KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The last time the Kansas City Chiefs slayed a boogeyman from seasons’ past, the head coach most responsible for it — the man paid $7.5 million a year to make the moment happen — walked off the field with a smile on his face and his arm around his wife.
It was the evening of Jan. 9, 2016, and Andy Reid — the man who was discarded by the Philadelphia Eagles at the end of the 2012 season — had delivered Kansas City its first playoff win in 22 years, courtesy of a 30-0 rout of the Houston Texans. Wedged in between were two decades of misery and disappointment for Chiefs fans.
Chiefs fans had grown accustomed to expecting the worst in the playoffs. For that reason, the win over the Texans was big. And get this: Reid, who rarely admits to looking backward, did just that on Monday.
“Obviously, you love to win — there hadn’t been a playoff win in a long time here,” Reid explained, when asked by Yahoo Sports. “You come in and you find out all these things that might have happened in the past. I don’t get caught up too much in that, but I think it was a good thing for the fans, a good thing for the organization because everyone works so stinking hard here. It starts with your [team] owner and CEO in Clark [Hunt].”
To that end, it’s obvious the Chiefs’ 60-year-old coach has been around long enough to know when games really matter, which is why — when asked about the Chiefs’ divisional-round home showdown on Saturday afternoon against the Indianapolis Colts — Reid essentially said he understood the stakes, albeit in the least-dramatic way possible.
“I know how passionate the fans are, I know how passionate our players, coaches and the building is — I know it’s important to a lot of folks,” Reid said.
Just as he pleased Hunt in 2016 with the Texans win, right before him stands an opportunity to topple another boogeyman. But anyone monitoring Twitter on Saturday afternoon could see why Chiefs fans might be wary. That’s when the surging Colts, winners of 10 of their past 11 games, finished their 21-7 dismantling of the AFC South champion Texans, solidifying a showdown at Arrowhead Stadium for the right to play in the AFC championship game.
And while the Chiefs (12-4) are the conference’s top seed and a 6-point Vegas favorite, the one-sidedness of their playoff history in this round — especially against the Colts — is sadistic. The Chiefs are 0-4 vs. the Colts in the playoffs since 1996, with three of those losses being all-time gut-punch defeats:
In 1996, Chiefs kicker Lin Elliott missed three field goals in a 10-7 loss, including one with 42 seconds left that wasn’t even close. The defeat ended a 13-3 season.
In 2004, the all-offense, no-defense Chiefs lost to Peyton Manning in the “No Punt Game.”
And in 2014, the first postseason of Reid’s K.C. tenure, the Chiefs blew a 38-10 third-quarter lead in a wild-card road loss that still hasn’t been named because … well, it hurts Kansas City natives too darned much.
Two of these defeats (1996, 2004) came at home in the divisional round.
So yeah, whatever consternation Chiefs fans feel right now, they got it honestly. It also does not help that the Colts seem uniquely positioned to take advantage of the Chiefs’ subpar defense this season. Indianapolis boasts a strong, varied run game that could gain chunk yards anytime it wants on Kansas City’s 31st-ranked run defense, in addition to a well-coached offensive line that has yielded the fewest sacks in football. The latter could negate K.C.’s pass rush, the only tangible strength of the Chiefs’ defense.
Yet, if the defense causes the Chiefs to lose Saturday, it will almost be expected. After all, the Chiefs’ two losses in December will have portended it … just like in past years. In losses to the Seahawks and the Chargers a few weeks ago, the Chiefs’ offense racked up a combined 713 yards and 59 points, only to see their defense surrender a combined 871 yards and 67 points.
It’s this reality, this bad juju, that led to questions on whether the Chiefs’ history matters. And while Reid acknowledged the importance of the win against the Texans a few years ago, he also fended off more inquiries about the past, albeit with a sly grin and acquiescing nod.
“No, you move on,” Reid explained. “Those are history. You don’t go back on that. You’re always moving forward in this thing, and that’s what we’re doing.”
What’s the best message he can give players to let them know this year will be different?
“I don’t think you need to say anything,” Reid said. “I think when you play a season, it’s important that you don’t worry about that. You worry about the process you’re going through to go against a good football team.”
Perhaps it’s best that Reid focus on the game itself, and not the other stuff. Because if the Chiefs lose this game — especially if it’s because of the defense or his own game management, which many regard as Reid’s personal playoff boogeyman — he’ll face criticism for wasting the AFC’s top seed and home-field advantage. But not nearly enough to make a dent in his job security.
A loss would drop Reid’s postseason record to 1-5 with the Chiefs, but the masterful job he has done with 23-year-old quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has thrown 50 touchdown this season, should ensure he gets as many attempts as he wants to break through Kansas City’s postseason demons. Reid is one of the league’s most respected and creative play-callers, and an offense led by he and Mahomes will always be a candidate to lead the league in points. Even if the Chiefs fall short of the Super Bowl this season, most reasonable Chiefs fans will appreciate the importance of that in today’s pass-heavy NFL.
Still, if the Chiefs lose and their defense is at fault, there will be angry tweets and calls to radio stations, many of them understandably focusing on Reid’s decision to retain defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, a lightning rod even after last season. And even if they lose and it isn’t the defense’s fault, it still might be difficult to retain Sutton without upsetting a vast portion of the fan base due to the unit’s struggles over the course of the season.
No matter what happens with the coordinator this offseason, fans should also expect the defense to undergo upgrades via free agency and the draft. The Chiefs will have money to spend — over $40 million — and with four top-100 picks, more than enough ammo to move up and grab an impactful defender in what’s expected to be a strong defensive draft.
In the meantime, the Chiefs have a prime opportunity to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1969 season. All they need to do is win two more home games, armed with the likely league MVP at the most important position on the field, one whose impressive arm strength and creativity should allow him to make the downfield throws necessary to pierce the Colts’ zone-heavy, Tampa 2 defense. This game has all the makings of a shootout, one that a cynic would point out has some shades of the “No Punt” loss to Indy in 2004.
The Chiefs and their head coach are aware of the past, but they’re not going to let any worry about it distract from their future. All Reid wants to do is win another playoff game for himself, his players and a team owner who would love to end a five-game divisional round losing streak, the latest boogeyman staring down a tortured fan base.
“Our guys are busting their tails to get ready to play a good football team and to do the best we possibly can,” Reid said. “I know our fans are going to be there doing the same thing, so they’re going to be fired up and ready to go. That, to me, is a beautiful thing. You prepare, prepare, prepare, and then you put your best out there and go play. We look forward to that challenge.”
More from Yahoo Sports:
• UFC star sends would-be mugger to emergency room
• Woman who ran onto field is carried away at title game
• Record-setting quarterback declares for NFL draft
• NFL clears up what really happened with Parkey’s kick