Red-hot Chiefs brimming with optimism after late-season bye
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The last time the Kansas City Chiefs had a week off at this point in the year, they didn't lose again until the next season.
There's a lot of reasons to believe this year's team can follow in the footsteps of the 2019 championship bunch.
Whether it's the return of several players from injuries to the continued involvement of a couple of late newcomers, or the improvement that was evident before the break to coach Andy Reid's downright incredible record after a bye, the Chiefs returned to work Monday brimming with optimism about the stretch run they're about to begin.
"Listen, there's always a little something you find out about yourself," Reid said Monday, "and yeah, because you have extended time you have an opportunity to look a little deeper. There weren't any huge surprises, but there's always a little nugget in there if you look hard enough."
On the injury front, Chiefs right tackle Lucas Niang could return from a rib injury and be available for Sunday night's game against the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. He began the season as the starter, lost the job to Mike Remmers, then started again when Remmers was knocked out for a couple of games with an injury of his own.
Niang's return would give the Chiefs valuable experience up front. And the way their offensive line was decimated by injury by the time last year's Super Bowl kicked off, they'll take all the help they can get at the position.
That could include the addition of Kyle Long, too. The veteran came out of a year-long retirement with the hopes of earning a starting job in Kansas City. But Long broke his leg in training camp and wasn't designated for return from injured reserve until earlier this month, and his window to be added to the roster closes this week.
"We'll see how all of that goes here. We're sorting through all of that today," Reid said. "I appreciate having him here and doing what he's doing, and how he's handled everything."
On the other side of the ball, three-time All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu played through a knee injury in the Chiefs' 19-9 win over the Cowboys that sent them barreling into the bye with four consecutive victories.
Mathieu should be much closer to 100% when the Chiefs kick off a game against Denver that was flexed to prime time.
"He came out OK," Reid said. "He was able to push himself through, which was amazing. I mean, he's a tough kid, so tough-minded, and that carries over to the defense. Our players knew that he wasn't quite where he wanted to be, yet he didn't say anything. He just pushed himself through it."
The Chiefs also hope the bye allowed wide receiver Josh Gordon and defensive end Melvin Ingram to get more comfortable.
Gordon returned from his NFL suspension to sign with Kansas City after the season began, and he was active for the first time in Week 5. Despite playing every game since then, Gordon still has just two catches for 18 yards.
Ingram has had more of an impact since arriving from Pittsburgh earlier this month. He's played the last three games, and while his numbers aren't necessarily amazing, he's allowed defensive tackle Chris Jones to slide from the outside back to the interior of the line. That has helped the entire Kansas City pass rush.
The Chiefs, who have a one-game lead on the Chargers, Broncos and Raiders in the AFC West race, face each of those teams in the next three week: Denver and Las Vegas visiting Arrowhead Stadium, then the Chiefs heading to Los Angeles.
After playing the Steelers, the Chiefs finish with playoff contenders Cincinnati and Denver on the road.
The Chiefs already were rolling into their bye behind that resurgent defense, which has held three straight opponents to 17 points or fewer. Their underwhelming offense is almost certain to be better after a week to digest the season.
Why? Reid has a 19-3 record when his teams are coming off a bye.
"I get asked about that every year. I'm not sure why that is," Reid said. "We go back and try to review everything and make whatever corrections. But I don't know what the secret — if there is any secret — what that secret is."