KANSAS CITY, Mo. — From the moment the Chiefs fell short in last year's AFC Championship game in overtime to the New England Patriots, coach Andy Reid repeated the mantra that the team came up four inches short of going to the Super Bowl.
Reid was referring to Dee Ford lining up offside in the final minute on a play in which cornerback Charvarius Ward secured what for a split-second appeared to be the game-sealing interception of Tom Brady to send the Chiefs to the Super Bowl. The penalty wiped out the interception.
The moment that game ended, general manager Brett Veach had to figure out how to pick up those four extra inches.
“I think last year when the season ended, we knew we had work to do,” Veach said after the team he assembled won the AFC Championship with a 35-24 win over the Tennessee Titans. “We put a plan together.”
The Chiefs defense finished a year ago finished next to last in total yards and 24th in scoring, contrasting with an offense that led the league in both categories. Veach started by making some tough decisions, including saying goodbye to veterans such as Justin Houston, Eric Berry and Dee Ford.
His personnel staff “didn't just pull names out of a hat,” Veach said. They circled the names they wanted to target, specifically safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Frank Clark.
“We believed in the guys we went after,” Veach said. “We knew that we had to field a defense to complement our offense and we did that.”
The moves Veach made didn't come without a price. He sent the team's 2019 first-round pick and 2020 second-round selection to Seattle for the rights to Clark. (Veach also picked up San Francisco's 2020 second-round pick in exchange for Ford). He also committed more than $160 million to sign Clark to an extension while inking free-agent deals with Mathieu and defensive end Alex Okafor.
Veach also made shrewd low-cost deals for free-agent linebacker Damien Wilson, cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Morris Claiborne.
“We weren’t happy with the way the season ended last year,” Veach said. “We were determined to go out there and make it better and so far, so good.”
In his first offseason as general manager in 2018, Veach made investments on the offense to surround first-year starter Patrick Mahomes with resources to help make him a success. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was one of those moves, and it continued paying off on Sunday. Watkins led Kansas City with seven catches for 114 yards and a touchdown.
“You make moves like that to put you over the top,” Veach said. “Certainly without Sammy’s performance (Sunday) who knows how this game would have turned out? Sammy was big.”
Of course, Kansas City's success hinges on the uber-talented Mahomes, another player for whom Veach touted in 2017 as the team's co-director of player personnel. Veach has no qualms proclaiming Mahomes as the best player in the NFL right now.
“He's the best player in the game so whatever he does, it doesn’t really surprise you,” Veach said. “He is that good. He’s got some talent around him and we’ve got some talent on defense and we are playing good football on both sides and we are excited to go to Miami.”