The First Read, Week 6: Chiefs’ troubles are real; Mike McCarthy has Cowboys rolling

The First Read, Week 6: Chiefs’ troubles are real; Mike McCarthy has Cowboys rolling

“We know that we have what it takes to be great,” said Mahomes after the Buffalo game. “We still have a lot of the players, we brought in a lot of good players that have been really good [in] other places, so we know that we have what it takes. It’s just about coming together now and finding a way to do that. We’ve had spurts here and there offensively, defensively, special teams, stuff like that. But at the end of the day, it’s about coming together as a team, because in this league, it’s not about good players, it’s about good teams.”

The Chiefs are now 2-3 and still last in the AFC West. They are tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the most turnovers in the league (11), and no defense is giving up more points than this bunch (32.6 per game). The Chiefs are learning a hard lesson about prolonged success — that opponents spend every year trying to attack you, whether that’s through the draft, free agency or schematic changes. What is on display in Kansas City these days isn’t so much the decline of the Chiefs but the rise of their competition.

The scary part for Kansas City is the Chiefs have already faced four teams that are legitimate contenders (Buffalo, Cleveland, Baltimore and the Los Angeles Chargers) and only beaten one (the Browns, in Week 1). You can say that’s a rigorous gauntlet for any team, but that’s exactly how the playoffs work. If the Chiefs can’t handle these opponents now, it’s hard to imagine them making a postseason run come January. They also have a schedule that isn’t going to ease up, as Green Bay (in Week 9), Dallas (in Week 11) and five more divisional games await.

This isn’t to say the Chiefs are done. It’s only to point out that their margin for error has become incredibly thin, while their options for improvement aren’t vast. Safety Tyrann Mathieu even questioned this team’s sense of urgency, saying, “Every team we play wants to beat us. They want to beat us bad. I think we have to understand that coming into these kind of games.”

It would be easy to explain Kansas City’s problems as simply being emblematic of the usual Super Bowl hangover that plagues teams that lose that game. This feels like more than that. The Chiefs have openly talked about wanting to build a dynasty since Mahomes became their starting quarterback in 2018, and these issues may be the consequences of that. They’ve played a lot of high-intensity football games over the last three years, which can lead to mental fatigue. They’ve also had quite a bit of roster turnover, which can result in the elevation of younger players who might not yet grasp what it takes to play championship-caliber football (see: wide receiver Mecole Hardman, whose yards-per-catch mark has declined in each of his three seasons) or the reliance on veteran additions who don’t meet expectations (see: defensive end Frank Clark, who’s had 14 total sacks since coming over from Seattle in 2019).

Whatever the factors are, the Chiefs can no longer afford to believe their problems will improve because they have the best quarterback in the game and an offense that has been stunningly prolific under Hall-of-Fame coach Andy Reid. There are plenty of other talented signal-callers blossoming all over the league, along with creative young coaches roaming the sidelines. The difference is, those teams used to wilt against Kansas City when the game’s outcome hung in the balance. Now, as Sunday night revealed, the Chiefs are the ones who are failing to rise to the occasion.

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