Vahe Gregorian

Chiefs make their own luck by preparing for opportunities

So the Chiefs are 8-0, but boy, they sure are lucky, some are grousing.

As if that diminishes the fact they’re the only undefeated team in the NFL. Or suggests that it’s all a whim of fate or mere smoke and mirrors.

And look, there’s no denying these Chiefs have been charmed.

They’ve prospered by being remarkably injury-free and by so far playing eight teams without a current winning record and a cumulative slate of 20-41.

And it seems hard to account for such jackpots as that fluky Marcus Cooper touchdown at Tennessee, the one that came after a Chiefs punt caromed off an oblivious Titan.

For that matter, next week’s game at Buffalo (3-5) will mark the fourth time in five games the Chiefs will be playing a team forced to make a change at quarterback for one reason or another.

But if you want to understand how luck and the Chiefs really have melded this season, indulge us in a cliche about the dynamic:

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Hokum? Decide for yourself.

But here’s the case in point from the Chiefs’ 23-17 win over Cleveland on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, and it speaks to much of the team’s self-made fortune just a year after everything seemed so cursed.

It’s midway through the fourth quarter, and the Browns have condensed a 13-0 lead to 20-17.

Amid clamping down the Chiefs to a measly 50 yards in the second half, Cleveland has the fading Chiefs punting from their own 10.

If there is really such a thing as momentum, it was firmly in Cleveland’s clutches.

And as Dustin Colquitt’s punt was descending at the Cleveland 49, the vibe was starting to feel a bit like it did Saturday night at Faurot Field, where MU blew a 17-0 lead in the fourth quarter and lost 27-24 in double overtime.

Then Cleveland’s Davone Bess blessed the Chiefs with a muffed punt. This, from a player acquired for his hands and in the game for the injured Travis Benjamin.

“It changed the game, I believe,” safety Eric Berry said.

But not just because he muffed it.

Because the Chiefs recovered it – just as they recovered when their own Dexter McCluster muffed one in the second quarter.

“You never know what’s going to happen, so you’ve got to play hard,” McCluster said, referring, really, to both plays. “If a guy was jogging or loafing on that play, the ball might have been in their hands.”

Instead, consider what happened after the ball popped out and skipped around and frenzied players tried to pounce on it and inflicted who knows what to each other at the bottom of a heap.

That’s where Chiefs reserve linebacker Frank Zombo went to work, thus positioned after simply staying in his lane and doing the job right even with no real expectation that the ball would squirt loose.

“Especially in the fourth quarter, we’re only up by three points, it’s 50 yard line,” he said. “It’s one of those do-or-die kind of situations.”

And Zombo wasn’t going to come up short.

“At the bottom of the pile, you’re just literally wrestling,” he said. “It was a pretty cool experience. It’s kind of like both of us had it, and it was like wrestling back and forth.

“It felt like it was just one man against another man, who’s going to come out with that ball? And I wasn’t going to go to sleep knowing that I was the man who lost that battle.”

Especially not with the edge he believed he had.

“I think it’s all the biceps and triceps (weight-lifting) we do on Friday with Barry Rubin,” the strength and conditioning coach, Zombo said. “Basically, it was just a bicep curl getting that ball out of there.”

It wasn’t necessarily the most pivotal play of Zombo’s career, which has included a sack in Super Bowl XLV against Pittsburgh.

But it was plenty crucial to the cause on Sunday, and it also was indicative of a mentality that distinguishes this team.

It counts on making its own luck.

“You’ve just got to make it happen,” cornerback Brandon Flowers said. “Last year, the ball didn’t bounce our way. This year, we feel like we’ve got to take it by force.”

To whatever degree that kind of mindset can be influenced, it was instilled during the offseason by coach Andy Reid and his staff, Berry said.

Expect opportunities. Expect to make breaks.

“We don’t know where these plays are going to come from,” Berry said. “We don’t know if it’s going to be offense, defense (or) special teams.

“But we all expect them. We expect them to come from someone, and everybody expects to make plays.”

Maybe it really is better to be lucky than good.

But at least entering the second half of their schedule, which features five games against teams with winning records and an overall mark of 33-24, the Chiefs have been both.

And it’s hardly unrelated.

“It was on our side today, luck definitely was,” McCluster said.

But he smiled and added another time-honored definition of the concept.

“I think the harder we work,” he said, “the more things like that happen.”

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