KANSAS CITY, Mo.— Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs believe in themselves implicitly, despite the histories of both Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs: Fifty years for the franchise, a head coaching lifetime for Reid. They can’t and he can’t, right? How many times have you heard that? But they just made Super Bowl LIV in Miami, and are the early favorite to win it.
The Tennessee Titans believed for two months that they could beat anybody, but the Chiefs had dibs on self-confidence. The mood in the winning locker room at Arrowhead Stadium fell a few yards short of jubilance. As Chiefs receiver DeMarcus Robinson said: “It’s a special step, honestly. And we expected to do this, also.”
To understand this mindset, go back to one year ago, to the moment that seemed to solidify that Reid (20 years without a Super Bowl) and the Chiefs (half a century) were just not meant to be the last team standing. They intercepted Tom Brady and would have eliminated the Patriots to reach the Super Bowl except Dee Ford lined up offside. Remember: He did not jump offside. He lined up there. The Chiefs lost in overtime without a chance to possess the ball, and afterward Reid told his devastated players, “Just remember this feeling.”
And so they used it as fuel, all season long. But then this week, they were right back in the AFC Championship game, and Robinson said he didn’t even think about it. Surely some players did. But thinking about it too much might have led them to expect a repeat.
The Chiefs relax in part because, as quarterback Patrick Mahomes said, Reid “lets you be who you are. He lets you play the way you want to play.” And they believe largely because of Mahomes. There has never been a quarterback quite like him.
When you have a guy like that, you always have a chance. Reid doesn’t have to say it. Mahomes doesn’t flaunt it. But everybody knows it. They knew it last week, when they fell behind the Texans 24-0, and they knew it this week when they fell behind the Titans, 10-0. They came back and won 35-24.
“He’s the driving force for this team,” guard Mitchell Schwartz said. “As he goes, we go. We all know that. He knows that. So if anything, it’s kind of normal, in a weird way.”
Mahomes plays with the kind of easy swagger that infects a whole organization. He is far from the only reason the Chiefs win. They have a deep, talented roster. But he gives the Chiefs a margin for error that nobody else in the NFL has. Even the Ravens, as good as they were, could not fall behind 24-0 and expect to come back. And the 49ers, as good as they are, are built on the running game. They can’t do it, either.
The Chiefs feel like they can do it every game. It’s tempting to say they had confidence this week because of what happened last week. (As Schwartz said of the 10-0 deficit, “It wasn’t 24, so that was pretty good.”) But they obviously believed last week, too.
The Chiefs beat the Titans on a day that was so bitterly cold that many Chiefs fans cut their tailgate times from five hours to four hours and 45 minutes. They did it with Mahomes running for a touchdown and throwing for three more, and with an easy confidence that suddenly feels normal around here.
As you will hear from many people in the next two weeks, this Chiefs run is not entirely a feel-good story. Google “Tyreek Hill” and “Frank Clark” and “LeSean McCoy” and you’ll understand why. The Chiefs chose to acquire and stand by some great players with ugly pasts, and that’s part of their story.
But there are also a lot of good people who feel great today. Kansas City was a desperate, anguished football town when Reid showed up in 2013. That’s what happens in places that care so much but don’t win championships. Cleveland. Detroit. Buffalo. You start to think you’re not supposed to win.
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In walked Reid. He had his own tortured history: Five conference championship games as coach of the Eagles and only one victory, leading to a late comeback attempt that fell short in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Patriots. And in Reid’s first playoff game as Kansas City’s coach, the Chiefs blew a 38-10 lead to Andrew Luck and the Colts.
But Reid does not seem desperate or anguished. He owns the reputation of somebody who can’t win the big one, but he does not carry it to work. When the Eagles fired him, there was never any indication he would take a year off. He loves his job and it shows. But he understands players play for love and money more than loyalty to a head coach. He is that rare being: A player’s coach who commands respect.
Reid has always been an excellent coach, and in Kansas City he has famously incorporated some innovative offensive strategies from the college game. Marry his brain with Mahomes’s talent and drive, and what do you have? Well, listen to left tackle Taylor Lewan.
Lewan plays for the Titans, not the Chiefs. He missed the first four games of this year after testing positive for the banned substance ostarine. (Unknowingly, he says.) Lewan came back and committed an assortment of penalties. He said the problem was, “I tried to do too much. I thought I could be this giant answer for all the woes we had on offense. The reality is, that’s not the case. I don’t play that position.”
Mahomes does play that position. You can have a lot of good players, but there is nothing like having a great quarterback. Andy Reid understood that before it was as obvious as it is now. Remember, in 1999, he and the Eagles drafted Donovan McNabb when all of Philly seemed to want running back Ricky Williams. McNabb was a great player in his prime: scrambling, creating, making afternoons miserable for defensive coordinators. Mahomes has a different style, but the same effect—only magnified, because he is a better player.
Mahomes does two things that Reid values: He expertly runs Reid’s offense, and he is himself.
“I don’t want to say ‘backyard football’ because that sounds like an insult when I really mean it as a compliment,” Lewan said. “But you know, football is a hard sport. And pressure can get on top of you a lot. And it takes a unique individual to go out with so much confidence, believing they can do anything. Patrick possesses that.”
The Chiefs are heading to the Super Bowl, their third in 54 tries. Andy Reid is heading to the Super Bowl, his second in 20 tries. Patrick Mahomes is heading to the Super Bowl, his first in two tries since becoming the starter. Those numbers tell you what matters most in this sport. For a hungry city and a brilliant coach, this win was a long time coming. For a breathtaking quarterback, it didn’t take long at all.
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