MIAMI — To blame or not to blame?
That was the human-nature question Chiefs players wrestled with as they tried to process last season’s AFC Championship game loss to the Patriots, essentially because of one bad play made by Dee Ford.
Let’s be honest: When the Chiefs play the 49ers in Super Bowl 2020 Sunday, it should be their second consecutive appearance in the NFL’s ultimate game.
If not for Ford, who was the unquestioned goat of that AFC title game a year ago when he was called for a neutral-zone infraction on a play in which his teammate Charvarius Ward seemingly clinched the victory with an interception of a Tom Brady pass with about a minute to play and Kansas City leading by four points.
Instead of the Chiefs running out the clock and celebrating a trip to the Super Bowl, the Patriots drove to the go-ahead touchdown and eventually won, 37-31, in overtime.
So, here we are at Super Bowl LIV, Chiefs against 49ers, and Ford is now a pass rusher for the 49ers — having been traded to San Francisco after five productive seasons in Kansas City.
God forbid the faithful souls in Kansas City if it’s Ford who wrecks this game for the Chiefs, who haven’t won a Super Bowl in 50 years.
Sometimes, storylines are too delicious to dream up. This is one of them.
To his credit, Ford was and has been stand-up about the gaffe since it happened.
“It’s in a compartment of all the bad plays which you have done,” Ford said this week. “At the end of the day, it’s something that happened. I was on the short end of the stick. I got over it. I got over it and I had to get back to work. That’s all I could do.”
The Chiefs got over it, too, thanks in large part to head coach Andy Reid, who pushed all the right buttons with his players. Reid deftly used the Ford penalty as a springboard for his entire team to get better for 2019. The healing began the day after the loss, in Reid’s final meeting with the team before the players departed for their premature offseason.
“We came on for team meeting the next day and coach Reid told us, ‘Everybody needs to get six inches better,’ ’’ Chiefs linebacker Reggie Ragland told The Post. “That was our motto. We were six inches away [from the Super Bowl].’’
Ragland, who is a close friend of Ford’s, insisted the players did not blame Ford.
“We could have gotten those six inches on that play or any other play,’’ he said. “We had three third downs in overtime, and Tom Brady converted them. All we had to do was get our offense the ball. Everybody is focused on that play [by Ford], but as a defense we could have gotten off the field three times in overtime.’’
The Chiefs replaced Ford with Frank Clark, who earlier this postseason chirped about how “inexcusable” Ford’s mistake was.
“We came up short last year, it kind of fell on Dee, but it wasn’t Dee at all — it was all of us were four inches short,’’ Reid said.
“When [Reid] came in the room, we were like, ‘What is he going to talk about?’ ” Ragland recalled. “He just said everybody can be six inches better. I’m like, ‘OK, what am I going to do to get a little better this year?’ Everyone did the same thing — in OTAs, camps — everyone got a little better.’’
Ragland, meanwhile, was worried about his friend in the aftermath of his gaffe.
“Me and Dee Ford are good friends, and when it happened, more that the football, I was just trying to check on his mental health,’’ Ragland said. “Yeah, it was a costly mistake. He raised his hand and said, ‘Yeah, it was my fault to blame.’ It’s the players who let it linger and keep it inside that it can hurt your career, your future.
“Football is a game. I was making sure I was there for him, because that can be very traumatizing for a guy. Then he got traded after that. I was concerned for his mental health. I just asked him, ‘Are you OK?’ He said he was OK. Now he’s back here again. It is weird.’’
Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who’s in his first season with Kansas City, could not help but soak in the unavoidable storyline.
“That’s this league, right?’’ he said. “Ever-changing. There are always those dynamics and storylines. We’ll see where it goes.’’
Ragland was asked if he ever had moments a year ago, when the Patriots were playing the Rams in the Super Bowl, when he wondered, “What if?’’
“There’s always a ‘what if?’ ” Ragland said. “It happened. We all forgot about it and we just kept pushing and got six inches better. And now look: Now we’re back.’’
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