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Dammit, the Chiefs are trying to be positive.
**** you guys. LOSE.
Chiefs pledge not to fall into the abyss
Some of the Chiefs players recognized the feeling after the team’s first loss, a blowout at Arrowhead Stadium against the Buffalo Bills two weeks ago. It was something familiar but bitter, and they began working quickly to curb it.
Before the 2010 season, when the Chiefs finished 10-6 and won their division, the team spent three years mired in a funk that seemed never-ending. Losses piled up. Injuries mounted. They lost 38 of 48 games throughout the 2007-09 seasons, and the attitude in the locker room soured accordingly. After a while, some of the players lost faith that they even had a chance to win.
During those three seasons, the attitude stretched beyond the team’s headquarters. Kansas City was a bitter place on Sundays, and attendance at Arrowhead showed it.
“Nobody wants to lose,” cornerback Brandon Carr said, “and go into a game thinking you’re going to lose.”
Now, after two historically lopsided losses to begin this season — the Chiefs were outscored 89-10 in those defeats — the players who lived through those three miserable years are determined to avoid a slide back toward the NFL’s abyss.
They want nothing to do with resembling, as some of them put it, the “old Chiefs.”
“We’ve been there,” said cornerback Brandon Flowers, who was a rookie in 2008, when the Chiefs went 2-14. “This team has faced two-win seasons, four-win seasons. It’s easy to be like, ‘Here we go again,’ when something happens wrong.”
A moment later, Flowers shook his head. He has been down this path.
“Terrible,” he said of his first two seasons, when the Chiefs won a combined six games. “That’s how these first two games started off. That’s why we were saying we can’t allow that to happen no more. The leaders on this team stepped up; we won’t allow that to happen no more.”
Flowers’ instincts aren’t wrong, and he’s among those trying to prevent a relapse. There already are signs the season is headed in a disappointing direction, and some early statistics suggest the Chiefs are on pace to be similar or worse than even those teams that comprised the worst three-season stretch in franchise history. Among those are points allowed and turnovers.
But here is the stat that says it all: The 79-point differential between the Chiefs and their opponents is nearly twice that of the franchise with the next-highest loss margin, the Miami Dolphins, who have lost their two games by a total of 40 points.
That’s bad enough to make it into Jay Leno’s monologue.
“Well, here’s something frightening,” Leno, host of “The Tonight Show,” chortled on Wednesday. “Scientists from NASA have said a research satellite the size of a bus will crash into the Earth on Friday. They say they have no idea where it will land, although they say it has better odds of landing in the end zone than the Kansas City Chiefs.”
“We’re letting a lot of people down, man,” second-year defensive back Javier Arenas said.
Fans’ attitudes seem to have soured, too. According to the secondary ticket-price aggregator TiqIQ.com, the average price to attend a Chiefs home game has dropped 5.3 percent — that’s the second-highest decrease, behind only the Indianapolis Colts — after the team’s first two regular-season games. Fears have risen that Chiefs will struggle to fill Arrowhead, along with concerns that games could be blacked out on local television — something that, before a 2009 game, hadn’t happened in 19 seasons.
So the week after the Chiefs’ 41-7 loss to the Bills, Flowers approached several of his teammates, most of them veterans, and told them to lean on youngsters and make certain their attitudes didn’t sink if the season continued taking on water. Others began talking about positive thinking, even if the rewards seemed far away — for players and fans.
“You never want to disrespect the game,” said linebacker Derrick Johnson, sharing a message he learned as one of six current players who were with the Chiefs for all three of those losing seasons.
Andrew Jacobs, a sports psychologist based in Overland Park, said teams that believe they’re going to lose probably will. He said that’s the first thing the Chiefs have to prevent, adding that it starts with each player believing that this is an isolated rough patch — not part of a new trend of losing.
“Your mind-set dictates what happens,” he said. “… You have to have a plan. You have to have a game plan with how you’re going to deal with this.”
The Chiefs, along with every other team, were denied their usual offseason bonding period because of the NFL lockout, under which franchise owners prohibited players from using team facilities. That’s usually the first rung on the social ladder for new players. Carr said the lockout seems to have affected the Chiefs significantly, adding that miscommunication played a role in last Sunday’s 48-3 loss to the Detroit Lions.
That the Chiefs have lost three key starters — running back Jamaal Charles, safety Eric Berry and tight end Tony Moeaki each suffered season-ending knee injuries in the past three weeks — only adds to the uphill climb they face this season.
This week, the team simplified practices and the playbook in an effort to reduce confusion and build confidence. The changes weren’t limited to the field.
Carr insisted to several of his teammates that they join him socially, whether it was at a restaurant, one of their homes or in the team’s film room. He said he had dinner with a group of teammates three times this past week, an effort to forget the troubles of work and simply get to know each other better.
The players on those bygone teams that lost so much, Carr said, had little chemistry and were poor communicators as a result.
“We’ve tightened up,” Carr said. “We’ve tightened our circle up as far as teammates, as far as guys just getting out and hanging with each other — just to kick it off the field — because that goes a long way on the field.”
The situation is certainly urgent. The Chiefs play the high-powered Chargers today in San Diego.
“The main thing, man: We’ve got to do whatever we can to get this damn victory,” fullback Le’Ron McClain said.
Many of those who lived through the Chiefs’ more discouraging seasons have either moved on or been shown the door. The team’s decision-makers suggest that the poor attitude years ago originated with a few cantankerous players, and the roster has mostly been cleansed of such trouble.
Of the 53 members of the team’s active roster, 29 never experienced the turmoil of any of those three losing seasons.
Some of the youngsters say there’s no way they’d let their attitudes dip so much that it would affect the team long-term. The veterans say they used to say the same things.
“I think in our minds, we did have a chance to win,” Johnson said of the old days. “Now, if we got down by a certain amount of points, I can’t tell you the confidence we had then. All the letdowns we’ve had, I don’t know.”
For now, players hang onto the fact that it’s still early in the season; there are 14 games left, and if the Chiefs begin winning, who might remember those first two Sundays?
“But the thing about it is,” McClain said, “we’ve got to get out there on the field and show it. … We’ve got to get that mind-set, man. That mind-set of winning.”
Jacobs said the Chiefs seem to be taking the proper actions. But further losing, of course, will add to their problem.
“As awful as they’ve been,” Jacobs said, “it’s been two games. The NFL is about adjustments and change and corrections, and yeah, they’ve lost three of their better players, and they’re under the eight-ball.
“All that means is, they’ve got to focus and refocus on themselves and what they have control over. If they can take charge of that, they have a chance to overcome that. But if not, they’re just going to fall into that abyss, and they won’t get out of it.”