Screaming Out a Sigh

    Ordinarily, a sigh is a quiet release of tension, or a melancholy reaction. But for Kansas City Chiefs fans on Saturday, their collective exhale as the Chiefs clobbered the Indianapolis Colts was a bellow. Fans who were wracked with anxiety all week long as they awaited the matchup with their greatest playoff tormentors, were now howling at a moon they couldn’t see through snow-filled clouds. Fans who were so nervous that even when the game seemed surely won after Dee Ford’s strip sack and Justin Houston’s recovery late in the third quarter, that they still almost unanimously responded to me on Twitter that they had yet to believe it was over, could now exult.

     The exorcism was delivered by the home team from the very first snap. If the Colt’s were to extend their post-season mastery of the Chiefs to five straight wins, they were going to have to lean on their running game, and there was plenty of evidence that they could. But Dee Ford blew up Marlon Mack’s first carry for a three-yard loss, and the Colts, who had run for over two hundred yards against the conferences best rush defense in Houston the week before, would never establish anything on the ground. It sounds silly, but think if that play went for 11 yards. Things could have been different.

     Early in the season, when the Chiefs were really sizzling, the prescription every game was the same. Win the coin toss, defer, send their vulnerable defense out first, watch them produce a three and out, score, and off and running they would go. Usually that was about if for the defense, but this time around, Bob Sutton’s much derided bunch quadrupled down on their first effort, and four straight three and outs were executed before the Colts initial first down just before the half.

     But there were just enough little speed humps like the ones in Mission Hills to keep the faint of heart from truly embracing the day just yet. After an impeccable 17-0 start, peppered with a few Mahomes magic moments, Dave Toub’s usually ultra-reliable special teams threw an unsightly foreign object in the punch bowl with a blocked punt, a play so botched by the blocking unit that Najee Goode of the Colts almost overran Dustin Colquitt. The touchdown came before the Colts had put up their initial first down, yet it was a ballgame again 17-7.

     But all those who say that things are different because the Chiefs now have Mahomes, got reaffirmation as the Chiefs whizzed down the field for a score that sent pulse rates back down. The Colts responded with their first drive of the day, but as the half loomed, perhaps omens were out there. Adam Vinatieri sent snow flying as he doinked the left upright for the shortest miss of his Hall of Fame career from 23 yards. He would later miss the first extra point of his post-season career.

     Things like that haven’t happened for the Chiefs in the past. THEY have had the kicker who screwed up. THEY watched two different quarterbacks have potential turnovers ricochet back to them for back breaking scores. THEY saw late season hot streaks rendered irrelevant.

     It was one thing to go into the game with brave talk that the Chiefs have been so much better at home on defense. The stats that showed it were fueled by four low scoring games quarterbacked by the likes of Josh Rosen and Derek Carr. This time it was a real quarterback in Andrew Luck, who was the personal demon who executed the ludicrous comeback in 2013. It became another thing when Ford, Houston, Chris Jones, Charvarius Ward, and, well, just about everyone who donned a uniform on defense for the Chiefs delivered a true masterpiece. It was a nice day for Mahomes and the boys, but this was the defense’s day.

     Fans invest so much time, energy and money in their teams, that it is easy to understand why they can become so callous when they are handed repeated defeat. The miserable post season history of the Chiefs was glaringly real. No east coast bias spin needs to be put on quarter century losing streaks. The Chiefs stopped their record streak at six straight home losses, but that mark might stand forever. Think of the down side for Saturday. People spent their day shoveling out from a blizzard, cranking up generators so they could watch the game if they weren’t attending, or if they were, inching along roadways with a shovel in the back so they could clear a spot to tailgate.

     They will have spent hundreds of dollars for the privilege of freezing their asses off on snow covered seats. They put those backsides, and their hearts, on the line, and they risked another smack in the face, or three feet lower than that. But this time they didn’t get it. They got high fives from strangers, kisses from female strangers who would ordinarily rightly slap them if they were to attempt that, and hugs from those who they indeed did know, heartfelt and strong.

     Now the same people who were fearing the worst before the game, are absolutely certain that the Chiefs are going to Atlanta. I think they are too, but we can analyze that in a day or two (starting with Danny and Stan’s Football Weekend Podcast tomorrow). Yes, they are playing a team that has beaten them this year. Yes, it is quite possible that a defense that has really only showed the kind of teeth they did yesterday once, can revert to form.

     But for now, basking in the glow should be the order of the day. The Mahomes Magic Carpet Ride Year One has at least one more week to roll on. Bob Sutton has at least seven days where his name isn’t automatically preceded by an expletive. Days like Saturday are why we love sports. But it is also true that we love sports because for every fan base like here in Kansas City, there is an alternate universe one in Indianapolis.

     But they have had their post season fun…Chiefs fans haven’t had nearly enough. Perhaps there will come a time as the Mahomes era rolls on that divisional round wins won’t be celebrated. That right now is the expectation, but nothing should be taken for granted. Players are supposed to use a twenty-four hour rule for big wins, well, except if you win the Super Bowl.

     But fans don’t have to do that. I duly institute an entire one-week rule for this one. For the first time in the entire nearly sixty-year franchise the Chiefs will host a conference championship game.

     Soak it in.

Danny Clinkscale