KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Eric Berry credits Kansas City’s 4-0 start to the ‘‘family feeling’’ that held everyone together during the hapless 2-14 season of 2012.
Maybe so. But after the Chiefs pounded the winless New York Giants, 31-7, on Sunday, it’s obvious that importing a cool, savvy quarterback from San Francisco and bringing in a smart, no-nonsense coach from Philadelphia also had a lot to do with a rags-to-riches transformation.
Even in a league known for quick turnarounds and breathtaking free falls, this seems preposterous.
Alex Smith, who lost his job last year in San Francisco, threw three touchdown passes, and Dexter McCluster returned a punt 89 yards for another score as the Chiefs joined the 1980 Detroit Lions as the only teams in modern league history to win two or fewer games one season, then rocket to a 4-0 start the next.
‘‘To be honest, all we talked about all offseason was being 1-0,’’ said Smith. ‘‘Just get the first one.’’
Did he ever dream of being 4-0?
‘‘No, to answer your question.’’
The Giants, proud Super Bowl champions of the 2007 and 2011 seasons, are 0-4 for the first time since 1987, a mass of injury and disarray.
‘‘It is disappointing,’’ said quarterback Eli Manning, who’s been operating all year behind a patchwork offensive line. ‘‘The defense got us some turnovers and we weren’t able to do anything with it. We are just not playing very well offensively.’’
The injury-ravaged Giants trailed, 17-7, after three quarters. They managed a 69-yard catch-and-run TD from Manning to Victor Cruz.
‘‘This is a situation we've got to fix,’’ said Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. ‘‘We know what we’re capable of doing.’’
Defensive end Justin Tuck found the situation more dire. ‘‘I wish somebody would pinch me,’’ he said. ‘‘So I'd wake up.’’
Smith had touchdown passes of 5, 2, and 34 yards and was 24 of 41 for 288 yards. He was intercepted twice and the Chiefs also lost a fumble, Kansas City’s first turnovers in what may be turning into a magical season under first-year head coach Andy Reid.
‘‘I know they'll battle,’’ said Reid, who spent the previous 14 seasons coaching the Eagles. ‘‘That’s what I know. There are a lot of things I don’t know, but I do know this: We’re a tough bunch.’’
Manning was 18 of 37 for 217 yards. He was sacked three times and intercepted once, and harried and hurried for much of the bright, sunny afternoon.
The Chiefs led, 10-7, when McCluster set sail on the first TD punt return the Chiefs have had since Sept. 13, 2010, when McCluster took one back a team-record 94 yards against San Diego during a rainstorm.
McCluster juked one tackler, put a dizzying 360-degree spin move on another, and then broke clear up the middle.