The Comedy of Errors was one of Shakespeare’s first plays. The storyline centers around two sets of twins, unaware of each other’s existence, who by happenstance all end up in Ephesus at the same time. Each is repeatedly mistaken for his brother, leading to considerable chaos and, on two occasions, severe beatings.
The Kansas City Chiefs, similarly, have stumbled upon considerable chaos and, on several occasions, severe beatings. As with the characters in Shakespeare’s Comedy, the Chiefs find their troubles rooted in mistaken identity – several of their players have been mistakenly identified as NFL-caliber players.
The difference between the two is that at the end of Shakespeare’s Comedy, everyone in Ephesus is happy. There are no smiling faces in Kansas City. There can’t be. The Chiefs are in no present danger of suffering an embarrassment of riches. They’ll stick to plain old embarrassment.
What I’m about to say is something I’ve said before at least two or three times after a loss, but I really do sincerely mean it. This is quite possibly the ugliest display of alleged professional football I’ve ever witnessed. What separates this one from other contests about which I have made this remark is that three of Kansas City’s four turnovers weren’t the result of inferior athleticism trumped by superior athleticism, but rather sheer, boneheaded loss of control. Rudy Niswanger didn’t have a botched snap on his record prior to today. Now he has two, and they were among the worst failed exchanges I’ve seen. Trey Junkin’s playoff long snapping mishap with the 2003 Giants comes to mind, but Junkin’s botch was recoverable. Niswanger’s were not. Neither was within a foot of its mark.
Likewise, Matt Cassel’s inexplicable drop wasn’t, as is normally the case when a quarterback fumbles while attempting a pass, the result of a defender’s hit. It was nothing more than a mental lapse, no different than his missed handoff to Jamaal Charles two weeks ago. His attempted pass while being safetied in the 4th quarter was not the height of great decision making either. The pass was aimed directly at Niswanger’s ankles. Niswanger was behind the line of scrimmage, so had the ball made contact, it would have been ruled a fumble and a live ball. He evaded the sack, but potentially set up a much more costly error.
No Chief, however, had a game as bad as Wade Smith. I have repeatedly called for Smith’s dismissal, and I shall not relent. He opened the day by paving a lane for former teammate/career backup Alfonso Boone. At this phase in his career, this point is probably lost on him, but I’ll say it anyway: Wade, running lanes are supposed to be made for tailbacks, not defensive ends. As per usual, Smith was repeatedly beat off the line, and on the rare occasion that he wasn’t, his friendly Irish neighbor, Ryan O’Callaghan, was. As was pointed out to me several times last week, I was remiss in my last game review in applying the same degree of critique to Cassel’s supporting cast as I did to Cassel himself. I’ll make amends for that right now: Cassel was bad again, but his blockers aren’t doing him any favors. O’Callaghan has left question as to whether or not he belongs in this league. Smith has demonstrated that he does not. The right side of Kansas City’s line has been in shambles since Will Shields left. The present alignment won’t remedy that problem.
The ugly, regrettably, was one-sided. San Diego was not opportunistic in their win. Take away the 28 points they scored on turnovers, and they still scored enough to beat the Chiefs. I will not fault the Kansas City defense to any great degree, however, because I believe they did enough to keep their team in the game. They held a future Hall of Fame running back and his three capable assistants to 78 yards on 29 attempts. While the defensive line failed to demonstrate any semblance of pass rush, as is customary in the post-Jared Allen era, the defensive backfield did demonstrate some propensity for making plays on the ball. Brandon Carr is still far from a finished product, but he has begun to display on a weekly basis a little bit of football awareness. As much as I’ve maligned the guy over the past year and a half, I think there is some possibility that he’ll grow into the player the Chiefs need him to be.
While I’m handing out free hall passes, let me also give one to Jamaal Charles. His fumble was costly, but his atonement lies in his versatility. In three games as a starting tailback and part time kick returner, he has posted combined yardages of 195, 224, and 208. Unlike his predecessors at both positions, his success isn’t predicated entirely on the quality of blocking in front of him, and, unlike his predecessors at both positions, he himself can also throw a block for someone else. His size and durability remain a concern, and at some point the Chiefs will need to address finding him better support than Kolby Smith and Quentin Lawrence. He remains, however, a rare bright spot on a unit mired in mediocrity.
The coming week may be Todd Haley’s biggest test yet as a head coach. Prior to last week’s win, his team was entrenched in a culture of losing. Their wins against Washington and Oakland were meaningless. Both were eked out victories against the dregs of the league. The Pittsburgh win, however, marked a possible righting of the ship. It was also Todd Haley’s first foray into coaching without verbal abuse. Based on the outcome of today’s game, it would be easy for him to call the experiment a failure and reprise his role as Old Yeller. Does he have it in him to coach a team back from a harrowing, error laden loss against a division opponent without the crutch of blatant belittling? Old habits die hard, and Haley faces the doubly hard task of killing those habits while also killing the pervasive mindset that made them seem necessary. For a team so heavily burdened with mistakes, the biggest error he could make would be to revert to an approach which served him so poorly the first time around.
And, for good measure, fire Wade Smith.