KANSAS CITY, Mo.—If the Kansas City Chiefs believe in karma or coincidence or some sort of cosmic alignment, then they should be confident their 22-year drought without a playoff victory soon will come to an end.
Start with the fact they’re heading to Houston on Saturday to face the AFC South champion Texans.
The last time the Chiefs won a playoff game? They beat the Oilers in Houston.
Then consider their cross-parking lot neighbours, the Kansas City Royals, who snapped a 30-year stretch without a World Series title last season.
Where did their playoff run begin? Houston.
All good signs?
“It could be,” said Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith. “Hopefully so.”
Of all the teams in the NFL, few have such a woeful recent playoff history as Kansas City.
Twice the franchise went one-and-done as the AFC’s top seed, and on more than one occasion it’s been eliminated in the most heart-breaking of fashions.
In 1995, the Chiefs went 13-3 to earn a first-round bye—only to get Jim Harbaugh and the Colts in frigid weather at Arrowhead Stadium.
Kansas City turned the ball over four times, a big part of the 10-7 defeat.
The game forever will be known for Lin Elliott’s three missed field goals.
Two years later, Rich Gannon guided the Chiefs to the No. 1 seed in place of an injured Elvis Grbac—only to return to the bench when Grbac was healthy enough for the playoffs.
The offence slumped, the Chiefs lost 14-10 to the Broncos, and Marty Schottenheimer’s quarterback call remains one of the most controversial coaching decisions in franchise history.
Fast-forward to 2003 and the Chiefs again went 13-3 behind one of the most dynamic offences in the NFL.
But they also fielded one of the most porous defences, and Peyton Manning and the Colts never had to punt in their 38-31 victory.
“I don’t think this team’s carrying that weight, to be honest,” Smith said of all those post-season letdowns.
“Those were the other 22 years and 22 teams.” he noted. “This is us.”
Most of “us” were part of the most recent heartache.
Two years ago, Smith guided the Chiefs to a wild-card matchup in Indianapolis after one of the most remarkable turnarounds in franchise history.
And it appeared certain the Chiefs finally would end their playoff hex when they built a 28-point lead on Andrew Luck and Co. in the third quarter.
Then, Donald Brown started to rip off big runs. Luck suddenly couldn’t miss, and his 64-yard touchdown pass to TY Hilton completed the second-biggest post-season comeback in NFL history.
Many players on the Chiefs’ roster that night are on the team heading to Houston this weekend, and most of them acknowledged they haven’t forgotten that stinging defeat.
“It has to drive you,” said veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson.
“Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a different year, different team, different situation,” he added.
“But whenever you let an opportunity pass you by like we did a couple years ago, you learn from it,” Johnson noted.
“And I think this team’s learned from it.”
Nobody could say exactly what those lessons were, though.
For Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid, it was this: “You’ve got to finish the game.”
“You’ve got to score touchdowns. That’s what it’s all about,” he stressed.