Chiefs try to prevent opening loss from ruining season
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
KANSAS CITY (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs gathered at their practice facility less than 24 hours after one of the most humiliating defeats in franchise history and watched every second of the 41-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills play out on a video screen.
Dexter McCluster couldn’t hide from his fumble on the opening kickoff that Buffalo turned into a touchdown. Jamaal Charles couldn’t cower from his fumble that led to a field goal. The blown coverage in the secondary, the offensive line getting shoved around, the defensive line’s inability to get a pass rush — it was all there on film in stark, sobering detail.
“The entire organization, when you have a game like that, it’s embarrassed,” coach Todd Haley said Monday. “And it’s a good thing. It means you care, and it means something to you. It’s important to you and that gives you the impetus to make it better.”
“As I told the team,” Haley added, “it can’t stay the same. If it stays the same, the results will be the same. It has to change and it will.”
There is certainly plenty to fix, some of it outside of Haley’s control.
The Chiefs lost Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry to a torn ACL in his left knee in the opening quarter against the Bills. They had already lost tight end Tony Moeaki, one of their best pass-catching threats, to a season-ending knee injury. First-round draft pick Jonathan Baldwin is not expected to play any time soon because of a thumb injury that knocked him out for most of training camp.
The things that are correctable were obvious.
Two turnovers turned into 10 points, and the way the Kansas City offense was going, that wound up being all the points Buffalo needed. The Chiefs were 3-for-13 on third down, managed 213 yards of total offense and quarterback Matt Cassel averaged a measly 2.8 yards per pass play.
Even the special teams were a disaster.
McCluster’s fumble on a kick return gave the Bills prime field position, and several decisions by him and Javier Arenas to bring kicks out of the end zone backed the Chiefs up inside their 20. Ryan Succop missed the only field goal he tried, a 49-yarder that came after a video review by the officiating crew overturned a would-be touchdown catch by tight end Leonard Pope.
“Personally speaking,” Cassel said, “I’m embarrassed to go out there and do that.”
The Chiefs haven’t had many reasons not to be embarrassed lately.
After starting off 10-5 last season, they were waxed by Oakland 31-10 in their regular-season finale. They still won the AFC West, but Baltimore came to town and rolled to a 30-7 victory to open the playoffs. That means Kansas City has lost the last three games that count by a combined 78 points.
Games that don’t count haven’t been much better.
Kansas City was blanked 25-0 by Tampa Bay in its preseason opener, and lost to the Ravens, Rams and Packers to wrap up a winless exhibition slate. In fact, the Chiefs played their starters most of the way against Green Bay’s second team and still came up short.
Much of the blame has been directed at Haley’s approach to training camp.
Rather than hit the ground running like most coaches across the league, trying to make up for time lost during the lockout, the Chiefs coach took a more deliberate pace. Players barely suited up in pads during camp in St. Joseph, instead spending most of their time on conditioning, learning the playbook and situational workouts in only helmets and shoulder pads.
Haley was worried doing too much too fast would result in injuries, and that some younger players he’d be counting on wouldn’t be up to speed in time for the opener.
Well, the injury bug has bit down hard on the Chiefs anyway, they received precious little help from the class drafted by general manager Scott Pioli, and now they’re carrying a 0-1 record on the road to Detroit, with four of their next five games away from Arrowhead Stadium.
“We just got to come together as a team,” said Charles, who followed up a breakout year in which he nearly led the league in rushing by carrying just 10 times for 56 yards against Buffalo.
“We got 15 more games. This is a long season,” he said. “We have to bounce back strong.”
Fullback Le’Ron McClain defended the approach Haley took in St. Joseph and said the Chiefs were prepared for Buffalo, even if it didn’t appear that way.
“We’ve just got to find our rhythm and get in it. We were a little bit all over the place,” he said. “We’re 0-1 now, so we have to do whatever we can to get better.”