So the Chiefs are 4-0 for just the third time since their inception in Dallas in 1960. And the most conspicuous reason is a harsh and dynamic defense that has surrendered 41 points all season (39 discounting a safety) after allowing 136 through four games last season.
That force appears all the more essential to the reversal of fortune when you consider this: Even after the 31-7 straitjacketing of the New York Giants on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs’ offense has generated 81 points five fewer than it had put up through four games a year ago, when you account for two defensive touchdowns and a special teams TD.
But this isn’t about a defense carrying an offense.
Because it’s more intricate and sophisticated than that.
It’s about something, well, holistic, which is a word I remember Clark Hunt using recently and forcing me to look up.
“Relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis, treatment of or dissection into parts,” is one of the definitions provided by the dictionary.
Which in this case is to say: All of this is flowing together right now as part of a broader scheme that is hyper-consciously integrating together all three elements of the game, including special teams.
As simplistic as the notion might seem, and as much lip-service as the mantra gets that each aspect of the game is equally important, the Chiefs are winning under Andy Reid because they truly honor that and are leveraging and contouring their game accordingly.
So the formula, and thus far the games, too, go like this:
Because the defense borders on the spectacular, the offense can take the tack of being sound and efficient without reckless gambles or even many low-percentage passes.
Shazam, the Chiefs have 12 takeaways to three turnovers this season, in contrast to the 2-15 ratio they were swamped by at this time a year ago.
And because punter Dustin Colquitt is going to plop most of his kicks inside the 20 (2 of 5 on Sunday, 15 of 26 this season), and because the return game is capable of explosive plays, the Chiefs have other major reasons to make use of a patient, field position-based philosophy.
With those forces enhancing, or at least buffeting, the offense, quarterback Alex Smith can be a conductor, or caretaker, if you must.
But that plays to his strengths, including ball security and avoiding big sacks, and it’s made him very much a key player in this resurgence.
“I thought he was dead-on today other than the turnovers,” Reid said.
And he was right when he said the turnovers, including a bad snap, a pinballed deflection and an apparent miscommunication on a route, were “a little crazy.”
“As a quarterback,” Smith said, smiling, “there are interceptions you can control and there’s ones that aren’t your fault. I wasn’t throwing into a town meeting of defenders. (They were) things that are easily corrected.”
Besides, as it happened, each was nullified by the defense forcing three-and-outs.
Between those saves and having three turnovers generated back to it, the offense basically executed exactly what the Chiefs sought and needed.
It chiseled out a 10-7 halftime lead with a 98-yard drive and a 51-yard field goal. It was buoyed by the defense in the third quarter and revived after Dexter McCluster’s 89-yard punt return made it 17-7 entering the fourth quarter which for the third straight week was marked by a magically methodical drive to put the game away.
This time, it was a 14-play, 80-yard march that consumed 9:17 and ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Jamaal Charles.
The floodgates opened a series later when the Chiefs converted an Eli Manning fumble into a relatively extravagant 34-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Dwayne Bowe for the Chiefs’ second-longest play from scrimmage this season and a career-high-tying third TD pass for Smith.
That accounted for a lopsided final score despite what might have been seen as an uneven day by the offense, enough so that Reid seemed just a smidgen huffy by the time he finished answering a question about the offense’s struggles.
“We were able to put together a couple of points,” he said, “enough to barely squeak by.”
But the game was no blowout until the fourth quarter, and it’s hard to know how it might have played out if not for McCluster’s return, which came only after a crucial challenge of a spot on Manning’s 17-yard pass to Victor Cruz that initially was ruled good for a first down.
Yet that’s also part of the point: Each little moment is part of the whole.
On the challenge, for instance, Reid trusted his “coaches upstairs,” who were “very accurate” with what they saw.
Then McCluster whirled and juked for the fourth-longest punt return in Chiefs history with a boost from a thicket of blockers.
That changed the game, and the Chiefs adapted to the moment.
Then came the back-breaking drive, which featured a somewhat predictable figure of nine touches by running back Jamaal Charles but was paved by an offensive line minus two injured starters (Eric Fisher and Jeff Allen).
Asked if he were at a point where he could count on such drives late in the game, Reid said, “There are a lot of things that I don’t know, but I do know this. We’re a tough bunch. We’ll keep battling.”
There’s a lot these Chiefs may not be able to do, such as getting in an offensive track meet, and Reid knows that, too.
But they also can keep maximizing the way their strengths complement each other. And those strengths go beyond just the most obvious.