, who have faced one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, have yet to play their two games against the winless Oakland Raiders.
“I feel OK about where we are at,” Reid said after last Sunday’s 24-10 victory over the New York Jets, the Chiefs’ third straight victory. “I liked the aggressiveness that the team is playing with. We’ve got a ton of room to improve on both sides of the ball and special teams. But I’m proud of them for starting two losses then coming back, putting some wins together.”
With the season at the halfway point, here are The Star’s mid-season honors.
Most Valuable Player: OLB Justin Houston
The Chiefs rank fifth overall on defense, first against the pass, and second in fewest points allowed, and Houston is in the middle of all of it. Houston, in a contract year, leads the league with 12 (of the Chiefs’ 27) sacks, putting him on pace to break the NFL record of 22 1/2 and shatter the club mark of 20 set by Derrick Thomas in 1990. Houston, 25, forces teams to game plan against him, and unlike some pass rushers who can be countered by running right at them, Houston has been strong against the run as well.
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Alex Smith
The offense may revolve around the multiple talents of running back Jamaal Charles, but it’s Smith’s mastery of the playbook and outstanding decision-making that makes Andy Reid’s offense go. Smith has been efficient without a game-breaking wide receiver and operating behind an offensive line with three newcomers and a second-year left tackle. In the last seven games, Smith has completed 146 of 211 passes (69.2 percent) for 1,490 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception.
Rookie of the Year: G Zach Fulton
There was a lot of anguish when the Chiefs lost guards Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah in free agency and Jeff Allen to a season-ending elbow injury, but Fulton, a sixth-round draft pick, won the right guard spot in training camp and never let go. Sure, Fulton, the 193rd overall pick, has had some rough spots, but the lowest-round pick to a starter on opening day, he has contributed to the 5-3 start.
Special Teams Player of the Year: P Dustin Colquitt
It’s easy to take Colquitt for granted, but there’s no mistaking his impact on a game. Colquitt has landed 18 of his 32 punts season inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, forcing teams to go long distances to score. The Chiefs rank seventh in opponents’ starting field position. Don’t underestimate the part Colquitt played in building the confidence of rookie kicker Cairo Santos during his early-season struggles.
Comeback Player of the Year: TE Travis Kelce
A year ago, the Chiefs had great plans for Kelce, a third-round draft choice in 2013, but a micro fracture in his knee cost him all but one game last year. This year, a healthy Kelce is fulfilling the promise the Chiefs had for him, leading the club with 32 receptions, including a team-leading four touchdown catches.
Biggest surprise: ILB Josh Mauga
It appeared the heart of the Chiefs defense had been ripped out when Pro Bowl inside linebacker Derrick Johnson was lost for the season because of a ruptured Achilles tendon in the season opener. But Mauga, signed at the start of training camp, has emerged as an every-down linebacker and the club’s leading tackler. Mauga, who spent all of 2013 on injured reserve with the Jets, had 10 tackles at San Francisco on Oct. 5 and against the Jets on Sunday.
Most improved player: DB Ron Parker
The Chiefs weren’t sure what they had in Parker, a natural safety who could be used as an extra cornerback, when they claimed him at the start of the 2013 season. A dependable special teams player, Parker has started six at safety and one at cornerback. In the win over St. Louis, he made an interception early and a critical sack when the game was still in doubt, and against the Jets, he played safety, nickel and cornerback.
Biggest disappointment: DE Vance Walker
Walker was touted as the biggest unrestricted free agent signing of the off-season but he’s had very little impact since getting a sack on opening day against Tennessee. Walker has yet to start a game, and for the three-year, $13 million contract he signed ($3.75 million guaranteed), Walker has five tackles for the season.
Play of the Year
Anthony Fasano catching a deflected pass while on the seat of his pants against the Jets was amusing, but Jamaal Charles’ 16-yard touchdown run at San Diego was memorable on many fronts. Charles reversed his field, cut upfield, took a vicious hit from former teammate Brandon Flowers at the goal line and while scoring the touchdown, broke Priest Holmes’ franchise career rushing record.
While the Monday night win over New England is becoming bigger and bigger (and could have tie-breaker implications), there’s no doubt the 23-20 win at San Diego saved the season. Cairo Santos’ making a clutch 48-yard field goal as time expired could have been the difference between a 2-4 start and the beginning of their current three-game winning streak.
It’s still mind-blowing that the Chiefs lost their season opener at home to Tennessee, which is 2-6. The Chiefs have to hope that loss won’t come back to bite them and make the difference in winning the division or in a tie-breaker that determines a wild-card spot or homefield advantage in the playoffs.