There is always a rush to label teams in the NFL. Are they contenders? Are they elite? Or, as many have wondered about the once 9-0 Chiefs, are they frauds?
The truth is that we really don't know much of anything about this Kansas City team anymore, with that unbeaten start giving way to back-to-back losses, one in Denver and one at home on Sunday vs. San Diego.
The former was understandable, the latter utterly confusing. The Chiefs built that nine-game win streak on the strength of the NFL's top-ranked defense, even mostly keeping Peyton Manning and the Broncos in check last week. But Sunday, with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali suffering injuries in the first half, the Chiefs went on to cough up 495 yards, 41 points and a late game-winning touchdown drive by Phillip Rivers in a 41-38 loss.
Making this latest loss more baffling: A Kansas City offense that was believed to be its team's Achilles heel hung 38 points on the board, with Alex Smith firing an absolute dart to Dwayne Bowe for what looked like it might be the game-winning TD with 1:28 left.
So, the Chiefs offense might be far better than some folks thought. And the defense, particularly in its slightly battered state, does appear to have some cracks.
Add those facts together, and the result is a 9-2 Chiefs team that's still as much of an enigma as any in football.
Perhaps the most pressing question of all out of Sunday's game will be directed at Andy Reid: Why did he stop the clock before a 1st-and-goal at the San Diego 5 with 1:28 left, just prior to Smith's TD pass to Bowe? Reid later explained that he stopped the clock in an attempt to calm his team down, but that decision saved San Diego a timeout of its own -- one that the Chargers later used with 31 seconds left to set up Rivers' dramatic touchdown pass to Seyi Ajirotutu.
The Chiefs might be able to lose out and still make the playoffs, with the AFC wild-card chase a complete mess. They had their sights set on bigger goals in the regular season, like an AFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Those outcomes are still possible and the perception of Kansas City could swing all the way back the other direction next week should Reid's team earn revenge on the Broncos. Of course, that's why the rush to judgement is so silly in the first place, particularly since the NFL decides it champ on the field come January and February.
What we do know is this: The defensive performance Kansas City turned in Sunday against San Diego is nowhere near good enough to beat Denver in Week 13 or to make any extended playoff run.
There are reasons to believe this Chiefs team could be a Super Bowl contender, just as there are now a growing number of examples for why they'll fall flat. We may as well save the labels for the end of the season, though, because the Chiefs have slipped into a bit of a schizophrenic slump. Whether they're better or worse than first anticipated is irrelevant. All that matters right now is that they are a struggling team needing to rediscover its first-half mojo.