It’s fun for the national pundits to throw tomatoes at the Kansas City Chiefs’ 9-0 start. For one, they’re the Chiefs, a franchise that has a Packers/Steelers-level fan following — without the Packers/Steelers post-1970 trophy case to go with it. Over the past 40 years, the boys in red have built up a reputation as one of the great teases in pro sports. That’s their fault, their legacy, their burden, the one they’re trying like hell to shake.
And, yeah, Kansas City has beaten only one foe (Dallas) with a winning record.
And, sure, the Chiefs have survived the past five quarterbacks, in chronological order: Ryan Fitzpatrick (Tennessee), Terrelle Pryor (Oakland), Case Keenum (Houston), Jason Campbell (Cleveland) and now, Jeff Tuel (Buffalo). Murderers’ row, it ain’t.
But the notion that the NFL’s last unbeaten record is all smoke and mirrors is, to be blunt, happy horse crap.
Heading into Sunday, the (then 8-0) Chiefs had tallied a power rating — called “Simple Rating System” — of 6.6, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. While that power number was lower than the last Kansas City team to open a season at 9-0 — the 2003 squad posted an 8.3 — it’s still a better rating than at least two other NFL teams over the past 25 years to open with the same record: The 1990 49ers (rating of 5.8) and the 2009 Colts (5.9).
So, no, kids, they aren’t the “worst.”
Not even close.
Now that’s not to say they’re the prettiest, either, as Sunday’s 23-13 survival of the Bills underscored well enough.
The Andy Gang was outgained by a margin of 470-210, out-first-downed by a count of 25-15 and outrushed by a gap of 241-95.
Ah, but remember what we said after Week 2’s win over the Cowboys? Go to the turnover column. Bills 3, Chiefs 0.
In this league, you protect the ball, you win. Simple as that.
Protect the ball for nine straight weeks — or protect it better than the other guy, week after week — and you’ll get to 9-0. Just like that.
“We don’t really care what people think,” defensive end Tamba Hali told the Associated Press after the game. “Sometimes the stats don’t really tell you the outcome.”
It takes a village to get to 9-0.
It takes Eric Fisher, growing every week, helping to keep Alex Smith upright from the right tackle position.
It takes special-teamer/defensive back Ron Parker, setting himself right and helping to down the ball at the Buffalo 1.
It takes punter Dustin Colquitt, doing what Dustin Colquitt does, week after week, to get that rainbow there in the first place.
It takes cornerback Marcus Cooper, fighting to strip the ball away from a Bills receiver in the end zone. Cooper, ripping the ball out of the hands of another Buffalo target to set up the game-winning score.
It takes Dontari Poe and Mike DeVito, combining for 18 tackles.
It takes Sean Smith, cutting inside on a goal-line stand and making the play of the afternoon. Maybe the season.
Up 10-3 to start the third quarter, and with the Kansas City offense fighting through its usual first-half funk, Buffalo was threatening to make it 17-3, and good night, nurse. There they were, knocking on the door thanks to killer runs from C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson and facing a third-and-goal at the Chiefs’ 1.
But, finally, trotting out a third-stringer at quarterback caught up with the Bills. Rookie Tuel dropped back, looked right and threw a laser into the waiting arms of Chiefs cornerback Smith at the goal line. Smith high-tailed it in the other direction, gathering up a convoy and running the pick back 100 yards for the game-tying touchdown with 10:58 left in the third quarter.
The Big Red Sharknado got inside Tuel’s head for good and never left. The Bills totaled just 90 passing yards in the second half, and the 2013 Chiefs did their 2013 Chiefs thing again, slowly bleeding the Bills to death.
After the pick-six came the strip-six. Cooper was chasing T.J. Graham on a slant at the 12:47 mark of the fourth quarter. After the catch, the rookie corner managed to pull Graham down with one hand while reaching in to poke the pigskin out with the other. The ball squirted loose, Hali scooped it up and ran gleefully into the end zone, and out came the Tamba Samba. The Chiefs were up 19-13, and the usual clock-killing exercise was on the table again.
Those were the sixth and seventh non-offensive touchdowns by the Chiefs through the first half-season and change. With seven games to go, the Andy Gang has recorded five defensive scores: Four pick-sixes and one fumble return for a score. The club record for defensive touchdowns in a season is nine, set in 1999.
On special teams, it’s one punt return for a touchdown and one special teams fumble recovery (also via Cooper) for a score. The franchise record for return touchdowns in a season is 11, set in 1992 and matched in 1999.
“We’re pretty happy that we got the touchdowns,” coach Andy Reid told the AP when asked about his Chiefs, the first NFL team since the ’77 Falcons to allow 17 points or fewer over each of their first nine contests. “We’ll take them any way we can get them.”
It takes a village.
The Seahawks, who the computers and “experts” say have the style and substance this Chiefs team lacks, got down 21-0 to winless Tampa Bay at home. The Browns, one of those so-called quarterback-poor “weak sisters” the Chiefs have spent two months allegedly feasting on, spent Sunday de-pantsing the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
Good teams have bad days in this league. The Chiefs didn’t look brilliant against Houston, Cleveland or Buffalo. They won anyway.
An NFL season is like the NCAA Tournament in that respect. Survive and advance. Style points don’t mean a damn thing when it comes to the standings.
It takes a whip-smart, veteran quarterback, making right decision after right decision. It takes an all-world tailback. It takes a smothering defense.
More than that, it takes a village. The haters can snarl and torch this one all they like, but they can’t burn that 9-0 bad boy down.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.