This time a year ago, Josh Mauga was unemployed.
After an injury-filled start to his NFL career in New York, Mauga was looking for a new home for the first half of the year. He rehabbed, worked out in the offseason and even participated in Fallon’s Hometown Heroes event in June.
One month later, though, Mauga received a call from Kansas City, which was willing to give him a chance. And it paid off.
After inside linebacker Joe Mays went down with an injury during the preseason, Mauga took over for the season, starting every game, as the Chiefs finished 8-8 but missed the playoffs. The Chiefs, though, upset the Chargers in the regular-season finale to prevent their AFC rival from making the playoffs.
“I had such a great time playing with this group of guys and coaches,” Mauga said. “I learned a lot from them throughout the season and it helped me progress each week. The season was truly a blessing for me. I got the opportunity to do what I love to do and was able to stay healthy and play every game.”
Mauga was no stranger to the Chiefs when he arrived in July, though.
He reconnected with two coaches from the Jets, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and linebackers coach Mark DeLeone. He credits Sutton and DeLeone for giving him a chance, knowing his proneness to injury.
“These are two guys I have the most absolute respect for,” Mauga said. “Not only did they coach me in New York with the Jets, but they did everything in their power to get me to Kansas City.”
Even though Kansas City missed the playoffs, Mauga had the best year of his career. And it wasn’t even close, unless counting the playoff experience with the Jets when he played special teams.
Mauga led the team in tackles with 103 total, including 82 solo, as well as 0.5 sacks and visited the Bay Area twice as his family, friends and supporters watched him in person against the 49ers and Raiders.
“I thought the season went great,” Mauga said. “We had some ups and downs, but we found a way to finish at the end with a win against the Chargers.”
Mays’ injury was only the beginning as the Chiefs lost several starters for the season. But the team’s defense prevailed and was one of the best in the NFL. Kansas City was second in scoring defense with 281 points (17.6 points per game) allowed, which was the best for the Chiefs’ defense since 1997 when it allowed 232 points.
“I thought the defense did play well this season,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid told the team website. “I was proud of the guys and the way they stepped up. I was proud of the coaches and how they worked through the strength of the player, which isn’t always an easy thing to do. There are certain things that can be engrained in you that you just won’t change. You see that all the time in coaching.”
The up-and-down season for the Chiefs included impressive wins over playoff teams from last year, but Kansas City couldn’t defeat one team in the division: Denver. After losing to the 49ers in October, the Chiefs put together a strong run until they lost to the Broncos, a turning point in the Chiefs’ playoff quest.
Among those eight wins, though, included a blowout victory against New England before Tom Brady and Co. turned their season around. The Chiefs also handed the defending Super Bowl champs, Seattle, a rare loss before the Seahawks rebounded in the last month of the season. Both teams meet in the Super Bowl next month.
Mauga, meanwhile, and his young family moved back to Reno this month where he will continue to enjoy his time off before getting back into the weight room. Mauga, who is a free agent, will find out in March about his future.
“I haven’t heard anything from Kansas City or any other teams and probably won’t until free agency starts in March,” he said. “I really enjoyed playing for them, and I hope this coming up off-season I can continue to do that and stay a Chief.”