If this Chiefs season has taught us anything, it’s that none of their past performances is an assurance — or necessarily even related to — future results.
That explains how the team that sizzled to a 5-0 start could fizzle into facing a crucial AFC West showdown Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium against the Los Angeles Chargers — who began the season 0-4.
It’s why you couldn’t know what to count on even after they got back on their feet and dusted themselves off a week ago with a win over Oakland.
And now it speaks to how they disposed of the scalding-hot Chargers 30-13 in a pulsating Arrowhead to move within one win of salvaging a playoff berth and the new season that comes with it.
Who knows what the ceiling is … or the floor is?
“No question, these were a big two weeks,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “They just get bigger, though, right? I think all of us realize how things can flip — either way, right? …
“We just want to keep the edge we’re playing with, keep that mentality. … Just try to keep it going.”
That’s a statement in itself considering where they’d been going.
But two weeks after they’d lost for the sixth time in seven games, facing what was effectively a two-game playoff for the pole position into the postseason, the reinvigorated Chiefs built on last week’s victory for their 15th win in their last 16 divisional games and eighth in a row over the Chargers.
Putting together another complete game that seemed out of their grasp during their funk, they did it with many of the elements that mysteriously had gone dormant … if not doomed to be missing altogether for the rest of the season.
With the resumption of more imaginative defensive schemes by coordinator Bob Sutton and a spark from the return of Marcus Peters from a one-game suspension, the defense created heat for Los Angeles quarterback Philip Rivers (especially in the first half) and generated four turnovers.
Three of those were at the hands of Peters, who had two interceptions, including one for a 62-yard return, and stripped loose a fumble — after which he appeared to uncork a Spider-Man pose in celebration.
Meanwhile, behind revived rookie running back Kareem Hunt (206 total yards, 155 rushing) and a stellar effort by Smith, including a 64-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill, the offense was every bit as potent as it was during much of the early season and flashed a certain raw energy perhaps embodied in Smith blocking for Hunt on an option run near the goal line.
“Hey, did you see that?” Hunt said, smiling and adding, “I’m like, ‘Al, you all right throwing that block like that? Don’t do that; I got you.’
More seriously, he added, “But it means he wants to win. That’s a quarterback who wants to win.”
Suddenly, the last couple of games make the Great November Disappearing Act all the more bizarre.
Except for after that it’s also hard to simply assume that everything is fixed for good and that the Chiefs will, say, win out and conjure playoff optimism again.
Then again, Saturday night made for both an exhale for the Chiefs and their fans and reason to consider what might yet be made of this season.
Because the Chiefs are doing what they had to do when they had to do it.
“We are actually clicking in the later part of the season,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said, “and that’s when you really want to be clicking.”
So maybe coach Andy Reid and the team learned a little something about themselves in the process of nearly having the season frittered away.
One way or another, though, their formula for success has been reaffirmed.
They’re at their best when Hunt is a focal point of the offense, which has been a renewed point of emphasis both in terms of how Reid is prioritizing him but also in simplifying overly exotic blocking schemes.
They’re at their best when Smith is willing — and given the latitude to — air it out to Hill.
They’re at their best when Sutton gets creative with his defense, which set a tone with Eric Murray’s safety blitz and sack on Rivers early in the game — especially notable since Rivers had been sacked an NFL-low 15 times entering the game.
And they’re at their best, lest you doubted with Peters out last week for the 26-15 win over Oakland, with him playing.
Much like the course of this season, of course, the game was a study in momentum swings until the Chiefs put their final signature on it down the stretch.
The Chiefs got the start they needed, unleashing early pressure on Rivers and surviving what might have been a disastrous misplay on a punt that went off the back of Daniel Sorensen and was recovered by Orson Charles for the Chiefs on the way to a 10-0 second-quarter lead.
That came on the touchdown pass to Hill by Smith — who was 13 of 17 for 182 yards in the half, with all four incompletions going off the hands of his targets.
But after a Melvin Gordon touchdown cut it to 10-6, the Chiefs failed to capitalize on a late first-half opportunity when kicker Harrison Butker had a rare miss (from 52 yards out) and went three and out to open the second half.
With the window flung open, Rivers dissected the Chiefs defense, going four for four for 88 yards to stake the Chargers to a 13-10 lead on a 10-yard TD pass to Antonio Gates.
Maybe the next series wasn’t make-or-break for the Chiefs’ season, but it was a fine time for a 12-play, 69-yard, 7-minute 13-second drive to retake the lead on Smith’s 3-yard pass to Hunt.
And an even better time for Peters to then return an interception 62 yards to set up another ripe opportunity.
Again reminiscent of the season itself, the Chiefs couldn’t immediately bear the prosperity, fizzling thusly after Hunt’s 5-yard run to the 1-yard-line and settling for another Butker field goal and a 20-13 lead.
But then they were the best version of themselves and simply wore down and smothered the Chargers to further distance themselves from the looming prospect of becoming just the sixth team since the adoption of the current playoff format in 2002 to start the season 5-0 and not make the playoffs.
And with that, they’ve reset their trajectory.
Even if it’s toward an end that’s utterly unpredictable, at least it’s one for which there’s ample reason to stay tuned.