A Kansas City Chiefs fan base that should have been soaking up the warm and fuzzies after their football team laid a 29-13 beatdown on their most hated rival on the road (and got their rival’s most expensive player booed by the home crowd and benched in the third quarter), spent a lot of time Monday angrily dissecting the game. Not only were fans calling into local radio sports talk shows to gripe, but the talking heads on radio and TV, as well as several local and national writers, must have been watching a different game than your Chiefs Examiner watched Sunday.
It’s the only way to explain why all these people seemed so whiny and nit-picky about a 16-point win for the Chiefs on the road. Maybe it is a hangover from the KC Royals World Series Championship, but there seems to be a segment of the Chiefs Kingdom that, in the aftermath of the five-game losing streak earlier in the season, cannot seem to enjoy any victory and wants to blame Chiefs ownership, administration, coaching staff and certain players for everything from dropped passes to global warming. Because as you know, Alex Smith is OBVIOUSLY responsible for the ice caps melting!
Certainly the Chiefs did not play a flawless game, and they understandably struggled to move the ball against Denver’s top-ranked defense on the road, but they still handily won a game in a place that has seen them play some of their worst football of the last two decades. When Monday morning dawned, a season that was once on the brink of disaster is now full of hope – unless you’re one of the “glass half-empty and the half that is there is toxic waste” kind of fan.
In other news around the AFC West, in the span of three weeks, the Denver Broncos went from the worst undefeated team in the NFL to the AFC Super Bowl participant co-favorite to now being a franchise on the brink. The Oakland Raiders went from a plucky media darling team to a serious playoff contender to a hot mess in those same three weeks. And the San Diego Chargers went from a bad 2-5 team to … ummmm … a bad 2-7 team who are coming off their bye.
So looking back on this weekend, here are five things we learned about the Chiefs (and their fan base) as well as a few things we discovered about the rest of the AFC West:
1. Quarterback Alex Smith could fart sunshine and cure cancer and it will never be enough for some Chiefs fans. Smith will never be confused with Tom Brady, but he plays to his strengths and, to borrow a phrase from the late Al Davis, he “just wins, baby”. After helping his team get a season-saving win on the road against the division leader, all I heard from anyone was griping and groaning about what a bad game Smith played and that the Chiefs won DESPITE Smith’s presence behind center.
Against Denver, Smith did exactly what he needed to do to get a win. He protected the ball like a Mama Grizzly, did not tempt fate against the best turnover-inducing defense in the league, and still put 29 points up on the road. And if the Chiefs do manage to get back to the playoffs, that will be twice in three seasons under Smith that they made it and missed it by one game the year they didn’t. I’ll take that.
2. The defense is back, baby. In three games against Denver, Green Bay and Cincinnati, the defense gave up 105 points and were ranked at the bottom of the league in most defensive categories. In the other six games, they have given up 90 points and in two of those games, they had a 27-6 lead at Houston and 29-0 lead last week against Denver before those opponents scored some late garbage-time touchdowns.
Beginning with the Chicago game, the Chiefs defense has quietly kept every team since under 18 points. During their three-game win streak, the defense has forced 10 turnovers and gotten 13 sacks. This is the defense that fans thought they would see all year. It won’t be easy as the Chiefs will see Philip Rivers twice and a suddenly potent Raiders offense twice over the last seven games, but at least KC has the kind of defense that will keep those offensive coordinators up all night trying to scheme.
3. Next step is to take advantage of the schedule. When the sneakily resurgent 4-5 Texans and Bears teams are the worst teams you’ve played, you know your schedule has been tough. In addition, KC has played five games against four of the best scoring defenses in the league and one more against Pittsburgh who currently ranks 13th in the league. The rest of their schedule has two games against San Diego (ranked 27th), two against Oakland (26th), and one each against Cleveland (31st), Baltimore (24th), and the best of the group, Buffalo (15th).
The Chiefs offense – and Alex Smith in particular – should be much better over the second half. As of today, Buffalo (5-4) is the only opponent with a winning record left on the Chiefs schedule – and that may change when the Bills take on New England this weekend – but the Chiefs get them at Arrowhead in two weeks so advantage to the Chiefs there.
4. The offensive line is getting better as time goes on and the Chiefs running game is in good hands with Charcandrick West. Denver gives up only 3.5 yards per rushing attempt, which is second-best in the league. Yet, the Chiefs only had two non-positive rushing attempts on Sunday in 32 attempts. West got stuffed once behind the line and Spencer Ware had an attempt for no gain on another. That’s phenomenal against a defense with a front seven like Denver. West is filling in admirably for Jamaal Charles and even though Alex Smith is still getting sacked, it’s not at a record-breaking pace like earlier in the season.
The rookie center, Mitch Morse, is now a veteran. Not a grizzled veteran, mind you, but he’s not looking like a deer in the headlights anymore. Eric Fisher, like Alex Smith, may never be embraced by the fans, but he is quietly having a good year statistically at left tackle. A return to health by left guard Ben Grubbs will make the line better, but even with Jah Reid and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif holding down the right side, the Chiefs are definitely not overmatched these days.
5. Could the Chiefs steal some mojo from across the parking lot and pull off a 2014 KC Royals run? Probably not. Even if they make the playoffs, there won’t be a Super Bowl 50 game with Jeremy Maclin getting tackled on the 2-yard line against the NFC Champion ala Alex Gordon getting stuck at third base in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the World Series. However, what the Royals did in 2014 in having a historic playoff run was learn how to win and set up the belief that they know they were good enough to win. That’s what we can hope for with the Chiefs. Make the playoffs and maybe win one or two games against flawed opponents and set the stage for 2016 when the division title is there to be won and maybe the first Super Bowl appearance since the Nixon Administration. It’s time, guys!
Ok, enough about the Chiefs … here’s what we learned this weekend about the rest of the AFC West:
DENVER (7-2): The question in Denver is how mentally tough they are to make it through the inevitable transition from Peyton Manning to Brock Osweiler at quarterback. The defense still will be missing DeMarcus Ware due to a bad back for the foreseeable future and now TJ Ward will spend a day in street clothes after he gets suspended for his cheap-shot at Jeremy Maclin’s head Sunday. Head coach Gary Kubiak has never inspired a whole lot of confidence as a leader to me and it looks like this could be another one-and-done playoff run for Denver. The defense is still formidable, but the problems on offense coupled with a much harder schedule going forward should have Bronco fans thanking their stars for the team’s 7-0 start. A trip to a resurgent Chicago team that is playing extremely well these past three weeks could put Denver in the cross-hairs of a three-game losing streak.
OAKLAND (4-5): The Raiders are on the rise, for sure, and unlike Denver, Oakland has a head coach that your Chiefs Examiner respects in Jack Del Rio. But as a young team, they are susceptible to performances like last week when Adrian Peterson ran through them for 200 yards rushing and Minnesota routed the Silver and Black 30-14. They still can’t stop anyone on defense and they have a tough schedule remaining with the Chiefs, Chargers, and Green Bay all coming in for a visit to O.co Coliseum. The Chiefs undoubtedly remember losing to the Raiders on a drizzly prime time Thursday night game last year and will want revenge. Up next is a trip to Detroit to take on a Lions team that is still buzzing over their win in Green Bay Sunday.
SAN DIEGO (2-7): Despite a bye week, this is still one of the most banged-up lineups you will see in the NFL. Right now, San Diego is Philip Rivers starring in his own one-man show as he has no run game or healthy wide receivers to throw to and a defense that hemorrhages points. The Chiefs travel to Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday to try and make it three wins in a row over the Chargers. Thanks to Rivers, who is on pace for nearly 5,300 passing yards, there is no chance KC will overlook the Chargers because he has a 13-6 career record against them.