KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Toss out the Week 1 performance against the Tennessee Titans and a case presents itself the Chiefs (2-3) are close to turning the corner.
The Chiefs’ other two defeats came at a combined 12 points, including the 5-point loss to San Francisco 49ers in Week 5, and the players hung tough.
That factor causes coach Andy Reid to have optimism the rest of the way as this year’s version of the Chiefs returns from a bye week.
“I think every team is different,” Reid said during Monday’s media conference call. “Every year is different. And I don’t throw that around loosely when I say that. There are a couple of little things that we’ve got to do and get fixed and I’d say from coaching and player-side, we’ve just got to tighten up a couple of things there and we’ll be OK, so that’s what I felt.”
The Chiefs, of course, have dealt with adversity since Week 1, specifically season-ending injuries to starting inside linebacker Derrick Johnson (Achilles), defensive end Mike DeVito (Achilles) and guard/tackle Jeff Allen (elbow).
Running back Joe McKnight also went down with a ruptured Achilles suffered during practice leading to Week 4, and projected starting inside linebacker Joe Mays landed on injured reserve designated for return before the start of the season.
Additionally, starting running back Jamaal Charles missed time with an ankle injury and strong safety Eric Berry missing three straight games with a high ankle sprain.
Now consider wide receiver Dwayne Bowe’s one-game suspension and right tackle Donald Stephenson’s four-game suspension, and the Chiefs had numerous personnel changes on both sides of the ball.
Still, the team has hung in through it all.
“We had a lot of new faces in there,” Reid said. “So you don’t know how those guys are going to play when they get an opportunity. And I think they stepped up and showed they can play and compete; they’ve got a certain toughness about them, which I like.”
For all the mentoring Reid and his staff do with the players, the team’s mental capacity to face challenges without backing down impresses Reid.
“Until you are in the fight of playing the game,” Reid explained, “you don’t exactly know that part of it and you have to experience that. I would tell you that there is some grit to this team and some of the fundamentals and techniques we’ve got to get corrected here.
“But that grit, that’s a tough thing to coach, that’s a tough thing to coach. We can take care of the other stuff, but that one’s a tough thing to coach and they’ve showed that they’ve got a little of that.”
GAINES ON DECK
Cornerback Chris Owens (knee) may not be available for Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers, leading to yet another “next man up” scenario for the Chiefs.
[Related: Monday injury updates]
The Chiefs have a choice between rookie cornerback Phillip Gaines and Jamell Fleming, whom the Chiefs signed from the Baltimore Ravens practice squad on Sept. 12.
Gaines, a 2014 third-round pick, returns from a concussion suffered in Week 5 against the San Francisco 49ers. But Reid indicated Gaines is fine to practice.
Reid complimented Gaines’ growth through five games, pointing out the rookie’s play on special teams.
“His confidence level and his strength and all those things are improving,” Reid said. “The speed of the game, it doesn’t look like it’s quite as fast for him as what it was when he first got into it.”
Still, the Chiefs didn’t use a third-round pick on a player specifically for special teams.
Gaines, who has three tackles on the season, is primed for extended playing time at nickel cornerback, and Reid is comfortable with what the rookie brings to the defense based on what the head coach has observed.
“We see that in practice, too, as a cover guy,” Reid said, “as a corner, so he gives you that. To answer your question, he’s got tremendous speed and quickness.”
EASING THOMAS BACK
Rookie running back/wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas offered a taste in Week 5 of what the Chiefs offense missed for four games while Thomas nursed a hamstring injury.
Thomas electrified on his first two touches, totaling 45 yards (28 on a punt return, 17 on a reception) and a receiving touchdown.
“He’s fast and he’s quick,” Reid said, “and he’s got a pretty good feel for things, the game, which helps. That can become an issue at times I’m sure for defenses.”
Reid said the important thing to take from Week 5’s game was Thomas came out healthy.
“That was what we wanted,” Reid said, “and now we can kind of work from there and just give him a little bit more and a little bit more.”
The team’s ability to keep a healthy Thomas on the field opens the door for additional work outside of his punt return duties.
But don’t expect the Chiefs to throw the playbook at the rookie for Sunday’s game against the Chargers.
“We don’t want to overload him at all,” Reid said. “But at the same time we want him to be a part of the game plan. That’s how we’re going to approach it this week.”