Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu suggested the Chiefs are wearing down under that burden.
“We’ve just got to find a way to dig deep,” Mathieu said Sunday night after a 38-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills. “Every team we play wants to beat us. They want to beat us bad. … We go to Washington [this] week and they’re going to want to beat us.
“Guys stay up late [in preparation to play against the Chiefs], coaches stay up late. These guys come into our stadium and all they want to do is win. I say that to say it’s a certain urgency you have to have when you play for the Kansas City Chiefs. Everybody in this league, they want what we have: the Mahomes and the Hills and just all the success we’ve had, teams are chasing that, that glory.”
The Chiefs, who started each of the previous four seasons by winning at least four games, are 2-3 and in an unusual spot — last place in the AFC West. They’ve played a difficult schedule — four of their five opponents look like they will make the playoffs — but uncharacteristically haven’t handled it well.
Much of the problem rests with a defense that is last in the league, allowing almost 33 points per game. That can be traced to many factors, but there seems to be little doubt one of them is that opponents — as Mathieu said — are putting in extra time to prepare for them.
Washington coach Ron Rivera will be the latest to try to beat the Chiefs on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). He’s familiar with being a particular focus of an opponent’s preparation, having once played for a Super Bowl championship team with the Chicago Bears in 1985 and later coaching the Carolina Panthers to a 15-1 regular season and a Super Bowl berth in 2015.
“It’s very hard,” Rivera said. “[Chiefs coach Andy Reid] won his [Super Bowl] and the next season everybody took shots at him and now everybody takes shots at him another time.
“Having lost [the Super Bowl last season] and just the trauma of trying to get it started again, that’s difficult. It really is. It takes a lot out of you. [Reid] has gone through it two years in a row, I can only imagine how much of a strain that is on an individual. It’s a lot of work. You are always in people’s crosshairs. Nothing comes easy at that point. … You’re in a situation where you’re the measuring stick for a while.”
Rivera said the players felt a similar burden as the coach.
“When I was a player for the Bears, I always felt that way from that point on, from 1985 on, that we were going to get everybody’s best shot,” he said.
Nobody is feeling sorry for the Chiefs. Wearing the bull’s eye is a problem any team would like to have, and Reid suggested doing so is a privilege and not a burden.
“I wouldn’t want to be in any different position than that, as are the guys that have been here before,” Reid said. “And now you’ve got an influx of new guys, so they weren’t here the last year or two.
“Everybody, we just all need to rise our game up and have that same urgency to get things done.”
Mahomes said: “I wouldn’t want it any other way. I want to be as prepared as possible to play in the playoffs to try to make it to the Super Bowl. If that means we’re going to get the best shot from every single team, then I’m ready for the challenge.”
The trouble for the Chiefs is they haven’t been ready this season. Opponents have consistently tried a defensive strategy — two deep safeties and not blitzing — that has at times frustrated Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense and forced them into turnovers.
On defense, little has worked. They’re allowing a staggering 7.1 yards per play, which is last in the NFL and well over the league average of 5.7. The NFL record for a full season is 6.6.
That can explain why the Chiefs, at least on defense, are feeling the strain.
“We’ve just got to find a way to stop the bleeding,” Mathieu said.