Blame it on the rarified air. Why not? We have to point the finger somewhere, right?
What we witnessed from our beloved Kansas City Chiefs at hostile, capacity-filled Invesco Field in Denver less than 48 miserable hours ago was a football team that performed as if it had the mile-high air sucked right out of it from the opening kickoff and the misguided mind-set that their last-place opponent was nothing more than a blip on Kansas City’s continued journey to greatness.
It was a shocking, yet all-too-familiar scene in the recent history of the Chiefs. But you really can’t say we didn’t see something like this coming. Let’s examine the facts for a moment before we get back to the ugliness of the Broncos stampede.
Todd Haley’s renewed Chiefs opened the season at New Arrowhead Stadium and reeled off three consecutive victories, giving Kansas City fans a revived spirit and new hope that there was something special happening with this team. Then after two straight road losses at Indianapolis and Houston, two games the Chiefs actually were in late and with a break here or there could have won, a bruised but not broken Kansas City squad returned home to host two AFC teams with losing records.
The Chiefs disposed of Jacksonville with a late scoring barrage, and then came Buffalo. The Bills were winless through their first six games, and we had them right where we wanted them, in New Arrowhead, which until recently was always considered a death sentence for even the best of teams, let alone a team with little or no life signs to begin with.
Here was our first true signal that the welcome turnaround we had been enjoying with the Chiefs was about to turn around. Buffalo forced the Chiefs into overtime and, by all rights, should have won the game, but Kansas City managed to prevail with a game-saving field goal in the extra period. That win upped the Chiefs’ season record to 5-2 and tied them with several other teams for the second-best record in the National Football League. By this time, Kansas City had caught the attention of the experts and other teams around the league.
The sports talk shows and local media were all over this story. Although the local sportscasters, sportswriters and sports bloggers such as myself were careful to temper their comments with guarded optimism, talk was rampant all over the “metro,” as the local TV news anchors like to refer to our fine city, about the playoff-bound, AFC West division-leading Kansas City Chiefs. And not so much about what could be, but a more definitive what is.
The Chiefs were definitely on a roll. The problem was, as well as things seemingly had been going for Kansas City in virtually all aspects of the game, and as quickly as the Chiefs had managed to turn things around from where this team was a year ago, no one really wanted to stop – or step back – and contemplate that the direction could change just as suddenly, especially in this league.
We don’t need to be reminded what happened at Oakland. The way that game went over the final 35 minutes or so, it wouldn’t have mattered if the Chiefs had played two or three overtimes, the end result probably wouldn’t have changed, as poorly as the team executed after halftime. It was as if the guys in white were more concerned about catching the flight back to Kansas City than they were about winning this game.
OK, we got that one out of our system. Things were sure to get better the following week. After all, Denver was on a four-game losing skid and was 2-6 for the season. They had been unsuccessful all season in running the ball and were last in the league in stopping the run, something the Chiefs had been doing exceptionally well – in fact, good enough to be leading the league in yards gained on the ground.
Experts will tell you that if you can’t run the ball and you can’t stop the run, you won’t win football games in the NFL. In order to be effective throwing the ball, you have to be able to run the ball as well. A balanced offense keeps the defense guessing, which is an advantage to the team on offense.
When you do the math, it is difficult to see how the Chiefs wouldn’t be in ideal position to win this game. Except for one very important series of facts: This is Denver, with whom Kansas City has always had trouble, especially in games played in Denver, and the Broncos had an extra week to prepare for the Chiefs courtesy of a bye.
Much has and will be written and spoken this week deservedly critical about Kansas City’s no-show, heartless performance – a 49-29 bludgeoning that made the final score look more respectable than it really was. It was a game that most considered a must-win for the Chiefs if they truly had playoff aspirations.
We’ve all heard of teams that manage to win games by playing or winning ugly. In the debacle at Denver, the Chiefs may have redefined what it means to lose ugly. It was obvious from the first play of the game that Denver wanted this game a whole lot more than the Chiefs did. The Broncos came out throwing the ball and moved right down the field, virtually uncontested, to score barely three minutes into the game. Denver did the same thing on its next two possessions, only this time they were picking up large chunks of yardage both on the ground (which they weren’t supposed to be able to do) and through the air.
This “onslaught,” as Chiefs radio play-by-play announcer Mitch Holthus kept calling it, continued until the score was 35-0 with still a little less than six minutes to go until halftime. Denver was able to do anything it wanted, and Kansas City was obviously shell-shocked and helpless to stop it.
How bad was it? Even if you’ve already heard these revealing stats, they bare repeating:
- Denver did not run a third-down play until midway through the second quarter when the score was 28-0.
- The Broncos did not punt the ball until the third quarter.
- The team that wasn’t supposed to be able to run the ball pounded away for 153 yards rushing against the Chiefs’ defense, the ninth-best in the NFL in defending against the run.
- The NFL’s most potent run offense, the Chiefs, gained only 51 yards on the ground against the second-worst rushing defense in the league.
- Just two weeks ago, Denver gave up 59 points at home to Oakland, losing 59-14.
That hardly resembles the team that stood 5-2 just a few weeks ago and was on the verge of running away with the AFC West division title.
So what’s happened to the Chiefs? To begin with, since beating Jacksonville in Week 7, the Chiefs’ performance has digressed a little more in each successive week.
Credit Oakland with challenging the Chiefs to throw the ball by loading the box to shut down Kansas City’s powerful run game. Denver probably would have taken this same approach, but they didn’t have to because the Chiefs fell so far behind so quickly that they were forced to abandon their running game and go the air to play catch up. With the Chiefs’ two starting free safeties injured and out of the game, Denver went right after the KC’s patchwork secondary, and the game plan paid off immediately.
It has become abundantly clear that Kansas City’s passing game is not one of the team’s strong suits. Now that offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss’ offense has been exposed, the Chiefs can expect to see more of their opponents employing the same game plan until Kansas City shows it can successfully counter the attempts to make the offense one dimensional.
Coach Haley showed extremely poor judgment is snubbing Denver head coach Josh McDaniels after Sunday’s game, whatever his reasoning, but he is spot on about one thing: The Chiefs are not as good a team as everyone, including the players themselves, seemed to think they were.
The Chiefs definitely need to regroup. There is still a half-season left to play, and Kansas City is still in first place, albeit in a tie with Oakland and now only one game up over projected division champ San Diego. But our hometown football heroes need to get things turned back around quickly.
They need to refocus on doing the things that Haley and his coaching staff have been emphasizing all along: making steady week-to-week improvements that will enable the Chiefs to beat the teams they should, and some they shouldn’t, but do so with more consistency, greater resiliency and a growing confidence that is earned and not imagined.
Only then will the Chiefs be in a position to legitimately lay claim to being a good team and perhaps, eventually, a great team like their proud Chiefs’ brethren from the past.
For more information:
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