Chiefs could be headed down wrong road
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Putting season-opening losses in the past has been a problem for the Kansas City Chiefs this decade.
Football fans in the largest city in the state of Missouri know it all too well, even if the Chiefs are coming off their first AFC West title since 2003. Thoughts of a 10-win season usually become cloudy when Week 1 begins with a dud, and Kansas City is praying Sunday's 41-7 blowout loss to the usually- stagnant Buffalo Bills was just an insignificant bump in the road.
The NFL's top rushing team from a year ago, the Chiefs grinded out just 108 yards on the ground against the Bills and running back Jamaal Charles scampered for just 56 yards on 10 carries in that game at Arrowhead Stadium, a venue that rarely gets silenced by halftime and usually provides a distinct advantage for Kansas City.
It was the worst season-opening loss in Chiefs history and a performance that left many wondering what kind of team this could be in 2011. Is this the 10-6 club from a year ago that won the division? Or is it the 2009 version of the Chiefs, the one that lost its first five games before finishing with a dreadful 4-12 mark?
Many fans are hoping this team resembles the 2006 edition that started 0-2 before putting together a 9-7 finish that was good enough for a postseason berth.
The NFL's top rushing team from a year ago, the Chiefs grinded out just 108 yards on the ground against the Bills.
A revitalized Detroit team is up next for the Chiefs, and all will not be lost if they lose that one as well. Or will it?
Kansas City dropped its first two games during both the 2000 and '01 seasons and lost three in a row to begin the 2004 campaign. The team failed to post a winning record in each of those years. In 2007, the Chiefs started 0-2, won four of the next five games to earn the fans' trust, then dropped the last nine. The following year Kansas City opened the season with three consecutive losses en route to a horrid 2-14 finish in the final year under Herm Edwards.
Todd Haley took over the head coaching reigns in the aforementioned '09 campaign and got himself off the hook with a strong 2010 that featured impressive performances from Charles, quarterback Matt Cassel and the defense. Haley shouldered the blame for Sunday's debacle, a loss that could carry over for the next few weeks.
"I'm taking 100 percent responsibility for our team not being ready to go," Haley said. "OK? You can point the finger right at Todd Haley. OK? I'm taking 100 percent responsibility."
Did the departure of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis play a role in Sunday's loss to the Bills? Maybe, but then again, the coaches don't suit up and can only instruct from the sidelines and meeting rooms. The offense produced little in its first outing under Weis' replacement, Bill Muir, much like it did when Weis wasn't present for Kansas City's 30-7 loss to Baltimore in last January's AFC Wild Card Playoffs.
Chiefs guard Ryan Lilja directed the blame for Sunday's result to the players, noting that missed assignments, dropped passes and turnovers aren't the coaches' fault. Lilja's right in that regard, but a better game plan still could have been deployed.
Cassel passed for just 119 yards with a touchdown and an interception and said afterward he was embarrassed to put on that kind of performance at Arrowhead. The quarterback was one of several bright spots from 2010 who helped raise the expectations for the Chiefs this season, but now he and his teammates are just trying to avoid going down a slippery slope of failure, an aspect that has previously hovered around this organization.
"You can't let one game run into the next...it becomes a snowball effect," Cassel said. "As players, we have to learn how to turn the page and we have to learn how to win. Every season is different. This group is a different group than what we had last year. Now we have to somehow find a way to rebound and come back against Detroit and have a better outing."
The Lions are slouches no more and could very well give Kansas City a hard time this coming week, with quarterback Matthew Stafford chucking up bombs to Calvin Johnson and bruising defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh mixing it up inside. Cassel was only sacked twice on Sunday, but did have four of his passes re-directed by the defense.
One Chiefs defender who will not have an opportunity to help redeem his team's awful early play is second-year safety Eric Berry. Arguably one of the best at his position at such a young age, Berry suffered a season-ending left knee injury when Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson administered a cut block on last year's first-round draft pick.
"Injuries happen in football," Chiefs safety Kendrick Lewis said. "The next guy comes in and has to step up. We can't miss a beat."
Jon McGraw is expected to take over as starting strong safety, while Sabby Piscitelli could also see time, especially in the nickel defense. Either way, Berry's loss brings another obstacle Kansas City's defense must hurdle.
Berry and the defense were on their heels early on in Sunday's loss when return man/running back Dexter McCluster fumbled away the opening kickoff at his team's 26-yard line. It's hard to expect too much when a unit is put in a corner like Baby from the movie "Dirty Dancing." But instead of scratching back and making a statement, the Chiefs' defense instead went into turtle mode and packed it in.
Kansas City made Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick look like a superstar, and now has to live with it for at least another week. The dangerous Stafford is up next, and the Detroit quarterback will have plenty of time to study game film on a stop unit that will be desperate to quickly save face in the Chiefs' AFC West title defense.
REDSKINS MAKE A STATEMENT ON 9/11 ANNIVERSARY
We will never forget.
Those words still ring true today, and the horrific events in New York City and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001 willed the American people to bounce back and prove the nation won't be stopped.
In the nation's capital on Sunday, the hometown Washington Redskins showed that spirit by willing themselves to a 28-14 victory over the New York Giants at FedEx Field. Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman, a speed bag to most pundits and experts for much of his career, stared the rival Giants in the face and dared them to throw the first punch.
Actually, it was Grossman who delivered the knockout blow by throwing for 305 yards passing and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Former college teammate and current Redskins receiver Jabar Gaffney said Grossman "willed us to a victory."
Grossman had help from new running back Tim Hightower, tight end Fred Davis and rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who deflected an Eli Manning pass before grabbing the airborne ball and rumbling for a touchdown in his pro debut.
"You don't see a lot of guys do that," Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said of Kerrigan's play. "The guy is athletic. He has great awareness for the ball, good ball skills, and that's what good ball players do."
But Grossman's Opening Week performance best symbolized the nation's post-9/11 feelings. He showed that no matter what anyone says or believes, pure will and determination can bring about a solid foundation for success. Grossman did just that by beating out John Beck for the starting job in training camp, then winning over his teammates in the huddle.
Yes, it's only Week 1 and there's still plenty of football to be played, but the Redskins are in first place.