At midterm, the grades for the specific areas of the Kansas City Chiefs were awash in red ink — as in Fs all over the place.
The Chiefs had won their final two games before the halfway point of the season just to get to 3-5. Nobody was remotely thinking about the playoffs because the Chiefs seemingly had too many flaws and had to play back-to-back road games to begin the second half at arch-rivals Denver and San Diego.
But the Chiefs stunned the most-hardened NFL observers by winning both games in dominating fashion. Then it was zoom, zoom, zoom from there as they were an unblemished 8-0 during the second half, which emulated the 2014 Kansas City Royals in their playoff run.
The Chiefs cleared the hurdle of winning a playoff game by dismantling a mediocre Houston team before running into Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. While the Chiefs statistically owned the game, the Patriots used their playoff guile to end KC’s season.
The Chiefs simply ran out of stars. Jeremy Maclin and Justin Houston played, but were there in body only as they used only sparingly. Spencer Ware, the thunder back, also was out. New England’s hurt players came back, with Julian Edelman returning to have a big game.
I don’t think a lot of people really expected the Chiefs to win. This, though, could be a round they win next year. They’re not that far away and need only a little tweaking to be among the elites. The Patriots and Broncos can’t rule forever with Brady and Peyton Manning getting the near the end of the line. The Chiefs also have some age, but they have a better core of young, good players.
That being said, the grade card looked much better at the end of the season than the beginning.
• OFFENSE •
Quarterback — Alex Smith will never be more than a game manager, but he’s good at it. Yet when it comes time for him to put the team on his shoulders and win a game, he falls short. Grade — B.
Backs — Jamaal Charles wasn’t off to a good start even before he was hurt. The emergence of Chardandrick West and Spencer Ware was a revelation. Knile Davis showed Saturday why he dropped on the depth chart as he has trouble hanging on to the ball. With Charles hopefully 100 percent next year, the Chiefs will have unquestioned depth. Grade — B.
Receivers — Jeremy Maclin was all the Chiefs could hope for and then some — one of the best free-agent signings in the NFL. Albert Wilson, though undersized, improved, but is no more than a No. 3 for most teams. Chris Conley looks the part with great size and speed, he just needs experience. Don’t be surprised if the Chiefs use their No 2 pick for a receiver. Grade — B-.
Tight end — Travis Kelce is one of the best. Once again this season he had some costly fumbles and foolish penalties, but there’s so much upside. Grade — A-.
Line — Definitely the team’s weakness, a No. 1 draft pick will be used here and KC could shell out big bucks on the free agent market. The Chiefs did make strides as Smith spent the first half of the season chucking and ducking before finally being somewhat protected. Eric Fisher will never live up to his overall No. 1 ranking, but he did get better. The other linemen are pedestrian. Grade — C.
• DEFENSE •
Line — The Chiefs have some young, physical talent here. Dontari Poe is among the best noseguards in the business, and Jaye Howard and Allen Bailey are improving. There’s also good depth, but don’t expect Mike DeVito to be back which will be a loss. Grade – B.
Linebackers — A strength of the team, but soon to become a weakness. The Chiefs may have squeezed out all they can from Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali. One or both could be gone in a cost-cutting move. Justin Houston’s season was short-circuited by injuries and he has to get back to his disruptive ways to justify his monster contract. Dee Ford has flashes, but still has a ways to go though he no longer will be thought of as a potential bust. Josh Mauga and Frank Zombo are limited, but good complementary players. But for this year, this was a very good unit. Grade — A-.
Secondary — Marcus Peters may be the Rookie of the Year. He was burned several times, but makes up for it with spectacular plays. Sean Smith needs to just play and quit worrying about his celebrations after making a stop, though he’s still better than most. Eric Berry’s return was one of the NFL’s best stories, though he has limited range, and Ron Parker was better than I thought he would be. Good backups here, too. Grade — B+.
Special teams — Punter Dustin Colquitt is ageless, though he didn’t have as many boomers as in the past. Cairo Santos’ leg seemed to wear down as the year went along on kickoffs, but showed great improvement on his field goal accuarcy. Davis was solid on kickoffs, but the punt return game suffered. Grade — B.
Coaching — I know Andy Reid gets hammered by critics for his time management, but football is so much more that that. You never hear of any discord coming from the locker room and the Chiefs very seldom play flat. You have to be doing something right to win 11 games in a row. I bet Philadelphia wishes now they hadn’t let him get away. Grade — A-.