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Longtime NFL veterans finding the playoff promised land

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Carlos Dunlap was tired of losing.

He was tired of putting in the work — those soul-crushing days in the heat of training camp, the daily grind of the regular season — only to reach the playoffs and watch it all go to waste with yet another disappointing defeat.

Six times, the veteran defensive end had played in the postseason. Six times, he went home a loser.

“I’d done a lot of football,” Dunlap acknowledged, “without winning a playoff game.”

Not anymore. Six months after signing with the Kansas City Chiefs, Dunlap has not one playoff win but two, and a chance to add a third — the biggest one possible — when they play the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in the Super Bowl.

“The number of guys who, you know, come to me saying they want to get it done for me, I’m very appreciative,” Dunlap said, “but I want us to get this done for us. That’s why I say the job’s not done. Just lock in for these next couple days and we’ll have forever to celebrate. It took me 200 games to get to this one.”

It took 205, to be exact.

Dunlap isn’t the only player Sunday with a chance to go from playoff-zero to Super Bowl hero. On the opposite sideline, Eagles pass rusher Robert Quinn had played 171 games and lost both of his previous playoff games, and cornerback Darius Slay had suited up 154 times and been 0-3 in the postseason, before their wins over the Giants and 49ers this season.

“I was in Detroit for seven years, which was hard to get past. I’ve been to the playoffs twice when I was in Detroit and didn’t get past the first round,” said Slay, who also lost with Philadelphia in the wild-card round last season. “I’m thankful for the Eagles trading for me to make me come over here and I’m getting to experience my first Super Bowl.”

Some players spend their entire careers without ever having that experience.

Take retired linebacker Takeo Spikes, who spent 15 seasons and appeared in 219 games for the Bengals, Bills, 49ers, Chargers and, yes, the Eagles. All those teams qualified for this year’s postseason, incidentally, yet none made it while he was on their roster. Instead, they found themselves in the midst of teardowns, rebuilds or frustrated by near-misses.

No player in the Super Bowl era has appeared in more games without making a single playoff appearance.

Rian Lindell came close, though. Before he retired, Lindell had kicked in 212 games for the Bills, Seahawks and Buccaneers — coincidentally, three teams that likewise made this year’s postseason but never qualified while he was around.

Then there’s the players that reached the postseason but never won a game. Tops on that list, according to Sportradar, is Jason Hanson, who kicked in 327 games over 21 years for the Lions without a single playoff victory.

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Darius Slay (2), defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (91) and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (23) gesture toward spectators during the second half of the Jan. 21 NFC divisional playoff game against the New York Giants in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Darius Slay (2), defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (91) and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (23) gesture toward spectators during the second half of the Jan. 21 NFC divisional playoff game against the New York Giants in Philadelphia.

That’s the dubious list that Dunlap, Quinn and Slay were on until this season.

“It’s been wild,” said Quinn, who thought he was destined to play the rest of his career in Chicago after signing a five-year, $70 million deal in April 2020, only to get traded for the third time in his career barely two years later.

This trade turned out to be a welcome change.

“To leave the situation in Chicago and the fashion in which it happened, and to come to an organization and be able to enjoy the success that they started building before I got here was a blessing,” Quinn said. “It’s great to be in this position, playing in the Super Bowl after so long waiting in my career for this moment.”

Was there ever a doubt it would happen?

“One day at a time,” Quinn replied. “Really, one year at a time. Usually by halfway through, you’ll definitely know whether you can make it that year. This is definitely the best team I’ve been a part of.”

San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey is tackled by Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Robert Quinn during the second half of the Jan. 29 NFC Championship between the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers in Philadelphia.

San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey is tackled by Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Robert Quinn during the second half of the Jan. 29 NFC Championship between the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers in Philadelphia.

That was true for both Quinn and Slay the moment the Eagles, who earned the NFC’s top seed and a first-round playoff bye, romped past the Giants in the divisional round. But it was underscored when they trounced the banged-up 49ers two weeks ago, giving each an opportunity to finish the year with a Super Bowl ring.

If they don’t come through, it means that Dunlap did.

Five straight years, he had helped the Bengals reach the playoffs, and five straight times they immediately lost in the wild-card round. When Dunlap was traded to Seattle in 2020, and cast from a rebuilding franchise to a perennial winner, he did his best to help the Seahawks clinch the NFC West, only to lose in the wild-card round again.

Now with the Chiefs, all those letdowns have made every successful step this season so much sweeter.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” Dunlap said, “but the job’s not done. That’s my motto right now: job’s not done.”

Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Carlos Dunlap rushes against Las Vegas Raiders fullback Jakob Johnson during the first half of an Oct. 10, 2022, game in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Carlos Dunlap rushes against Las Vegas Raiders fullback Jakob Johnson during the first half of an Oct. 10, 2022, game in Kansas City, Mo.

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