KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Could the circumstances of a pair of teams that each began the day at 6-4 have been any different?
The Chiefs hammer the Patriots, 26-16 (it felt, and was, much worse than that), and the divisional water is still up to their nostrils. The Patriots are shoved around by the Chiefs and they're no worse off than they were when the day dawned. Compared to the Chiefs, they're sitting in the penthouse gazing down at the peasants, in complete control of their playoff destiny.
They may not feel much like a playoff team after what happened here yesterday and they may not wish to acknowledge their good fortune, but that's the way it is. They are 6-5. Miami? Yes, with yesterday's win the Dolphins are two games behind in the AFC East, but the Patriots aren't losing any games to Miami. Is that clear?
Sometimes, life just ain't fair in the expansion-bloated world of professional sports.
Say this for the Chiefs: they know everything you've just read and yet they still managed to avoid feeling sorry for themselves after scoring on their first five possessions, and six of their first seven, against what's left of the two-time defending Super Bowl champs. I mean, wouldn't they like to be welcoming the Jets at home next week, as opposed to the Broncos?
''I know we had to win the majority of our games -- and by the majority I mean five out of six -- even to make the playoffs," said Chiefs defensive end Eric Hicks.
Consider the remaining Kansas City schedule: Denver, at Dallas, at the Giants, San Diego, and Cincinnati. If they can negotiate those minefields, they certainly will deserve to be in the tournament. And if they play the way they did yesterday, they will make it.
''It's our playoff run," said Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil. ''When we're 100 percent healthy and play well, the winning takes care of itself."
Aside from a problem in the red zone, the Chiefs posed insurmountable offensive problems for the Patriots' defense. It was hard not to be impressed watching Trent Green throw for 323 yards (averaging 12-plus yards per attempt) and one bomb of a touchdown while spreading the sugar so effectively that five receivers had at least one 20-yard reception. One reason this was possible was the fact that he was able to hand the ball off to the hard-running Larry Johnson for 31 carries, 119 yards, and one TD.
The direct relationship between the run and the pass was brilliantly illustrated on Green's 52-yard third-quarter TD strike to return man extraordinaire Dante Hall, only the sixth touchdown reception of his seven-year career.
It began with a play-action fake, and the way Johnson had been running, it was a fake that had to be honored.
''It was a situation where we had man-to-man coverage," said Green. ''It was a hard run fake, and he [Ellis Hobbs] really bit."
''It was a great call by [offensive coordinator] Al Saunders," added Hall. ''They came down hard on the run and I ran right by the safety and Trent put it right on the money. Great call. Great execution."
There were many other examples of great calls and great execution, although in this game that concept easily could have been boiled down to mean any time Green tried to throw in the direction of the great Tony Gonzalez. The skinny entering this game was that the renowned tight end was something of an under-used offensive asset, at least in the mind of Gonzalez. But he was a smiling man yesterday after making four receptions for a healthy 63 yards, the damage far outweighing the statistics themselves.
The big guy appeared amused at the ''What happened today, Tony?" queries he was getting from the local media.
''They were kind of calling my number a little bit," Gonzalez said with a shrug. ''There's no secret. That's what I do."
That's catching passes as well as any tight end in the past 15 years. ''The problem he creates is that most teams have to put a secondary man on him," said Green. ''That causes a real mismatch. There are probably some times I throw him the ball when I really shouldn't, but I expect him to catch it because of his size and athletic ability. It's a matchup I can't ignore."
Add it all up, and the reality is a quarterback's dream. Go down the checklist: Runner? Yup. Mid-range guy? Yup. Downfield threats? (Did I mention Eddie Kennison's 42-yard hookup?) Yup. And yesterday, anyway . . . protection? Yup. ''He had time to go from one receiver to another," Vermeil pointed out.
It does help when your perennial All-Pro tackle is back in the lineup. Willie Roaf, take a bow.
The defense held up its end of the bargain as well, beginning with four interceptions, three by safety Greg Wesley. (It would be redundant to note that the Patriots were unable to run the ball against this quality opponent). ''Our defense is glaringly better," said Vermeil, ever the wordsmith.
The Chiefs were appropriately diplomatic when discussing their vanquished foe. They weren't about to pretend they had beaten the real Patriots.
Vermeil: ''They didn't have [Corey] Dillon. A couple of their wide receivers weren't playing. It makes a difference."
Green: ''It is a different team."
Gonzalez: ''Obviously, they're hurting in the secondary."
The Patriots' well-documented infirmity aside, you have no idea how big a deal this game was to the Chiefs, who are under scrutiny in this town as being nothing more than pigskin bullies who can't stand up to legitimate competition during the Vermeil administration. Entering this game, for example, the Chiefs were 40-34 under Vermeil. But, as columnist Joe Posnarski pointed out in the Kansas City Star, the records of the teams they had beaten was 263-341, as opposed to the 292-221 record of the teams they had lost to. Even more to the point, against teams that had won five or fewer games, the Chiefs were 14-1. Against teams that had won 11 or more, they were 3-6. And don't ask about the playoffs.
So this was a statement game for the Chiefs. They needed the game desperately, both for their playoff hopes and their general self-esteem. They could not afford to allow the weakened Patriots to come here and do unto them as they had done unto them in that Monday night game two years ago.
They had all of maybe 18 hours to enjoy it. This morning they start preparing for the Broncos, the first of five tough games left on their schedule. They need five ''A" games, and even that might not be enough to get them where the Patriots, as un-Patriot-like as they currently may be, are all but booked.
Even if they're lucky, they might even see the Patriots again. In Foxborough. Welcome to the modern NFL.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.