SAN DIEGO -- Linebacker Derrick Johnson won’t wake up on this Monday morning with the normal bumps and bruises, aches and pains. He will feel fresh, like he didn’t even play football on Sunday, which of course he didn’t. Johnson and many of his key Kansas City Chiefs teammates were given the day off.
"It’s going to be great," Johnson said. "I’m going to be moving fast. We’ll be rested and ready to go and we’ll get started on Indy. We know we’ve got a great opportunity to beat a team we didn’t play [well] against a couple of weeks ago. We know if we can play better than we played this way, it’s going to be an interesting matchup."
Multiply Johnson’s situation by several others, and you understand why coach Andy Reid rested as many of Kansas City’s playmakers as possible and why it was the right thing for the Chiefs to do, even though they finished the regular season on Sunday with a 27-24 overtime loss to the San Diego Chargers.
This game was all about giving them a better chance to win Saturday’s wild-card playoff game against the Colts in Indianapolis. Reid’s move will no doubt do that.
The Chiefs might not beat the Colts. But if they don’t, it won’t be because running back Jamaal Charles didn’t absorb the 20 or more hits he would have against the Chargers, because quarterback Alex Smith didn’t take the two sacks backup Chase Daniel did, because nose tackle Dontari Poe didn't wind up on the bottom of a pile of humanity on each of San Diego’s 72 snaps.
"I look at the positive of it when I do that," said Reid, who had the starters take some snaps in practice during the week. "It gave the guys a week to heal up and rest up and still at the same time get good practice in. If we do meet up again with San Diego then they’ve got that practice time in with a game plan."
It might be tempting to believe Reid’s maneuver cost the Chiefs a victory, but don’t go there. The Chiefs should have won in regulation but failed to finish when Ryan Succop’s 41-yard field goal went wide to the right with four seconds remaining.
Charles, Smith, Johnson, Poe and the rest of Chiefs’ starters lost to San Diego 41-38 last month in Kansas City. So it’s fair to wonder whether the backups didn’t do a better job on Sunday than the starters might have.
At any rate, the Chiefs had nothing to lose. They were destined, win or lose, to be a wild-card playoff entrant and the No. 5 seed. Wild-card teams don’t get a playoff bye, like the Chiefs would have had they won the AFC West. So Reid created a bye for them.
Among the starters who did not play were left tackle Branden Albert and linebacker Justin Houston. They were injured but would have hurried back to play for the first time in weeks if not for Reid’s decision.
Instead, they had another week to get ready for the Colts.
"That’s one way of looking at it," Reid said about giving these players a bye. "There were a couple of guys with a lot of snaps under their belt like Jamaal and [strong safety Eric] Berry. These guys have been playing and they play physical positions. They had a chance to rest up. It gave Albert and Houston another week to heal up. They’re both ready to go but it gave them a chance to have one more week.
"That’s all for the good."
What the Chiefs did is forfeit any chance at building some momentum for the playoffs. In their last game heading into the postseason, on Dec. 22, the starters played their worst game of the season in losing to, yes, the Colts 23-7 at Arrowhead Stadium.
But that goal is and was secondary to the one the Chiefs accomplished Sunday.
"We’re wiping the slate clean now," Smith said. "It’s a brand new season. This game is such a week-to-week thing anyway. [The notion of momentum going into the playoffs] is talked about but not necessarily realistic."
For the Chiefs, the game had an odd, preseason-in-December kind of feel. Smith, not in uniform as one of the inactive players, stood around during pregame warm-ups, searching futilely for a way to be useful.
"So weird," he said. "I was wandering around. I definitely felt out of place."
Likewise, Johnson was inactive and couldn’t have played once the game started.
"I’m on the sideline warming up the whole game," he said. "I didn’t know what to do with myself."
So, some awkward moments for the Chiefs? Sure. But they did what needed to be done and gave themselves a better chance at postseason success because of it.
"It’s not so much for the quarterback, but some of these guys who play the really physical positions and bang a lot during the game," Smith said. "That’s what’s most important. Come tomorrow, those guys won’t have all the dings and things that do go on in a game. They’ll be fresh and be ready."