Andy Reid Confronts Ghosts of Postseasons Past in AFC Title Game

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Andy Reid sees The Question coming. After spending 21 seasons as a head coach in the NFL – with seven of those including a trip to the conference championship game – he knows when The Question will come.

Why can't Andy Reid win the big games?

“That's not where I go,” Reid said as he prepares the Chiefs for the AFC Championship game against Tennessee on Sunday. “I try to get the guys ready. I try to make sure that I'm ready and then go play. I don't look at it that way.”

Reid's 207 regular season wins as a head coach is the most in NFL history without a Super Bowl title or NFL Championship. He is one of the best regular season coaches of this generaton, trailing only Bill Belichick among active coaches in victories. But he's just 13-14 in the playoffs. His postseason disappointments in Philacelphia followed him to Kansas City.

Reid coached in his first conference championship game in 2001, his third season as a head coach. That was also the first season Belichick reached his first conference title game in his seventh season as head coach.

The Eagles led St. Louis 17-13, but his offense mustered just 77 yards in the second half before falling 29-24.

Reid's Eagles made it back the next season but Tampa Bay cruised to a 27-10 victory. He led his team to a third-straight NFC title game in 2003, but Donovan McNabb and Koy Detmer combined for four interceptions in a 14-3 loss to Carolina.

The Eagles finally broke through in their fourth consecutive NFC Championship game in 2004, cruising past Atlanta 27-10, but what followed was Reid's most bitter loss to date.

The Eagles took possession with 5:40 left in Super Bowl XXXIX trailing the Patriots 24-14. McNabb lead the Eagles on a plodding 13-play touchdown drive that drained nearly four minutes off the clock. The Eagled forced a New England punt, but took over at their own four-yard line with just 46 seconds left. Their season ended on a third down interception by Rodney Harrison at the Philly 28.

Time management by Reid was an issue again again in 2015. The Chiefs visited New England in the divisional round. Kansas City trailed 27-13 with 6:29 remaining, and Reid's team again embarked on a methodical 16-play touchdown drive covering more than 5 minutes. Kansas City cut the lead to seven but were left with no time to attemp to complete the comeback.

Those two games may pinpoint why things might turn out differently this time around. Most fans remember the lack of urgency from McNabb in the Super Bowl while overlooking his three interceptions including two in the fourth quarter. Reid took the blame again in 2015 even though quick strikes were not Alex Smith's forte.

What might be different this time, however, is that Reid has something he hasn't had most of his NFL career – a true franchise quarterback with Hall of Fame potential who wants to get his coach a ring.

“The work that he’s put in every single day at every place he’s been at, he’s had success,” Mahomes said. “Obviously, you want to get him that Super Bowl, but we understand it’s a process.”

Last week against Houston, the Chiefs faced a 24-0 deficit in the first half. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill explained why the club never panicked.

"What do you need to panic for?” Hill asked. “The more you panic, that’s when things get even more out of control, right? We’ve got the best coach in the league, the best quarterback in the league, I don’t need to panic.”

Mahomes led seven-straight touchdown drives in Sunday's rally. None needed more than eight plays and the longest required just 3:55 to complete. Mahomes took the ball with 2:47 left in the first half and led Kansas City on an eight-play, 90-yard drive in 2:03.

Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz says that's what comes from having an MVP quarterback in control.

“I don’t think the attitude or mindset really changes but coach dials them up, guys get open and Pat’s always going to make incredible plays,” Schwartz said.

It's also not as if Reid never won a championship. He owns a Super Bowl ring from his time with the Green Bay Packers. He served as tight ends and assistant offensive line coach for the 1996 Super Bowl winners. The following season he took over as Brett Favre's position coach but fell short in a second trip to the Super Bowl against John Elway's Denver Broncos.

In the 2013 playoffs, the Chiefs jumped out to a 38-10 lead early in the third quarter in Indianapolis. They lost 45-44. Two years ago at home, they were up 21-3 at halftime against the Titans and lost 22-21. Those losses occured in the wild-card round. In last season's thrilling AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs could not hold onto a four-point lead in the last two minutes and lost to the Patriots in overtime.

Clearly, Reid has not been the same coach in January as he's been September through December. Maybe that began to change last week when the Chiefs overcame an early second quarter 24-0 deficit to the Texans and beat them 51-31 and will continue Sunday and finished off in Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

Even without the ring as a head coach, colleagues around the league look to Reid for inspiration. Saints coach Sean Payton once said he watches tapes of Reid's offense every week. Bears coach Matt Nagy, a former pupil of Reid, says it's easy for him to pick up his phone at midnight and call his mentor for advice.

“We've done that a few times, and it means a lot to me because he's very authentic,” Nagy said. “When you're with him every single day for all those years I was in his office, in his room, just always talking, talking ball, talking life, then when you're away from it, you really realize how much you miss it.”

Reid's opponent this weekend, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, says there's no argument about Reid's legacy in the NFL.

“Andy is a great coach,” Vrabel said. “This league is better off because Andy Reid is a part of it and has coached great teams and he's prepared coaches to be head coaches. He's been a great mentor for me.”

Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy played running back for Reid in 1999, his first season as head coach. He believes the criticism Reid gets for falling short in big games is unfair.

“For Coach to be in as many championship games that he has been in – he maybe hasn’t quite gotten over the hurdle yet – I say it is still a huge accomplishment because he is still one of the best in the business,” Bieniemy said.

Bieniemy believes most people don't understand how difficult winning a Super Bowl is.

“The last time I went to a Super Bowl was with the San Diego Chargers in the 1994 season,” You don't get these opportunities all the time.”

Despite the lack of success in championship games, Reid doesn't feel sorry for himself.

“I look more at the disappointment for the other teams that I've been able to coach and how those kids felt because they worked their tails off for that amount of time, and the other coaches," he said.

It's a close race for Mahomes whether he would be happier for himself or for his coach if they win a Super Bowl together.

“Probably be happier for him for sure,” Mahomes laughed. “I think I’ll be pretty happy too for myself.”

Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub's friendship with Reid goes back to 1987 when the worked together on Bob Stull's staff at Texas-El Paso. The pair left with Stull for Missouri in 1989, and Reid brought him to Philadelphia in 2001. They've worked together for seven seasons in Kansas City.

Toub says no one deserves a Super Bowl championship more than his friend Andy. He's given a lot of thought to what it would feel like to be on the field watching Reid accept the Lombardi Trophy.

“To not have a Super Bowl win under his belt – this would be huge,” Toub said. “I don’t know if I’d stop crying with him. I’d probably hug him forever. I’m just so proud of what he’s done and everything he’s done in his career and he needs that. He needs this.

“He needs that,” Toub repeated.

Reid is just 1-8 vs. the Titans in the regular season and the playoffs, his worst record against any team as a head coach. He is the best coach in the Super Bowl era never to win the Super Bowl. He would love to write a new narrative.