I’ll admit it. I jumped the gun. The overwhelming reaction to the Chiefs victory over Buffalo in the AFC Divisional Round had me thinking of a much bigger picture than I should have. It’s a fact that at their best, Kansas City can beat anyone because when it’s clicking, no one slows down Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, a retooled offensive line and several other solid contributors.
The Chiefs also have one of the best coaching staffs in the league spearheaded by Andy Reid. They play their home games in one of the best environments in the NFL and have the backing from their front office to keep this run of good form going if they keep the core contributors intact. None of them appeared to matter in the second half of Sunday’s AFC Championship game. The Bengals quieted KC like it had done to so many other NFL teams and will play the Rams in the Super Bowl LVI in less than two weeks.
I shouldn’t have looked past Joe Burrow, who makes the 2019-20 team at LSU look that much more impressive as its Heisman Trophy-winning ambassador. He’s basically running the same offense with similar weapons including two-time fierce feline teammate Ja’Marr Chase. And there are a ton of playmakers on the Bengals defense, who can back up their second-year quarterback during the rare slip-up. And I watched Evan McPherson kick in the Southeastern Conference. He’s a monster. It’s not cocky to celebrate a game-winning field goal in two straight weeks before kicking it if you made both.
Truth is, the Chiefs were too inconsistent this season to be runaway champions and that should’ve been recognized by those of us who cover the sport. The residual effects will be felt for at least a year on Missouri’s west side. Knowing how Kansas City general manager Brett Veach has operated in the past, there was already a plan in place in case the Chiefs lost on Sunday to try and better the franchise. It’s still a team with one championship after making it past regulation of the AFC Championship game for four straight seasons.
The Chiefs aren’t in danger of losing any major pieces this offseason and they’re still one of the most desirable teams to play for in the NFL. If any losses do occur, that charm luring free agents close to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and delicious barbecue shouldn’t be difficult. An entire revamp can’t take place due to the right combination of factors beating you. Kansas City still only lost by a field goal. If it doesn’t try for the touchdown and opts for a field goal before halftime, Harrison Butker’s kick to end regulation is to win, not to send the game to overtime.
In diagnosing where the Chiefs fit in the NFL’s future regardless of Super Bowl result, the route to another championship appears harder than it did four months ago. That’s why cashing in now with the rest of the AFC figuring out quarterback problems quicker than expected was crucial. I believe Mahomes is still the best quarterback in the league. It’s easier to rein in someone with his skill set than trying to bring out any amazing qualities from a lackluster quarterback. Just ask the soon-to-be-former Washington Football Team, the franchise the Chiefs traded Alex Smith to so Mahomes could run the show.
The last quarterback to be Washington’s primary starter for more than three seasons in a row was also the last signal caller to lead the team to a Super Bowl. In 1992, in Mark Rypien. Gus Frerotte, Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell, Robert Griffin III, and Kirk Cousins all had a trio of seasons to prove they had a shot at doing what Mahomes and now a decent amount of current AFC starters did this season, give their teams hope. They all weren’t consistent enough. And now some in The District want the other losing quarterback from this weekend, Jimmy Garoppolo, to be their new “commander” after a fourth straight season using at least three starting quarterbacks.
Burrow, Justin Herbert, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson are all in the Chiefs’ way to another Super Bowl. And the field may only grow with the development of Mac Jones, Tua Tagovailoa and whoever the Steelers pick up or draft. Although the Chiefs don’t have a quarterback problem in the slightest, the rest of their conference made several strides this season to derail a possible dynasty. It may prove to already be off the tracks if a further regression takes place in 2022.
Again, I got too far ahead of myself in saying that the Chiefs were likely to have a party at SoFi Stadium at the end of next weekend. I don’t want to have an equal but opposite reaction in the other direction calling what Veach helped build in Kansas City off course either. It is still incredibly well positioned to make a deep run again next year, as it did even in the turbulent 2021 campaign. Avoid repeating those speed bumps will be integral to stave off deja vu.