What win over Rams says about Chiefs’ need to develop ‘certain attitude, certain edge’

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) celebrates a touchdown with running back Isiah Pacheco (10) and tight end Jody Fortson (88) during an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022 in Kansas City.

As the Chiefs were statistically mulching the Rams on Sunday at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium with not much to show for it on the scoreboard most of the game, you weren’t alone if you started thinking sometimes they just can’t bear prosperity.

Case in point: On the verge of putting it out of reach in the fourth quarter with a 20-10 lead and third and goal at the Los Angeles 4-yard line, superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes made a late adjustment that appeared to become a no-look pass.

Instead, it was just an unsightly one “directly into the dude’s stomach,” as Mahomes put it.

Said dude was defender Nick Scott, whose interception in the end zone was a nice symbol of red-zone futility for the Chiefs on a night when they’d manage just one touchdown in six excursions inside the Rams’ 20.

“Those are ones that kill you in big games,” said Mahomes, who otherwise, ho-hum, threw for 320 yards.

This might seem like nitpicking after a 26-10 victory over the defending Super Bowl champions, injury-ravaged and depleted as they might be … and in such a state of woe that coach Sean McVay sustained a brutal helmet to the head as tight end Roger Carter inadvertently ran into him in the first quarter.

The Chiefs outgained the Rams 437-198, after all, and they never were so much threatened or vulnerable as just exasperatingly unable to run away with it.

Beyond yet more glaring special teams lapses (Skyy Moore is a promising receiver who should never return a punt again), it seems a warped perspective to feel disappointed in the result.

You could make a case that any fussing over this, or those four earlier wins by three points or fewer, is a reflection of being spoiled by a team that is 9-2, seeded first in the AFC, well on its way to a seventh straight AFC West title and on trajectory to a fifth straight AFC Championship Game.

Indeed, here’s our theory:

At some point in a game like this in the middle of a long season, perhaps especially with the defense playing as well as it did, the Chiefs offense becomes like a cat pawing at a toy. Or a gifted child not being challenged in school.

It drifts or otherwise loses focus on attention to detail.

For the record, Chiefs coach Andy Reid disagrees with that notion.

“Listen, (the Rams) did a good job,” he said. “We’re not playing a JV team. That defense is a top 10 defense. It’s not like they’re no good.”

Whatever the psychology in this is, though, the real question is what it portends from here.

The tendency to let inferior teams hang around at times seemed at play in that hideous 20-17 loss at Indianapolis (4-6-1). So it’s a worrisome prospect to have hovering.

But we figure that the Chiefs also have an astute sense of pacing and the ability to turn it on when they need it most: They haven’t lost a game in November or December since 2019, and they’re 7-2 in the postseason in that span with back-to-back Super Bowl berths.

Just the same, this is an intriguing and perhaps telling time for the Chiefs to flash whatever lessons they’ve absorbed from the dismal ending to last season.

Because up next is a trip to Cincinnati (7-4).

The Chiefs, of course, led the Bengals 21-3 in the first half of the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead before a startling collapse into a 27-24 overtime loss.

There were a lot of reasons they lost that game, including their inability to sack quarterback Joe Burrow (who had been taken down nine times the previous week and then seven times in the Super Bowl) more than once and a botched sequence at the goal line at the end of the first half.

The nature of the loss in part spurred an offseason of sweeping and profound changes as the Chiefs bid farewell to nine of their 22 starters that day on the way to becoming younger, quicker, more versatile and financially flexible.

While some of that also was a function of the front office’s good housekeeping to replenish and reinforce the long-term fertility of the Mahomes Era, the jarring defeat greatly informed the Chiefs’ offseason.

But something about that game also lingered and speaks to this moment … and the rest of the season at hand.

As he met with a few reporters in his Missouri Western dorm room during training camp in St. Joseph one day this past summer, Reid was asked about the abiding takeaways from that defeat.

“I have a pretty good feel (for) what went on,” Reid said.

Asked whether it was mental or physical, Reid said, “They go together” and later referred to “a certain attitude, certain edge that you’ve got to maintain.”

After the Chiefs’ victory over the Rams on Sunday, Mahomes put it a little more directly as he thought back to a game he dominated in the first half only to become shockingly out of sync after halftime.

He threw two interceptions, including one that snuffed out the Chiefs’ overtime drive and set up the Bengals’ game-winning kick. He also was sacked twice late in regulation with the Chiefs on the cusp of a late go-ahead touchdown.

Safe to say it stuck with him.

In the offseason, Reid would say Mahomes was “leading the charge” to rebound and improve from that game. When I asked Mahomes on Sunday about what he learned from it, this is what he said:

“You learn that you’ve got to just continue to push. You can’t be satisfied with where you’re at. We scored a lot of points that first half. We went in (at halftime) kind of thinking we were going to just kind of coast to the Super Bowl.

“But they’re a team that’s going to fight. They’re going to fight until the very end. That’s why they were in the Super Bowl.”

From where we sit, that mindset is going to propel the Chiefs into this postseason. At least against the teams they’re just better than, which is about most of them.

Even so, this week would be a good time to build up that muscle and demonstrate that the lessons took.

Especially since the rest of the Chiefs’ regular-season schedule will feature two games against Denver (3-8) and others against the Texans (1-9-1), Seahawks (6-5) and Raiders (4-7).

How they go into the postseason, in other words, will depend in large part on their ability to put away a host of teams that can’t beat them if they play their best.

They’re good enough to run away with those games, but, paradoxically, also good enough not to.

So given how last season ended and some of how Sunday played out, this stretch run — starting at Cincinnati — would be a great time for them to make a habit of maintaining that “certain attitude, certain edge.”