KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Unbeaten at home and mediocre away from Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City’s most pressing need from now until Christmas will be figuring a way to win on the road.
The AFC West leaders will play five of their next seven games in unfriendly locales, starting this week with a trip to second-place Oakland. After that, they’ll close out the regular season with two home games beginning on Dec. 26.
In two of their first three road games this season, at Cleveland and Indianapolis, the Chiefs (5-2) failed to score an offensive touchdown. They still managed to nip the Browns 16-14 for their only road win to date.
The offense finally came to life in a trip to Houston but the defense experienced its only meltdown of the year, allowing the Texans to score touchdowns on their last four possessions.
After home wins over Jacksonville and Buffalo, it’s on to Oakland, a division matchup with added importance because the Raiders occupy second place in the AFC West, just 1½ games behind. If the Chiefs can win there, they’ll own a 2½-game lead and be the only team in the division that does not have a losing record.
After that, it’s another division game at Denver.
“There’s no doubt, that’s the challenge that’s in front of us,” safety Jon McGraw said Monday. “There are a lot of things that make it tough to win on the road.”
Kansas City also has road games against Seattle, San Diego and St. Louis on the horizon. Last year, in Todd Haley’s first season as the head coach, the Chiefs lost at Oakland and San Diego and won the season finale at Denver, knocking the Broncos out of playoff contention.
“At the end of the day, it’s all psychological and if you just get out there and concentrate on what’s going on between the lines you should have a chance,” McGraw said. “We’ve just got to execute better than the other guys. It will be a challenge.”
Haley talks constantly about building cohesion and togetherness and becoming “a team,” which comes in handy when you’re playing in a difficult environment.
“On good teams, there are relationships and a bond there among the guys. The tighter that is, the more you’re going to be able to hold up under situations that have some adversity,” he said. “And going on the road is an adverse situation. You’ve got a lot of people who don’t want you to win, who are doing everything they can to get you to not win, to get you to make mistakes.
“To be a good team in this league and to eventually be a great team, you must win on the road.”
That means, among other things, shutting out crowd noise and avoiding distractions.
“First and foremost, you’re changing your comfort zone,” Haley said. “Your comfort level goes way down. Even places where you play every year. The comfort level is a big thing. People have argued about this, but there’s potentially more distractions on the road.”
KC’s 13-10 overtime victory against the winless Bills on Sunday avenged one of its home losses from last season and seemed to put a more sprightly spring in Haley’s step than any other victory this year. Ryan Succop, after missing in earlier in overtime, kicked a 35-yard field goal on the final play of the extra period to improve the home record to 4-0 — one year after Kansas City lost its first four at home.
“Our team is showing signs of being a team, and yesterday — that’s why I can’t go on enough about yesterday,” Haley said. “It was one of those wins we’ll draw from, draw so much from. Though that game probably could have gone a different way, had we executed correctly it could have made that game not so close. For our guys, there will be a lot to that game down the road.”
The Raiders’ biggest challenge will be stopping the Chiefs’ running game. After rushing for 274 yards, the Chiefs lead the NFL in rushing for the third week in a row with an average of almost 191 yards a game. The Raiders are second at 168.5.“
Each game’s bigger than the next,” Haley said.