KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The sorry state of the Kansas City Chiefs could easily be boiled down to the last few minutes of Sunday’s loss to the New York Jets, when their defense collapsed, their poise evaporated and any semblance of discipline went right out the door.
Or right into the stands.
That’s where cornerback Marcus Peters chucked an official’s flag after his angst reached a boiling point in the 38-31 defeat, the Chiefs’ sixth in seven games.
Peters further humiliated himself by taking off to the locker room — assuming he’d been kicked out of the game — then running back to the field without wearing socks when he realized he had not been ejected.
Yes, a team that started 5-0 and harbored Super Bowl aspirations is now 6-6 and tied for the lead in the AFC West. And the Chiefs have plenty of reasons to be embarrassed these days.
“What I think is when things aren’t going well, you’re trying to find ways to make it better, and at times frustration sets in,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said during a conference call Monday. “That’s not when good things happen. It’s important you control yourself.
“You’re dealing with young guys. They’re high-strung, man. They’re competitive,” Reid added, “so there’s a fine line there and you got to handle yourself the right way.”
Make no mistake: There are a multitude of on-field problems for Kansas City right now.
The offense finally showed some spark Sunday after an ugly stretch of games, only to come up short when it needed a touchdown to force overtime.
A defense that had been reasonably good collapsed against a mediocre opponent, allowing nearly 500 yards. And even special teams were a problem with Harrison Butker missing his first field-goal attempt in weeks.
“It’s certainly not where we thought we’d be after a 5-0 start,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said, “but that’s the NFL. No one is giving you anything. You have to go out and get it every week.”
They haven’t been doing that for months.
“We’re searching, for sure. Everyone has a hand in it,” Smith said. “We’re a little bit anxious. We know we can play better. We know we’re capable of better. It’s just a matter of going out and doing it.”
It would help if the Chiefs stopped stumbling over themselves.
The Chiefs committed a series of penalties in the closing minutes Sunday that gave the Jets every opportunity to score the go-ahead touchdown. And that was indicative of a troubling lack of discipline that has begun to engulf a franchise that once prided itself on mental toughness.
The Chiefs were similarly undisciplined under Reid’s predecessors, Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel, but one of the first things he did upon his arrival was straighten things up.
Players tucked in their jerseys in practice, staff members were required to wear team-issue clothing and Reid even halted practice to lambast reporters leaning against the fence surrounding their practice field.
The discipline showed in the way a two-win team quickly turned into a playoff team.
But that same discipline has been lacking the past couple of years. It’s evident in small things, such as the way the Chiefs scatter across their sideline during the national anthem, to more important things, such as the raft of penalties that have hurt them during their skid.
They’re the third-most penalized team in the NFL, trailing only Seattle and Miami, and are tied for the league lead in unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.
“Listen, I’m always going to take that responsibility,” Reid said, when asked pointedly about the Chiefs’ discipline problem. “I know I have a good locker room, so you can put that one on me.”
You can put a good chunk of it on Peters, too. He’s been flagged a league-leading three times for unsportsmanlike conduct this season, and the star cornerback with the checkered past has been dinged for the most penalty yards per game of any player in the league.
Asked whether Reid will punish Peters for his flag toss, he replied: “I’m evaluating all that as I go. Wherever I sit with that, obviously, I’ll talk to the person first.”
Still, did Reid think that his young cornerback embarrassed the franchise?
“I think that was the wrong thing to do,” he replied, “if that’s what you’re asking. So yes.”