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Chiefs can thank Andy Reid's steady hand for their dramatic turnaround

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- With his team well on its way to a 1-5 start to the season, I wrote that the next few games would come to define Andy Reid’s time with the Kansas City Chiefs. Whether he could fix what was ailing a roster he thought was capable of achieving plenty would say much about his ability to get something done in Kansas City.

This thing isn’t over with four games left. It’s not even close. The Chiefs fell apart late in the season in each of Reid’s first two years in Kansas City and another similar performance isn’t out of the question.

But this year’s Chiefs, at 7-5 and on a six-game winning streak, look like a team on more solid ground than its predecessors, which would make another December collapse more surprising.

Reid’s job isn’t done, but the way this thing is trending, he is well on his way to seeing the Chiefs through a dismal time and doing it without their best offensive player, running back Jamaal Charles. If the Chiefs make the playoffs, Reid deserves consideration, at least, as coach of the year.

If he gets that award, Reid might be the first coach to do so for staying the course. He didn’t flinch when the season appeared to be careening wildly out of control. He didn’t panic when the Chiefs lost Charles to a season-ending knee injury.

He didn’t fight any urges to bench Alex Smith, who was playing poorly, because he never had them. Reid stuck to his beliefs that his quarterback would improve, the Chiefs indeed had a solid roster around him and his methods would eventually prevail, as they have for much of his 17-year head-coaching career.

Reid tweaked some smaller things, like putting a greater offensive emphasis on third downs in practice. The Chiefs were a league-worst 27.8 percent in converting on third downs when they were 1-5. They are at 44.9 percent, fourth in the NFL, during the six-game winning streak.

On the big stuff, Reid stayed the course. The biggest of stuff: his faith in Smith and the Chiefs’ decision not to go outside to replace Charles.

The easy choice with Smith, it seemed early in the season, was to replace him with backup quarterback Chase Daniel. Smith was off to a miserable start and at one point seemed to be losing his touch at doing the one thing he’s excelled at for most of his career -- protecting the ball. Smith threw two costly interceptions in an early loss to Denver and another the following week in a defeat against Green Bay.

Behind Smith, the Chiefs kicked seven field goals in a loss to Cincinnati and scored a total of 27 points in back-to-back losses against the Bears and Vikings.

Through it all, Reid didn’t waver in his support of his quarterback. Smith has responded with a QBR during the winning streak of 83.4, which is second best in the league over the past six games. He hasn’t thrown an interception since the Packers game and has run his streak of passes without one to 305, which is third longest in NFL history.

After scoring 23 points against the Steelers to begin the winning streak, the Chiefs have at least 29 in every game since and are one of the NFL’s highest-scoring teams.

The decision to stay with Smith looks like a good one, like the one not to bring in running back help after the Charles injury. Reid and the Chiefs were tempted to get a bigger name back with more experience, like Pierre Thomas or Ben Tate, who were among the backs to audition for a job in Kansas City in the first days after Charles’ injury.

The Chiefs instead went with a couple of younger, unheralded backs already on their roster: Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. Each has delivered a 100-yard game in Charles’ absence, and Ware leads the Chiefs in rushing touchdowns with five despite getting fewer carries than either West or Charles.

“The kids we had here, they knew the system,’’ Reid said. “They were young, but their upside looked like it was tremendous.’’

That’s not to say the Chiefs didn’t seriously consider bringing in a back. Reid huddled with general manager John Dorsey, and they came away believing in the roster they had built.

“We weren’t going to flinch on it,’’ Reid said. “Whatever we decided was best, we were going to stick with that and see what happens. We kind of made that pact when we came here. We had both come from that kind of system.’’

Reid was speaking of the running backs, but he could have been talking a general philosophy on how the Chiefs have handled everything this year. The result is a 7-5 record and, most likely, a second playoff appearance in three years.

They have Reid’s steady hand to thank for that.