Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Enjoy the Chiefs, injuries and all

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) celebrated his touchdown in the second quarter Monday.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) celebrated his touchdown in the second quarter Monday.

The Chiefs are the last undefeated team in football, and because they’re the Chiefs and this is sports and this is what we do, it’s easy to think about all that could go wrong.

Because unless you are old enough to remember 1969, when football wasn’t nearly as popular as it is now, every Chiefs joy has ultimately led to a disappointment. I’m in a good mood today, so I don’t want to write the list any more than you want to read the list. But you’re probably nodding your head right now.

You can find all that stuff here, too. Injuries are a growing problem, particularly on the offensive line. The Chiefs got lucky when Josh Doctson dropped what would’ve been a late and go-ahead touchdown last night. Only six teams have given up more yards than the Chiefs.

But one of the marks of a good team is being able to beat other good teams, and New England, Philadelphia and Washington are a combined 7-2 when playing teams that aren’t the Chiefs.

Another mark of a good team is that they have more than one way to win. The Chiefs overwhelmed the Patriots with big plays, ground out a second-half comeback against the Eagles, beat the Chargers from ahead, and worked through injuries and nearly struggles against Washington.

None of this matters as much as what the Chiefs look like in two or three months, but at this point, except for the injuries — and depending on the news with Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Eric Berry is the only one out for the year — how could the Chiefs be any better at this moment?

Enjoy it, is what I’m saying. It’s a damn good team. Fun, too.

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid spoke on the confidence of rookie kicker Harrison Butker and of his veteran quarterback Alex Smith, who drove the offense down the field in the 29-20 win over Washington on Monday Night Football on Oct. 2, 2

This week’s reading recommendation is Aaron Edwards on The Group Chat, and the eating recommendation is the Cuban from Bay Boy Sandwiches. It’s a food truck, so you have to know where they’ll be, but goodness gracious that’s a delicious sandwich.

Please give me a follow on Facebook and Twitter, and as always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

You guys, this is a thing.

When the games matter more, nobody cares who the best team was after Week 4, other than to set up some narrative about a team crashing or rising, but the Chiefs are the best team in the NFL after Week 4.

This is the best Chiefs team I’ve covered in eight seasons, and I would argue the best team since the 1990s. Make your joke about that being a low bar, and the joke is probably even funny, but this is a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

The Chiefs are the only undefeated team left, and the AFC’s three 3-1 teams each play at Arrowhead (the Chiefs also finish the season at Denver) meaning the Chiefs are running downhill for home-field advantage.

The Patriots are 2-2, and if we’re honest, the most or second-most disappointing team in the league depending on what you think of the Giants. They beat the terrible Saints and beat the Texans by a field goal at home.

Think about this: as good as Tom Brady is and has been this season, the Patriots’ defense has made the other team’s quarterback statistically better.

Even if NFL rules weren’t so tilted toward parity, there would be reason to pump the brakes a bit. This team’s only playoff win since January 1994 was against Brian Hoyer. Injuries are stacking up, particularly on the offensive line. I’m not sure you’d call either the offense or defense dominant. Things change so fast in the NFL.

But this team is absolutely good enough to play in the Super Bowl.

That’s an objective fact.

I mean, at this point, it’s either him or Kareem Hunt, right?

No MVP “campaign” becomes real until November, at least, but Alex Smith is having the season of his life and the best first four games of any quarterback in the league.

I believe that MVP voters like good stories, too, and Alex has a great one. He’s been through so much professionally and personally, and with his successor in the room next to him is playing better than ever.

I wrote about this in the game column, but maybe I should’ve emphasized it more: if he’s able to throw downfield after breaking the pocket, it changes what this offense is capable of.

Two years ago, he had his best season with the Chiefs, largely because of how dangerous he was turning nothing pass plays into first downs with his legs. Last year, he had his most disappointing season with the Chiefs, largely because he was no longer a real threat to run.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith answered questions following the team's 29-20 win over Washington on Monday, Oct. 2, 2017.

Well, this year, he is running more, but before last night teams could be fairly certain he wouldn’t throw it downfield after breaking the pocket.

But last night, he did that twice, including the 37-yarder to Albert Wilson on the last drive, the biggest play of the game.

All NFL receivers are dangerous when given time, but between Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, and others, the Chiefs have a nasty mix of speed and versatility that could turn those scramble drills into big plays on the regular.

I will not.

But, yeah. Maybe emphasize a bit how much more season there is to go.

The reactions.

Too many people can’t wait to be offended by, really, anything. That’s probably always been true, but it sure is an unavoidable fact if you spend even six seconds on social media.

I don’t know what’s so difficult about this: Kelce and Peters need to calm down in terms of not losing a game because of a dumb penalty or mistake, but if you are offended by the emotions or lack of manners from a football player in the middle of a football game for other reasons, you might do well to think about your priorities and perspective.

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During football games, those two football players are different shapes of football crazy. Many would be happier if they were as talented and productive as they are but carried themselves like Dear Abby, but I’d also like my dog to chip in on the mortgage every once in a while.

It’s not going to happen.

Particularly with Peters, his decision to sit during the anthem has turned every pass his way into some definitive statement about politics for some.

I do wish more of us could be reasonable, and that those of us who are* could do a better job of ignoring those of us who aren’t.

*You like how I’m including myself as reasonable? Back in March, I said Kelvin Herrera would have a better year than Wade Davis!

The Texans are hard to figure out, but as Todd Haley would say, their arrow is pointing up.

First week of the season, they were blow’d out against the Jags, 29-7. On Sunday, they blow’d out the Titans, 57-14.

Texans’ weekly point totals: 7, 13, 33, 57.

Texans’ weekly yardage totals: 203, 266, 417, 445.

The Patriots gave up the 33 and 417, but they are a mess defensively, particularly against the pass. Dropping 57 and 445 against the Titans is a bit more impressive.

It is coaching malpractice to have ever started Tom Savage over Deshaun Watson, but I don’t know how anyone could’ve expected Watson to be this good his first few games. In his last two starts, he’s completed 70 percent of his passes for 584 yards and six touchdowns.

I want to take a closer look at what’s happened in those games, though. Because as good as he’s been he’s also thrown four interceptions in 114 attempts. Only five quarterbacks have been picked off more frequently, and two of them are DeShone Kizer and Mike Glennon, so I’m not sure that should count.

Again, I want to watch those snaps before saying anything with certainty, but the following is all true:

▪ Marcus Peters wasn’t very good last night, on Monday Night Football.

▪ Marcus Peters is a very good football player who typically performs his best when challenged.

▪ Marcus Peters will be playing another primetime game on Sunday, against a quarterback whose thrown some interceptions.

▪ These are many of the ingredients for a Marcus Peters Takeover.

I do not.

The curiosity is understandable. Natural, even. Dayton Moore often says he was “raised” in Atlanta, and he means as a baseball scout, but part of him means a little more, too.

He built lifetime relationships there. John Schuerholz is his mentor. The morning of January 22, when the news broke about Yordano Ventura’s tragic death, Moore was boarding a plane to Atlanta to speak at a friend’s fundraiser. He still made the trip.

So, sure. The curiosity is easy to understand.

And let me say right here: Moore leaving would not shock me. Anything is possible. But he’s turned down the job before, and I believe he’ll be in Kansas City until David Glass is no longer in charge or doesn’t want Moore around.

Dayton has lived in Kansas City for 11 years. His kids have grown up here. They are rooted here now. He’s not from Atlanta, and hasn’t lived there since May 2006. Kansas City is home now.

Dayton is a sentimental man, so that stuff matters, but if you just want to talk about baseball then it’s also worth noting that for the most part the people he worked with in Atlanta aren’t there anymore. They’re in Kansas City. Schuerholz is there, but he’s not making big baseball decisions anymore.

Moore’s respect and admiration for David Glass is real. The most important relationship a general manager has is with the owner, and the relationship between Moore and Glass is among the best in the game. Moore has been able to push Glass financially, to get the resources and support he thinks he needs. Glass has been rewarded with a parade, and the relegitimizing of his franchise.

Go to Atlanta, and Moore has to start all over.

Again: nothing’s 100 percent, but I believe Dayton will be here in 2018.

Winning a World Series in Kansas City will almost certainly be the greatest accomplishment of Moore’s professional life. I don’t know what he could do to top that. But it would have to be something more than winning another World Series here, or winning a championship almost anywhere else.

Look, maybe I’m being naive here, because I always say we don’t know any of these people. We don’t really know our neighbors, or our friends, not their deepest thoughts, anyway. So I always want to keep that in mind when we talk about what we know about athletes, coaches, and executives in sports.

But I believe Moore is sincere when he talks about how much baseball in Kansas City is important to him. He moved around a lot as a kid, but spent some formative years in Wichita, rooting for the Royals and getting a sense for how important the Royals were to people in the Midwest.

All of the stuff above about his relationship with Glass is real, and important. He’s a cautious man, by nature. Deliberate. Glass was not the first or even the second owner to ask Moore to be a GM. Moore stayed with the Braves for 12 years. He’s been in Kansas City for 11, and turned down opportunities in other places (including Atlanta).

The Urban Youth Academy matters to him, too. That might sound a little corny, and the place would go on with or without him, but he’s largely been the sweat and energy behind getting that thing built. Leaving now would be difficult, I would think.

They would not.

I do not believe their goal is to rebuild.

Here’s something that’s true: five American League teams finished above .500, and all five are in the postseason.

The bar just isn’t that high anymore.

But I want to be clear about something here. I don’t think the Royals should rebuild, and I don’t think they should go for 2018. I think they need to pick one of those two options.

I don’t know exactly how 2017 would’ve gone if they hadn’t traded Wade Davis for Jorge Soler, but I do know they would’ve been a better team. I don’t know exactly how 2017 would’ve gone if instead of that trade they stretched payroll a little and signed Josh Reddick, but I do know they would’ve been a much better team. None of this is hindsight, either. This was easy to see.

So if the plan is to try to sign Hosmer, and if that doesn’t work out otherwise fill out the roster and see where you are in June or July, I can see the logic there.

But if the plan is to trade away Duffy or someone else valuable, and still try to sell yourselves as trying to compete in 2018, well, I cannot see the logic there.

Following the Royals' final game of the season, the team walks onto the field to watch a video, and Eric Hosmer stops to thank the fans.

No, that’s not how I took it. Mostly because there is nothing to make up your mind about yet. I believe all four believe it’s unlikely they’ll be back, but I also know most of them believed Alex Gordon was gone two years ago, too.

The celebration or show or goodbye — whatever you want to call last weekend — was as much an organizational push as anything else. It’s always been important for this leadership group to celebrate players. To promote players.

As a franchise, the Royals put a lot on that group. Directly and indirectly. Those guys knew as teenagers that a major-league baseball franchise would flounder or rise based on their ability to perform at their sport’s highest level.

Those guys came through in the biggest way imaginable, and this was an organizational thank you.

I have conflicting thoughts about this, too. When it was going on last weekend, I mostly thought the whole thing was pretty strange. I just don’t know how many baseball teams do something like that, with players who are going to be free agents, not retiring. In the moment, it felt like an organizational goodbye. Like, “We know you’re gone, and good for you.”

But I can see a different purpose to it, too. Where else are these guys going to be loved like that? As far as recruiting pitches to stay, it was pretty strong, pulling on emotions and relationships that are real on all sides.

But, yeah. I expect Kansas City will have another chance to thank those players, when they’re back and playing for the other team.

Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar became free agents after the 2017 season. Here are some of the moments that made them the core of the Royals' 2015 World Series championship team.

Nothing like a scientific breakdown.

Hosmer: 16.1 percent. Royals’ chances are if the market doesn’t develop like basically everyone expects, and Hosmer decides to take a little less money. This number is probably higher than I otherwise would have it, but the Royals are serious about trying. I’ll write more about this soon.

Cain: 7.2 percent. Royals’ chances are if the market doesn’t develop, and the biggest offer comes from Kansas City.

Moustakas: 6.8 percent. Royals’ chances are if the market doesn’t develop, and many-many-many industry insiders are wrong about Moustakas’ desire to play closer to his home in Southern California.

Escobar: 38.3 percent. Lot of this depends on what the Royals think of Raul Mondesi, who hit .305/.340/.539 in Omaha this season. We’re all adults here and can see what the sample size means, but he was 29 for 177 (.164) in the big leagues before having that success in Omaha and 5 for 11 in September. Plus, even if they do believe in Mondesi’s bat, there is some thought in the organization he could play center field if Cain goes somewhere else.

Bonus breakdown, because this question came in a few times: which Royals will be inducted to the team Hall of Fame, number retired, or a statue?

I used to think Alex Gordon would have a statue. It’d be cool, too, the moment he pointed to the sky as he rounded first base after the homer off Familia. Sal Perez could have one, leaning over the plate for a slider well outside the strike zone and then somehow pulling it down the third-base line and past Josh Donaldson.

They could do one for Mike Moustakas, too, probably the dugout catch. Eric Hosmer could be the slide home in Game 5, or the air punches after the triple in the 12th inning of the Wild Card Game. Lorenzo Cain could be captured as he jumped in the air after scoring from first against Toronto, the picture that Sports Illustrated put on the cover.

But I’m off that.

I believe there should be one statue, just one, but massive, of the celebration at Citi Field. The strength of this group was never a star, but the collection. If they’re going to do a statue* that’s the one they should do.

*This is a bit of a tangent, and nobody agrees with me, but I actually don’t think statues should be made of living people. Maybe you change the rules in sports, because it’s all commercialism anyway, but there’s just something strange to me about it. Plus, there’s always the risk that you build a statue of Joe Paterno.

Numbers retired: Alex Gordon and Sal Perez. Gordon has stunk for two years, so this probably isn’t a popular choice right now, but he’s had the best Royals career of anyone since George Brett and Frank White. The Royals lost 106 games the year he was drafted, and he made his third straight All-Star game the year they won the World Series.

Perez is going to have the longest career of any of them, I think, and has been such a fixture. Ned Yost will probably get there, too. Most victories in club history. The last manager to win a championship had his number retired, too.

Besides those three, others inducted to the team Hall of Fame: Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas, Escobar, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.

Also, there’s a case for Zack Greinke: one of three Cy Young winners in club history, and I don’t think Royals pitcher has had a better season than his 2009. Even in a relatively short Royals career, he is fifth all-time among pitchers in WAR, and the four above him are all inducted. My favorite argument: it was his demand of a trade, along with a few lucky breaks, that brought Cain and Escobar to Kansas City.

Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar feels part of a family here in Kansas City.

First of all, there are no wrong answers here. Nachos are proof that God exists, and loves us, and wants us to be happy. I love nachos as much as a human can love an inanimate object.

OK, these are the first five that come to mind:

5. Austin’s. The cheese they use is a miracle.

4. Rudy’s. Tostada nachos!

3. Peanut: Real, homemade, delicious chili in the chili cheese nachos (I actually prefer the chili cheese fries, but either way).

2. Kauffman Stadium. How you can you not be happy when you have an adult-sized helmet full of brisket nachos?

1. Granfalloon. Burnt end nachos. I am legitimately incapable of conversation when these are on the table in front of me.

This might mean I’m bad at my job, but even if I owned a damn so tiny it could only be seen by the world’s most powerful microscope I would not give that damn about this scandal.

What are we talking about here? Shoe companies investing money to get the best players? Coaches knowing about it? Kids and their families getting paid?

“We have your playbook,” the FBI agent said.

Yeah, we saw Blue Chips, too, buddy.

How is anyone surprised by this? How is anyone offended by this? The only part of this that offends me in any way is that FBI spent more than a smoke break on this. I am not exaggerating when I say their time would be better spent playing Candy Crush.

The only reason any of this is done, or violates any laws, is because of the NCAA’s outdated, delusional, and exploitative rules. The United States government doesn’t have better things to do?

The only thing that makes sense to me here is if some FBI agents are doing this to get a promotion so they can start working on stuff that actually matters.

You’re asking about KU, and yes, I believe that rules have been broken there because I believe rules have been broken at literally every program in the country big enough to recruit kids good enough for schools to break rules.

Maybe that’s overly cynical, but I want to be clear that when I say rules have been broken I mean it more as a criticism of the pearl-clutching, in-way-over-their-heads, no-no-really-this-is-amateur-sports NCAA.

The NCAA is woefully understaffed to enforce its rules, which just encourages those rules to be broken even more. Instead of punishing humans for responding to incentives, and instead of vice gripping this idea that the athletes most responsible for generating billions of dollars shouldn’t get a more reasonable cut, the NCAA should radically rethink its business model.

That won’t happen, at least not soon, because too many people already have their hands out and are profiting off the current system.

That the the FBI is for some reason now doing the dirty work is an incredibly fortunate break for the NCAA, and an incredibly disappointing development for common sense.

There are good and bad parts of each start time, from a personal perspective.

The primetime games are great the day of the games. Yesterday, I went into the Border Patrol and then to a meeting and was home by about 10 in the morning. Took the kids to the park, and it was legitimately one of the top five trips to the park I’ve ever had with them. They played together, laughed together, JB (the 1 year old) wanting to do everything Sammy (the 3 year old) did and Sammy thinking that was the greatest thing in the world.

We came home, had lunch, put JB down for a nap. Played with Sammy, did some stuff around the house, and was able to say bye to them and the wife before I went to the stadium.

Downside: I was home at 2, asleep at 2:45, and woke up to a random phone call at 7.

The noon games are cool, because you get the first part of the morning with them and can usually get home in time to put them to bed. But you miss the whole day.

The 3 p.m. kickoffs are nice in that you get, basically, a full morning. When I get home, it’s usually early enough that my wife is still up, and it’s a regular night’s sleep. All things considered, that’s probably the best one.

But, yeah. Being able to spend basically the entire day with your kids without it being a day off is pretty sweet.

Just give me more coffee.

You have me down correctly.

I actually don’t like wine. At all. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I haven’t found the right kind, or maybe I don’t know how to drink it, maybe I should give it another chance. Red, white, rose, I really don’t like any of it.

But: if you like wine, and you like barbecue, and the two make you happy, then anyone who says you shouldn’t have the two together can go kick rocks.

My hesitation — and, again, I say this as someone who doesn’t drink wine — is that barbecue is a lot like Mexican food in that it makes me drink a lot. You sort of need to wash your mouth out, big sips, and if you don’t have a water or Coke with you things could get interesting.

But, you’re probably more sensible than I am.

I basically drink four things and four things only: beer, whiskey, water, and coffee. Sometimes I drink whiskey in the summer, and sometimes I drink wheat beers in the winter.

There are no rules, is what I’m saying. Drink what makes you happy.

I don’t know how to see the imagines and hear and read about a man killing more than 50 and wounding hundreds of random people with a machine gun without feeling a mix of anger, sadness, helplessness, fear, confusion, and so much else.

What too many are going through in recovering from hurricanes is worse than anything that’s happened to me in a life I know I’m fortunate to have. Every day, you can read about random tragedy that wrecks a life or lives.

There is no way to fully process any of that, I don’t think, but I also don’t believe that seeing those horrific images and hearing those awful stories means I shouldn’t take my kids to the park and have as much fun with them as possible.

About four months ago, I began finishing this weekly silliness with something I’m grateful for. The motivation was the death of my mom, who never took happiness for granted, with the hope that if I shared something positive it might lead to others thinking about the good in their lives, too.

I love so much about my job, but one of my absolute favorites has been hearing from so many of you about what you’re grateful for. I’ve heard from parents whose children are dealing with terrible health scares, and I’ve heard from people who took a long weekend to be with their friends. I’ve heard from men going through divorce, and I’ve heard from women who just got engaged.

Some weeks it’s just one or two people. Others, many more. I look forward to it, every week. Those are my favorite emails, particularly the ones from people going through rough times but still able to think about the good. Those are the most important times to do it.

We all have frustrations, we all have fears, and we all have successes. It’s very easy to get wrapped up into fears and frustrations, to think about what we don’t have rather than what we do. That happens to all of us, and it’s healthy to deal with all of that, to confront it.

But I believe most of us don’t spend anywhere close to enough time thinking about the good. About everything. A spouse you love, a child who made you laugh or proud or both. A dog who’s day is constantly made just by you coming home. Good coffee. Friends you can make fun, debate social issues, and talk to about anything. Fruit Loops. Peanut butter and jelly. A house, good neighbors, great family. Cooler weather. High-speed internet. Netflix. A good pillow. A car that works. A good run. Hearing from a friend. A good exterminator.

This is such a small thing, but I want to share it. The other night, JB wasn’t sleeping. I went in there, thought I had him down, but nope. My wife went in there, thought she had him down, but nope. I tried again, nope, and at that point I just took him downstairs and laid on the couch.

It was 3 in the morning. I just wanted to sleep. Eventually, we did, and there really is no better sleep than the sleep you get with a kid passed out on your chest. But then, no joke, the fridge started beeping. Starting beeping a loud, constant, impossible-to-sleep-through beep. It went out.

Now, at that moment, I had a choice. I could be frustrated that I wasn’t sleeping, and angry about the fridge. Or, I could remember the sleep with JB on my chest, and be thankful that the fridge didn’t wake him up and that we could call someone to fix it the next day.

It’s an imperfect analogy, for a lot of reasons, including that I struggle every day with this stuff and too often let insignificant annoyances bother me more than they should.

But I’m sharing it because I bet that if you think about it, you’ve done something similar lately and your day was so much better because of it.

This week, I’m particularly grateful for that refrigerator repairman. He was at our house inside of an hour, and so dang nice.

Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star: 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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