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At 3-5, Chiefs still eyeing playoffs

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The Sports Xchange

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Cue the old tape of former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Mora Sr. talking after a poor performance by his team, and asked about the potential for postseason play.

“Playoffs? Don’t talk to me about playoffs,” Mora bellowed. “You kidding me. Playoffs?”

In most seasons, those words could have been used to describe the situation surrounding the Kansas City Chiefs (3-5). Only a few weeks ago after losing five consecutive games, the Chiefs stood 1-5 and thinking about the postseason was folly.

But below undefeated New England, Denver and Cincinnati, the AFC is a pool of mediocrity and after stringing together two victories heading into their bye week, the Chiefs are only one game out of the conference’s second wildcard spot.

Andy Reid is not the type of NFL head coach who will screech like Mora when talking to the media about his team’s future. The theme is always the same: more hard work is needed.

“There’s things we can get better at,” Reid said. “We’re not nearly as good as we possibly can be, so we’ve got to keep working. That’s the challenge for all of us, players and coaches.

“We can all improve and get better, there’s plenty to see on tape for that to learn from.”

The Chiefs’ two-game winning streak came against a Pittsburgh team without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a Detroit club that will compete over the second-half of the 2015 season for the first selection of the 2016 NFL Draft.

Still, all that is meaningless when a team is trying to end a long losing streak and return to a projected role as a contender.

Whether Kansas City has returned to that point will be seen over the next five games, with four of those in the AFC West and three on the road.

Ahead are trips to Denver and San Diego, then a weekend at home against Buffalo, before a trip to Oakland. By the time November turns to December, everyone will have a much better handle on exactly what the Chiefs can make of this season.

According to STATS, 280 teams started 3-5 in NFL history; 15 rallied to make the playoffs.

The Chiefs franchise has started the season 3-5 six times before this season, and did not make the playoffs in any of those years (1961, 1974, 1976, 1985, 1989 and 2004.) Only the ’89 team finished the year with a winning record at 8-7-1.

Translation: no matter the quality of the conference, they have a long road ahead of them if they want to play into January.

“I feel like the confidence has always been there,” tight end Travis Kelce said of the locker room vibe. “It’s just going out there and doing it. Obviously, we have had some mixed pieces in the offensive line, and at wide out.

“In the beginning we had some guys banged up. But no excuses to that. The teams we played definitely came to play and kudos to them. But at the same time, we have a confidence in that locker room.”

Kelce mentioned “mixed pieces” along the Chiefs offensive line and without a doubt that’s where they have struggled to perform. In eight games, they’ve had five different starting groups, with only rookie center Mitch Morse playing in his spot for all games.

The Chiefs have one of the bottom four pass protection units in the league, allowing 29 sacks in 299 passing plays. Quarterback Alex Smith has been bruised and battered, starting the season with three interceptions in the first three games.

Smith now has gone five games without throwing it to the other team, and overall in the last five games the Chiefs have only two giveaways.

Defensively, Kansas City has picked up the pace in forcing turnovers. In the first four games, the Chiefs had only three takeaways, but have generated eight in the four most recent games.

The Chiefs are plus-three in the turnover ratio, and there are only seven teams with higher plus ratio.

As with most NFL teams, the Chiefs have dealt with their share of injuries, losing their No. 1 offensive weapon when running back Jamaal Charles tore the ACL in his right knee.

Kansas City also lost Phillip Gaines to a torn ACL; he was one of the club’s top three cornerbacks. Offensive line injuries have slowed that group’s development.

Still, here they are, sitting 3-5 and they can realistically say they are still in the race for a spot in the postseason.

“I think they’ve just stuck together,” Reid said. “You’ve seen young guys get better. … We’ve probably got more young guys playing for us than anybody in the league and they’ve continually gotten better.

“They’ve had the veteran support there, in a positive way for them. And then some of the guys that were banged up or sick they’ve continued to get better every week. That’s important.”

Reid never outwardly reached for the panic button when the club couldn’t win a game. There were no coaching staff changes, and with the exception of the offensive line, there was little in the way of changes to the starting lineup. He feels everybody stepped up their performance, especially the guys in the locker room.

“The players have upped it,” Reid said. “Not that you’re not going to get beat every once in a while; that happens in his league. We’re playing against good players. Best in the world, right? So, they keep battling. They’re not letting things get them down at all.”


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