Andy Reid stays the course, keeps his Chiefs on track for Super Bowl LIV

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Andy Reid stood there like he always stands there, looking out at the field like he's seen it all before and is more than willing to fake it if he hasn't. The games and the seasons might run together at this point -- frankly, he can look a little bored over there -- but there's always fresh misery on the horizon. He is trained to sense its approach, and to brace himself for its arrival.

On Sunday afternoon in Arrowhead Stadium, the misery announced itself loudly and suddenly, wobbly and disjointed and rambling like a street-corner preacher. It spilled into the margins and slopped over the edges, and still Reid stood there, his Chiefs trailing by a monstrous and slightly hilarious 24 points in the second quarter, Reid solemn in his acceptance of whatever fate might send his way.

Before the game, the AFC side of the bracket seemed to have spread its arms to Reid in a wide embrace. No Patriots, no Ravens, home field through the AFC Championship Game. The Chiefs started Sunday with two games to win against the AFC South -- first the Texans in the divisional round and then the Titans in the title game next week -- to put Reid in the Super Bowl for the second time in his 21-year coaching career.

Instead, it all seemed to come loose. A busted coverage on the Texans' first drive, a blocked punt for a touchdown a few minutes later, a fumbled punt inside their own 10 by a guy -- Tyreek Hill -- who had returned one punt all year (for a fair catch). The Chiefs were down by three scores, and still Reid stood there, the game fermenting before him, wondering what he did to deserve it this time around.

What did he do? Not much, really. What could he do? Yell at guys to block better and run faster and hold on to the ball? He's not the type to round up the troops and scream and threaten just to satisfy the cameras. Until today, an Andy Reid-coached team had never overcome a deficit bigger than 21 points. "He can't just stand there and say, 'We got it, we got it,'" offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. "What he said was, 'You got to keep playing, and keep battling it out.'"

The Chiefs kept playing, and they kept battling, and Patrick Mahomes threw four touchdowns in the second quarter. The 24-0 deficit evaporated just as hilariously as it had appeared. By the end they'd scored 51 points and looked like they could have managed 30 more. (Watching Mahomes, you get the feeling he stores touchdown passes like a battery.) Statistics always fail to the absurd, but this one comes close: The Chiefs became the first team to win a playoff game by more than 20 points after trailing a playoff game by more than 20 points in the 100-year history of the league.

"It was about settling down and calming the storm," Reid said afterward. "No need to panic, just fix the problems."

Reid is the rare football guy whose personality demands no loud words. There is nothing about him that calls attention. His voice is always a surprise: far higher and softer than his bearing would suggest. The words filter through his baleen mustache and fade within a few feet. He is one of those characters who remind us that failure is always more compelling than success, but success after serial, systemic failure is the most compelling of all.

Reid is one of eight coaches with 200 wins, seventh all-time and a bad season away from passing Paul Brown. But he has, famously, never won a Super Bowl, and that fact is repeated so frequently, and with such blunt force, that it began to feel vindictive years ago.

"I think everyone who has an understanding of him over the past 20 years understands there's one thing he hasn't done," Schwartz said. "It would be really special to be able to do that." Schwartz pointedly refused to identify "that," before saying, "This team does a really good job of not looking too far ahead and just focusing on the moment. Obviously, being able to come back like we did today shows a resilience that speaks to that. And I think he [Reid] is a big part of that. I don't think the plays he called got magically better in the second quarter. He just kept trusting us. You see coaches get conservative and shut it down but he always stays aggressive. We feed off his ability to be positive with that. He's always on attack as a playcaller and a person -- he just attacks everything. That definitely translates."

Perhaps it's fitting, and portentous, that the game turned on coaching. Reid stayed the course, took what came to him and let his guys work it out. Texans coach Bill O'Brien, in contrast, never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, being passive when the moment called for aggressive and aggressive when it called for passive. The game turned on a moment of weakness by O'Brien: He kicked a field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-almost nothing from the Chiefs' 13 with a 21-point lead. Fittingly, Houston's win probability, according to ESPN Stats & Information, peaked at 93.9% on the play before the field goal. The Texans' win probability decreased when they took a 24-0 lead in a remarkable confluence of analytics and overall stadium vibe.

In his postgame news conference, Reid was asked when he knew Kansas City was going to be OK. "I always think we're going to be OK," he said. "Fix the problem and let's go." He was asked what was going through his mind when the Texans went up 24-0. "I was thinking we need to score some points," he said, and everyone laughed but him.

"Honestly, I don't think there was anything bad going through his mind," rookie defensive tackle Khalen Saunders said. "He's a veteran coach and one of the greatest coaches of all time. If he was thinking something bad, then I don't know what the rest of us would have been thinking. His head didn't waver at all. I know he's confident in this team, because he's the one who put it together."

Afterward Reid was resolutely unreflective, thanking everyone -- his players, coaches, even the groundskeepers -- like he was reading from the staff directory. He deflected any credit, saying, "Down 24-0, if you don't have a good locker room, things will get away from you." He even took a moment to praise O'Brien for following up his decision to kick a field goal by calling a failed fake punt from his own 31 on fourth-and-4 up 24-7. It was the Chernobyl of playcalls, and no doubt the biggest turn of the game. It gave the Chiefs more hope and a short field and probably a good laugh, and within minutes they were on their way to scoring touchdowns on seven straight possessions. But Reid, who has been there -- or at least somewhere in the vicinity -- felt the need to offer a defense.

"I thought Bill did a nice job with that," Reid said. "I thought that was an opportune time to call that. People are going to be upset with him, but from a coaching standpoint, he was an inch away. That wasn't a bad call at all."

By midway through the second quarter, it was clear that Sunday's game was going to be either the worst loss or the best win of Reid's career. The middle ground was ceded amid the fever-dream coaching decisions, the fumbles that hit the opponents in stride and the special-teams plays drawn in the dirt. And when it was over, when Mahomes was finished spit-shining his legend and Reid was free to think -- privately, of course -- of completing this season in the one way he never has, he shook a few hands on the sidelines and completed an unceremonious removal of the headset. There were a couple of hugs not of his initiation, and then his hands went back in his pockets and he regained the look of the guy who has seen everything.

He's wrong, though, and he knows it better than anyone. He has seen almost everything. He has three weeks to change that.