Sure, it was just a preseason game, albeit against a second straight 2002 playoff entry.
But, when the Kansas City offense failed to score a touchdown for a second straight game and the supposedly improved defense showed signs of reverting to its sorry 2002 form in a 24-6 loss to San Francisco, there was reason for concern.
Especially about the defense, the league's worst in '02. Vulnerable to big plays and third-down conversions last year when it gave up more first downs than anyone else in the NFL, the Chiefs had a simply horrid 2 1/2 minute stretch against the Niners that brought back a lot of bad memories.
It began when special teams gave up a 32-yard return on a short kickoff, this one by Jose Cortez. Then Shawn Barber -- the prized offseason acquisition -- missed a tackle on a third-and-8 play that allowed a 12-yard gain and a first down. On the very next play, oft-blistered cornerback William Bartee was burned badly for a 39-yard TD pass by a rookie receiver (Brandon Lloyd) on a bomb from a backup quarterback (Tim Rattay), and the Chiefs were put in a hole they couldn't escape.
That one sequence erased some brighter defensive moments from earlier in the night, like when the Chiefs were getting solid front-four pressure on Rattay. Coach Dick Vermeil, whose glass is always half-full, tried to look for the positive, but even he couldn't shake off the big-play vulnerability.
"I was fairly pleased with the play of the first defensive line, except when Shawn Barber used one arm for a tackle and they hit a bomb on the next play," said coach Dick Vermeil. "We gave up one big play, and that was a downer. But that play doesn't even get called if we tackle the guy on the (third-down) play before."
The Chiefs, of course, believe the setback to be temporary -- nothing that can't be corrected. Of course, they said the same things throughout the '02 campaign.
"It's not a setback," insisted defensive end Eric Hicks. "We may have had a missed communication (in the secondary), and a missed tackle is a missed tackle. You can always improve on that. You just have to shrug it off, go to the next play, look at the film later to see what you did wrong and correct it."
The offense, too, was shrugging off its inability to score a touchdown for a second straight game. In the abbreviated 9-0 win over Green Bay and now the loss to San Francisco, the Chiefs have settled for five field goals after working their way into prime scoring opportunities.
"People who have followed this offense the past couple of years know we do a lot of pre-shift movement, we change the alignment quite a bit to cause confusion in the defense," noted quarterback Trent Green, who hit 8 of 11 passes for 80 yards in the vanilla offense. "But we haven't done any shifting, we haven't done any moving. We break the huddle and we line up.
"Still, the bottom line is we have to find a way to get it into the end zone."
The Chiefs failed to convert on a fourth-and-goal at the 1 early in the game. Backup Jarmar Julien, playing because Priest Holmes was on a five-carry pitch count, failed to get the tough yard on the goal line. KC later settled for two Morten Andersen field goals after sustained drives of 76 and 73 yards.
"We're supposed to be the leading scoring team in the country and right now we are not," Vermeil grumbled. "There's no panic, but there are a lot of things we can do better."
CAMP CALENDAR: The Chiefs returned to River Falls, Wis., after the San Francisco game for their final week of camp in the relatively cool weather of Wisconsin. They'll break camp Friday and return to the summer heat of Kansas City, where temperatures this week were expected to test the 100-degree mark.