Will Monday Night Be The Tipping Point?

Back in the spring, as the NFL held its annual owners meetings, Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt spoke with the media about a request he'd made to the league. With the $375 million renovations to Arrowhead Stadium finally complete, Hunt – hoping to see the New Arrowhead christened in front of the entire country – asked the NFL to put the Chiefs' home opener on national television.

When the 2010 schedule was released the following month, we learned that Hunt had gotten his wish. This coming Monday, as part of the NFL's kickoff weekend, the Chiefs will host Monday Night Football for the first time since 2004.

Just as Hunt had hoped, the entire football-loving world will be able to take part in the official debut of the New Arrowhead. The expectation is that the crowd will be jam-packed and rabid, ready to remind the rest of the league that Kansas City still has the loudest and proudest fans of any city in the NFL.

Come Monday night, the grand plan of showing off the Chiefs' new stadium and their great fanbase will finally be fulfilled. Everything has gone according to plan, except for one small detail.

That would be the San Diego Chargers, who could easily serve as the proverbial rain on the Chiefs' parade.

There's an old saying that warns to be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it. One can only wonder if that saying crossed Hunt's mind when he learned that the Chiefs' national showcase would come against a team that, one short year ago, humiliated them by a combined score of 80-21.

San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers has taken some lumps in the preseason.
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In their games against the Chargers last season, the Todd Haley-led Chiefs weren't even competitive. With Kansas City's pass rush looking as worrisome as a cloudy day, Philip Rivers threw the ball around the field at will, accumulating 5 touchdowns, no interceptions, and nearly 600 passing yards in the two-game series.

On the other hand, the Chiefs could hardly keep Matt Cassel standing upright – though that may have been a blessing in disguise, since getting sacked probably prevented him from throwing a few more picks along the way.

Over the last several months, many in Chiefs Nation have avoided discussing those unpleasant memories. When it comes to Monday's game, they'd rather talk about Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill, two key San Diego starters who won't play in the game. They'd rather talk about the Chargers' notoriously slow starts in recent years, including last season's opener when they needed a last-second touchdown to avoid being upset by the Raiders.

Those are valid points, of course, but the way the Chiefs played a year ago, it's hard to see how any of it would have mattered. As badly as the Chiefs looked, Jackson, McNeill, and a few more San Diego starters could have missed their flights to Kansas City, and the Chargers still would have won by double digits.

Veteran Center Casey Wiegmann has steadied the entire offensive line.
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At least on paper, though, the Chiefs have gotten better. They've added two coordinators with Super Bowl pedigree. Ryan Lilja appears to be the enormous upgrade everyone hoped he'd be, and with Casey Wiegmann still having some gas in the tank, the offensive line should be far more stable. Then there's Eric Berry, Thomas Jones, a much-improved return game, and so on.

Logic would suggest that even if the Chiefs can't actually beat the Chargers, they should at least be able to avoid a blowout.

But that's the sort of thing we all thought last year. In 2008, the Chiefs lost two games to San Diego by a combined total of two points. When they met for the first time in 2009, few if any expected the Chiefs to get obliterated like they did. Not after playing the Chargers so closely the year before.

When they played the second time, hardly anyone expected it to happen again. We thought the first game was an aberration. We told ourselves that the team had learned something from it. Instead, they ended up getting beaten just as badly.

After the enormous eggs the Chiefs laid against San Diego last year, there's really no telling how they'll fare Monday night. Maybe they'll win. Maybe they'll come close and fall just short. Or, once again, maybe they'll look like they don't even belong on the same field with the Chargers. Any option seems as likely as the others.

Unsurprisingly, most of the national predictions for the game reflect what transpired a year ago. Summing up many of the thoughts outside Kansas City, Sports Illustrated's Peter King, when asked to pick which NFL team would be the "surest best" to win in Week One, tweeted that he'd pick San Diego.

Crennel has been a very steady teacher and leader for the Chiefs new defense.
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Of course, the fact that they enter the game as significant underdogs shouldn't be news to the Chiefs. Haley, Charlie Weis, and Romeo Crennel have probably been looking towards the Chargers since the schedule was released. They know the importance of this game, not only to the Chiefs' season, but to the man who signs their paychecks.

It's important to note just how hands-on Clark Hunt has been throughout the renovation of Arrowhead. During a media tour of the stadium in July, he shared the story of how his father, ill and in his final days, told him to make sure the project was done correctly. In Hunt's own words, the New Arrowhead was his father's dying wish. Seeing it through to completion was clearly a personal and emotional experience for him.

Knowing all that, and recognizing how much the national unveiling means to Hunt, the question has to be asked: how's he going to react if his big Monday night showcase is ruined by another humiliating loss?

As Scott Pioli enters his second season as Chiefs' general manager, it's fair to say that some missteps have been taken along the way. At this particular point in time, many would probably point to the Matt Cassel trade as one of them. Some may point to the Tyson Jackson pick, if not the 2009 draft as a whole.

If the Chiefs don't get to the .500 mark this year, especially when taking their weak schedule into account, there will undoubtedly be people lining up to declare Pioli an abject failure.

As we all know, owners are rarely as reactionary as the fans. But after a year and a half on the job, if all that Pioli's best efforts can produce is a team that gets slaughtered by the Chargers again – only this time, on a national telecast that Hunt specifically requested – you have to think it will resonate in the owner's box.

Pioli has given Haley more tools to work with in 2010. But will they be enough to dethrone the Chargers Monday?
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A tipping point is defined as the moment when the collective impact of several small events finally causes a major change to occur. One way or another, Monday night's game against San Diego might prove to be a tipping point for the Chiefs.

If Kansas City can come away with a "W", we may end up looking back at that victory as the moment when the Chiefs officially clawed their way out of the NFL's cellar. All the additions we spoke of could bring about a much-needed win, and Monday night could be remembered as the point when the Chiefs declared to the rest of the league that they were a team to take seriously again.

On the other hand, if the missteps we ran down lead to the Chargers dishing out another embarrassing beating, it may not be an ordinary defeat. With everything that's been invested in this game, we might look back on the loss to San Diego as the moment when the marriage between Hunt and Pioli started getting rocky.

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