I have never felt a closer kinship with the players of the Kansas City Chiefs than I did last Sunday around about 2:15. The players and I had what I guess you could term as parallel experiences. I, like they, opened their eyes to discover I had slept through most of the second and third quarters, and was going to be stuck reliving an ugly game of which I already knew the outcome by watching it on tape.
So how does a home team that dominates time of possession by a wide margin, edges out their opponent in both passing and rushing yards, and doesn’t throw any interceptions allow 31 unanswered points? Just follow these three easy steps:
1) Don’t protect your quarterback. By now it should be painfully obvious that Kansas City parted ways with Brian Waters too soon. Waters is heartily demonstrating in New England that all those Pro Bowls were earned. Meanwhile, it’s a tough call from week to week as to which one of the Chiefs’ guards is less awful. This week it was Lilja by a long shot, but that’s not an endorsement of Lilja’s play.
Mind you, neither one of them holds a candle to Barry Richardson. Just how badly is Jared Gaither performing in practice that he can’t unseat this guy? Ever wonder why Leonard Pope isn’t catching more passes? It’s because he’s stuck at the line of scrimmage, playing mop-up duty. There’s nothing wrong with having a blocking tight end. We all loved Jason Dunn, but (a) with Moeaki out, Pope needs to be available as a target; (b) Dunn wasn’t asked to help hold back John Tait’s man–Tait did that himself; and © even if all things were equal, Leonard Pope still ain’t Jason Dunn. Kansas City has three pressing personnel needs in the upcoming offseason. Right tackle is one of them.
2) Maximize your mental errors and give up large expanses of open field on unnecessary penalties. For anybody unfortunate enough to remember this game five years from now, one particular play is going to stick out like a sore thumb. Early in the third quarter, with the point deficit still manageable, the Chiefs lined up for a 4th down and attempted their first special teams trick play of the season. How Thomas Gafford could have forgotten to whom he was supposed to snap the ball in the 20 or so seconds between when he left the sideline and the play began is beyond me. Gafford’s gaffe was ultimately insignificant insofar as it didn’t affect the outcome of the game, but in a way it encapsulated the tenor of the entire contest: the Chiefs couldn’t get even the simplest things right.
3) Turn a draft bust into a rock star. Reggie Bush might be the most one dimensional multifaceted player in the NFL. Or he was, anyway; the oft beleaguered punt returner/perimeter runner suddenly knows now how to channel his inner Jerome Bettis. Maybe having played Kansas City will end up being the turning point of his career. It worked for Rudi Johnson and Jerome Harrison. Why can’t it work equally as well for a player whose name everybody already knows?
The difference between this game and the Johnson or Harrison games is that there’s no obvious culprit on the defense. There was no Kawika Mitchell or Demorrio Williams in pursuit from behind on every down. Bush was an equal opportunity offender against a front seven that, against all odds, has been relatively impressive this season (by post-Schottenheimer KC standards, they’ve been downright Steeleresque). Maybe that’s an indication that Bush is a little more skillful than he’s generally perceived to be. Maybe it’s an indication that Tyson Jackson is turning back into a pumpkin. As with most things in life, the truth is probably somewhere in between, but at this juncture, your guess is as good as mine.
I don’t invest much time prior to the season in making picks and guessing season records. Having said that, based on the Chiefs’ opponents through week nine, if you had told me mid-July that you thought the Chiefs would be 4-4 going into week 10, I would have thought that sounded about right. If you had told me, however, that three of the losses would be to Detroit, Miami, and Buffalo, and that KC would have easily dispensed with Indy and Minnesota, my response would have been to invoke imagery of the Toro Fecundian variety (kudos to you if you can identify that reference without Googling it). 8-8 may still win this relatively weak division, but with this loss, it becomes imperative for the Chiefs to win at least one in the five game stretch following this coming weekend. I’m struggling to visualize how that would come to pass, but I’m not giving up hope.