ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – And so again the most improbable team with the most improbable record made the perfect plays at the perfect time. And so again the most improbable team with the most improbable record ran victorious off an NFL field. And so again the most improbable team with the most improbable record whooped and clapped in a locker room filled with joy.
Then the Kansas City Chiefs, with a 9-0 record that makes no sense to anyone but themselves, pointed to the round man in the red jacket with the bushy moustache and the wire glasses, and they said that Andy Reid had saved them.
"It's hard not to play for him, he keeps it 100 percent real," Chiefs safety Eric Berry said after Kansas City beat Buffalo 23-13 despite being outgained 470 yards to 210
[Photos: Best of NFL Week 9]
Maybe it's difficult to imagine that a coach can change a culture this much in this little time. The most improbable team with the most improbable record was the worst team in the league last year at 2-14. For the final month, the players had to walk through the parking lot where a teammate, Jovan Belcher, shot himself in the head. They were beaten. They were broken. They were lost.
And together they made an agreement several of them said; sealing it in locker room conversations, telephone chats and text messages.
Whoever was named their new coach, they were going to buy in.
When they learned it was Reid, they were delighted. They knew how much he had won with the Philadelphia Eagles. They heard from friends who had played for him that he was a good leader. They used the phrase "solid coach," in some of those texts and phone calls. But what they didn't understand until he arrived was how much better he would make them.
"I have never been around a coach who grinds and grinds and grinds in practice and tells you to not stop on any play," cornerback Dunta Robinson said.
On Robinson's other teams there was always a player hierarchy. Stars got better treatment. Coaches rarely yelled at them. Reid, he said, yells at everyone, regardless of status. Not in a belligerent, screaming, kicking sort of way, but in a stern, admonishing manner that is almost fatherly in tone.
"You have to have a thick skin," cornerback Sean Smith said.
And yet Reid's way has worked. It has worked for much the same reason it worked for 14 years in Philadelphia. He pushed hard in practice, he taught them to believe in each other and he treated them as equals.
Talk to people around the Chiefs and privately they will say Reid and new general manager John Dorsey are not like most other men of their stature in the NFL. There are no hidden agendas, no secrets, no faking of personalities. Players have normal personal relationships with coaches. Workers on the business side communicate freely with those in football operations. Because of this, when Reid talks, the players listen. And they believe.
So many times the Chiefs channel the round man in the red jacket when they need something big to happen. His words live in their minds.
On Sunday they looked beaten by a bigger, faster Bills team. Buffalo's defensive line overwhelmed Kansas City's tackles and guards. Bills running back C.J. Spiller raced past the Chiefs as did the Buffalo receivers. Bills quarterback Jeff Tuel – an undrafted, free-agent rookie making his first professional start – looked stronger with every drive. Early in the second half, the Bills stood on the Chiefs' 1-yard line about to bury Kansas City with a 17-3 lead.
And all they could think of was Reid's words uttered all those days in practice …
"They're not in until they're in."
Then Tuel made a mistake and Smith jumped. He snatched a pass barely after it left Tuel's hands, clutching it against his chest, and went running, cutting, slicing across the field until he was in the other end zone 100 yards away. Instead of being down 17-3 the Chiefs had tied the game 10-10.
There would be other moments on Sunday's second half. There would be two fourth-down stops, another goal-line stand, a strip of the ball from Buffalo receiver T.J. Graham that was returned 11 yards for a touchdown.
A game that was lost was instead won.
"He came in here and made us work to push us more," Berry said of Reid. "The mentality is so positive and so productive, he says, 'Trust me,' and we do."
And the team that was in ruins has come back to be the most improbable team with the most improbable record. The team that lost a teammate and finished last season in ruins is undefeated heading into its bye week and game on Nov. 16 against division rival Denver. The team that most figured would be at the bottom of the AFC West shouted and laughed in its locker room again on Sunday – a day it won a game it should have lost.
"We're just 9-0," Berry said with caution.
The person standing next to him laughed. Imagine that. Here was a player on last year's disaster, the Kansas City Chiefs looking at perfection, shrugging and saying: "We're just 9-0," as if it happened every year.