Even in first, this Chiefs team hard to judge


The Kansas City Star

The most improbable first-place team in the NFL has time to contemplate how it arrived at the top of the AFC’s Western Division.

The Chiefs, 4-3 and alone in first after Sunday’s 12-10 win over the Raiders in Oakland, don’t play again until meeting Green Bay on Nov. 4 at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chiefs could spend years researching this particular topic and not come up with a coherent explanation. They are the NFL’s only division leader, for example, to have allowed more points than it scored.

The only other team with a winning record to fall into that category is 4-2 Detroit, and the Lions are hardly company that a team with playoff aspirations wants to keep.

The Chiefs, though, aren’t inclined to spend any time at all looking into it. They’re more interested in where they’re going.

“We’re in first place, but that’s not the key,” coach Herm Edwards said. “The key is what we’re going to look like in December. Where are we going to be sitting in December?”

There’s no way of telling that, either, given the great divergence of their play over the first seven games. If making the right plays near the end of close games is the mark of a good team, the Chiefs might be great.

They fished potential losses against Minnesota, San Diego and Oakland out of the fire with clutch fourth-quarter heroics from a variety of sources both expected and unexpected.

“We’ve been finding ways to win games,” Edwards said. “It’s not just trying to outscore people. It’s not just shutting people out defensively. The mind-set of this team has to be knowing how to win multiple ways.”

If losing one-sided games is the mark of a truly bad team, the Chiefs might be putrid. Houston and Jacksonville dominated the Chiefs almost from the start, and the final margin in those games didn’t indicate the true nature of the beating.

The Chiefs have trailed at some point in every one of their games, and by at least 10 points in five of them. Again, no other division leader can make that claim, and even many losing teams can’t.

The true Chiefs are probably somewhere in between those extremes. But that’s a wide spectrum, and at some point the Chiefs have stopped along every inch of it.

“I think we can improve in certain areas,” Edwards said. “But we’re probably going to play like we’ve played. There are going to be games where it’s not very pretty and we win defensively. And there are going to be some games like San Diego and against Cincinnati where we score 27 or 30 points. We’ll find a way to win games, which is important. We’ve been in all types of games. We’ve come from behind. We’ve had a lead.

“For the most part, our team is coming together. We’re growing. Our road record is .500 now, which is pretty good for us. We’ve won two division games on the road.”

One thing the Chiefs have been able to count on is their defense. Statistically, it’s not among the best in the league, but it has allowed the Chiefs to hang around in almost every game.

“They’re playing pretty consistently, which is what you want,” Edwards said. “Now, we’re not exactly where we want to be. But I tell you what, they’re keeping the score down, and that’s given us a chance to win.
There are some games we’ve struggled on offense. No need to sugarcoat that. And we could struggle again tomorrow. But now the players are realizing that even if we struggle some, we’re going to be in the game. If we can just make a play or two, we can win the game.”

The Chiefs are benefiting from playing in a division that while not the worst in the league — at one-under .500 collectively, it’s fifth among the eight — is down from what it’s been in recent seasons.

The preseason favorites are finally showing signs of life. The Chargers have won two straight since losing to the Chiefs, and the Broncos beat Pittsburgh on Sunday night. Each team is 3-3 and could tie the Chiefs for first place by winning this week.

“Going into the year, you’d have felt if we were 4-3 right now we might be a game out, or two games out with all (the talent) San Diego has,” Edwards said.
“But San Diego didn’t get off to a fast start. Nobody did in our division.”