1. Anatomy of a Collapse
People like me have gotten the Chiefs wrong all year.
When the Chiefs started 5-0, I said we wouldn't see the same old team. They've gone 1-6 since.
I said bench Alex Smith. On Sunday, he tossed four touchdowns against the Jets, and K.C. still lost.
The reason the Chiefs have been hard to figure is because what we're seeing is rare. Almost never does a team ride to an undefeated start only to fall apart, losing to bad teams along the way.
"It is just not about X's and O's," former safety Rodney Harrison said on NBC. "We have questioned their heart, we have questioned their passion, their effort, and now we are questioning their discipline. Andy Reid has so much work to do within this locker room to get these guys just to focus, just to play hard."
This is what a total collapse looks like.
When team officials and assistant coaches interviewed by B/R were asked to diagnose what's happened to the Chiefs, they identified three primary issues:
A lack of discipline. Accountability is in short supply, according to those with whom we spoke. Marcus Peters' decision to toss a penalty flag into the stands Sunday was only the latest incident. Teams believe the Chiefs have refused to seriously discipline Peters all season for a variety of offenses and lack of control.
One assistant coach compared Peters to the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. When one player is allowed to behave in such ways, the thinking goes, it sends a message to the rest of the team that anything goes. Discipline on an NFL team can be a complex and layered subject, as Beckham recently tweeted, but the Chiefs are reaping the results of what happens when you give a player too much leeway.
KCTV5 News @KCTV5
VIDEO: Marcus Peters launches a penalty flag into the stands. Officials did NOT eject him. https://t.co/4MZDpBzCcF2017-12-3 21:25:15
The sources added the problems extend to Travis Kelce, who earlier this season showed a lack of effort after an interception while barely concealing his frustration on the field.
Reid was asked this week at a news conference if the team lacked discipline.
"At times frustration can set in," Reid told reporters. "When good things don't happen, it's important to control yourself. With young guys, they're high-strung, man, they're competitive. [But] there's a fine line. You have to handle yourself the right way."
To be fair, Reid may have disciplined the players privately with team fines, but if that's the case, the sources told me, it's not working.
Editor's Note: Coach Andy Reid has reportedly suspended Peters for this weekend's game, according to Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star.
An overrated roster. The Chiefs roster seems loaded with Kelce, Tyreek Hill and some high-end players on defense such as Justin Houston and Bennie Logan.
But many of the team sources found weaknesses in the talent level. There may be something to that.
Heading into Sunday, the Chiefs hadn't scored more than 17 points since October. On defense, they are ranked 28th against the pass. And while it's true Kansas City scored 31, the defense gave up 488 yards and a season-high 38 points—to Josh McCown and the Jets. And for the season, only two teams—the Buccaneers and Giants—have given up more yards.
"This defense used to be feared," one NFC assistant coach said, "and now it's not."
The loss of Eric Berry. Berry tore his Achilles' tendon and was placed on injured reserve in September. Though the Chiefs still reached 5-0 without him, league observers noted that the loss of a stabilizing force like Berry takes a toll long-term. No matter if he is still around the team, when a player isn't practicing or playing, even someone as great as Berry doesn't have the same influence.
"I think there's enough blame to go all the way around because that explosive offense that started off the season like gangbusters just came to a halt like five weeks ago," Hall of Famer Warren Moon said on the CBS Sports Network show NFL Monday QB. "This is a team that is not playing together. They lack leadership. We saw what happened with Marcus Peters and his eruption. They really need some leadership back there. They really miss Eric Berry being a part of this football team, both on and off the field."
One team official told B/R that the Chiefs losing Berry would be like the Golden State Warriors losing Steph Curry.
No matter how dire things look now, the execs and coaches all cautioned that the Chiefs are not dead yet and that they could still make a run to close the season. But it doesn't look that way today.
2. Seahawks Talking That Talk Again
The Seattle locker room is one of the most electric in all of football. It has the greatest collection of brains and brawn in the sport. Put those two things together, add a championship resume, and you get a swagger that few teams in football have—one that can help win games. And while that swagger appeared to be waning after a 1-2 start, a 7-2 mark since has revived that attitude. And that could be scary for the rest of the NFL.
To me, the Seahawks have appeared mortal in recent years, as injuries have taken their toll on the locker room. They are still banged up, but I felt a different vibe when I was in Seattle this past week. In some ways, it was exemplified by something linebacker Bobby Wagner said after the Seahawks beat the Eagles on Sunday night.
"I felt like everybody was sleeping on us and nobody expected us to win this game," Wagner said. "But we expected to win this game. This is not a surprise to us."
Now that's the Seahawks swagger I've come to know and love.
3. Baker Mayfield Has NFL Front Offices Thinking Hard
The Oklahoma quarterback will be the most interesting player in the spring draft. Not solely because of his crotch-grabbing personality or his ability to dance. Or his skill of drilling a TCU player in the head with a football.
When teams see Mayfield, they see Russell Wilson in some ways. The comparison has been made so many times to me it's almost cliche. There are questions, though, about Mayfield that there weren't about Wilson.
"One of the more physically talented players in the entire draft," an AFC team official said. "I wonder about his maturity, but not too much."
Added an NFC team official: "He's Russell Wilson physically. The worry is if he's Johnny Manziel mentally."
That's likely to make for a difficult decision for some teams.
"He could be the steal of the draft," another NFL team official said. "He's that good. But is he stable? Can you count on him?"
4. Aaron Rodgers May Not Be Human
Several Packers sources told me they have been stunned at the regenerative skills of the Packers quarterback, who is recovering from a broken collarbone. They say they've never seen anything like it. One jokingly called Rodgers "Wolverine" to me after the comic character who heals superfast.
Only thing Rodgers is missing are the claws. But I wouldn't put that past him.
5. A Giant Mess
The benching of Eli Manning is one of the greatest screwups in the recent history of the Giants. Speaking on CBS, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher (who I think could coach the Giants next year, by the way) put the mess in perfect context:
"Eli Manning was never a good fit in this offense, and Ben McAdoo never really tried to adapt this offense to fit around the strengths of Eli Manning. ... I felt if [owner] John Mara had a chance to do it over, he'd do a redo. Because he didn't realize the backlash that took place. ...
"You have a losing culture. Four out of the last five years, you have losing records. And to change a losing culture, a head coach and GM have to think alike and bring players into that locker room that have the same core values that you have. Having said that, you have two big decisions on the two most important players on your team: Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. ... I would go to [Manning], and I would say, 'Would you be a part of a succession plan? We're going to draft a quarterback. But I would like to have you groom this quarterback and help us transition into the next phase of [your] Giants career going forward.'"
6. No More Free Passes for Gronk
Pete Blackburn @PeteBlackburn
What the hell are you doing, Gronk? https://t.co/mZTgJA62eU2017-12-3 20:43:49
This incredibly dirty hit by tight end Rob Gronkowski was one of the nastiest you'll see in football. It also had serious ramifications, both for Tre'Davious White and for Gronkowski, who was suspended for a game by the league.
"He's not a dirty player, but if you do something like that to someone in the streets, you're going to jail," Harrison said on NBC's Football Night in America. "As disappointed as I am in Rob Gronkowski, I do believe that he deserves to be suspended one game. It's just unnecessary. For a guy to be down there—he's unprotected—and for you to purposely jump 270 pounds on him and drive your forearm to the back of his head is just unnecessary. ... He is a great kid, but he made a huge mistake."
(A quick aside: Harrison was one of the dirtiest players of all time. So he would know.)
Gronk apologized for the hit, and so did Bill Belichick. So that's good.
But the hit should forever end all the "just Gronk being Gronk" chatter. In some parts of NFL fandom, Gronk has been given a pass for his antics, but he crossed a line this time, endangering another player's health. And that should make everyone see Gronk through a different lens.
7. Geno Smith Was Right
Rex Ryan, the former NFL coach, was speaking about Smith on the ESPN pregame show Sunday when he said something that caused me to almost spit out my venti grande caramelo coffee all over my iPhone X while getting my nails done.
Ryan said that while Smith is a nice guy, "I just don't want him playing quarterback for me."
Smith is not a good quarterback. That is true. He was pretty awful with the Jets. Also, Ryan is an analyst now, and that kind of candor is normally excellent. I applaud it and note it all the time.
There was just something kind of cheap about what Ryan said, however, especially because it's not like Ryan lit up the world during his time as a coach. He was as disappointing as a coach as Smith is as a quarterback.
That's probably what set Smith off when he was asked about Ryan's comment.
Again, Ryan's dis wasn't unwarranted. It just lacks a certain sense of class when the criticism comes from someone who once trusted the player enough to start him.
8. That's Saying Something
After the Raiders beat the Giants, the always quotable Marshawn Lynch uttered one of the best few lines ever spoken by a sports figure:
"I'm sorry, though, look," he said, showing reporters he had been selected for a random drug test after the game, according to ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez. "It's either this or that, and I can't afford that. I apologize. But if you do not understand what this is, it's when you put your ding-ding sauce out and give them a sample."
9. Steady as He Goes
Some of you may have missed just exactly how badass a career Colts running back Frank Gore has had. On Sunday, he had 61 yards rushing, which put him at 13,697 yards for his career. That's fifth-best in history. That's more than Jerome Bettis (13,662 and a Hall of Famer) and LaDainian Tomlinson (13,684 and a Hall of Famer), both of whom he passed Sunday.
He's now just 405 yards from passing Curtis Martin at 14,101 yards. Some might criticize the fact that Gore has got his numbers over 13 seasons, while Martin, for instance, reached his milestone in just 11.
Doesn't matter to me. Gore achieved his stats in the most prolific passing era of all time. That should matter, as well. Gore may not be Jim Brown or Walter Payton, but there's nothing wrong with that—and no reason why he shouldn't get the recognition he deserves.
10. Bears Making the Wrong Kind of History
It had been 50 years—five decades—since the Bears ran 37 or fewer plays in a game.
This season, amazingly, they've done it twice.
It's really hard to run so few plays in an NFL game, especially in an era set up for offensive dominance.
Let this serve as a prelude to what should be an offseason filled with massive changes in Chicago.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.