LAS VEGAS — The frustration was visible to anyone watching on Christmas Day.
As tight end Travis Kelce threw his helmet on the sideline, it was clear the Chiefs might be in trouble.
The Raiders beat the Chiefs, 20-14, in that game.
It was a very un-Chiefslike loss.
The Raiders scored two touchdowns off Chiefs turnovers, including a Patrick Mahomes interception.
Kansas City’s record fell to 9-6, and it looked like the mighty Chiefs were not ready to make a playoff run this year.
Here we are six weeks later, and the Chiefs are preparing to face the 49ers in Sunday’s Super Bowl LVIII.
They have won five straight, including three playoff games, since that loss on Christmas.
“We responded after that loss. I can point back to that as a moment for us,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “The team came together after that and stepped up to adversity.”
The Chiefs’ defense has played well all season. But the offense has picked things up since that Raiders loss.
Though Chiefs players are careful not to get to specific, they did offer up some changes that were made.
Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling said they tightened up the receiver rotation.
Instead of constantly substituting players, the Chiefs have kept players in the game even if the play call is not specific to them.
“We haven’t really done anything that has schematically changed,” Valdes-Scantling said. “We’re still running a lot of the same plays that we’ve been running all year. It’s more the in and out of personnel. We’ve got a bunch of receivers that can play. If you have seven guys up, everybody wants to play.
“It was just trying to figure out ways to get guys on the field, keep them on the field, not have to go in for a play, out for a play. That’s helped us out.”
The Chiefs have gotten better individual performances, as well.
Running back Isiah Pacheco has rushed for 130, 89, 97 and 68 yards in the four games he played since then.
He has scored a touchdown in each of Kansas City’s three playoff wins.
Rookie receiver Rashee Rice has emerged during this run.
He had five catches for 127 yards against the Bengals in Week 17.
He had eight catches for 130 yards and a touchdown in the playoff win over the Dolphins.
The Chiefs stopped dropping passes, something that plagued them for most of the season.
“I think we all had to look at ourselves in the mirror. I think our whole team did that,” Mahomes said. “We carried that momentum in the playoffs. Sometimes you need to get your tail whooped to be better on the other side. So I appreciate the Raiders for beating us like that, ’cause that’s gotten us to this game.”
Mahomes has raised his game in the playoffs after what could be considered a down year for him. He has played nearly mistake-free football.
He has no interceptions or fumbles on 112 drop-backs and has taken just two sacks for 11 yards.
“I think in that [Raiders] game you saw how dominant our defense could be,” Mahomes said. “As an offense, the turnovers, the 14 points really cost us the game. Just knowing when to be aggressive, when to be smart. Knowing that punting isn’t always a bad thing. You can flip the field.
“It’s something we kind of looked in the mirror and saw. We’ve executed at a higher level since then.”
The Chiefs are practicing at the Raiders’ training center this week.
They have a reminder of the game that changed their season.
“I think it gave our guys a nice little — for [lack of] a better term — a wake-up call, that we need to step things up here,” Reid said, “that things aren’t just going to fall in our lap. And so, we’re taking everybody’s best shot, and here’s a team that went through some adversity, and they stepped up and were able to present themselves like they did.
“We were able to learn from it and move on. I felt all along, though, we had the ability to do that. We just, like I said, we needed a little kick in the tail there.”