In this weeks Top 10, we'll take a look back at the Vikings game, a look ahead to Bears game and are weekly walk around the AFC West.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Minnesota Vikings – Rewind
1. You don't get much out of a 45-20 loss but maybe the Chiefs learned something after the post game locker room blowup that had more excitement than the game on the field. Underachieving Ryan Sims and veteran Eric Hicks nearly went to blows. It showed me that they cared and the loss hurt. That was the most positive aspect of the loss at Minnesota and maybe this is the kick the Chiefs defense needed to get focused for the playoffs. There is enough talent on defense to get the Chiefs to the Super Bowl.
2. I was not pleased with the post locker room antics of the ‘Five Horseman.' The stellar Chiefs offensive line showed more interest in finding humor in the war of words between Sims and Hicks then doing something about it. They had no business laughing and having a good time in the locker room after their performance on Saturday. If the Chiefs are going to get to the Super Bowl, the offensive line has to be flawless in their effort, approach and attitude because they'll need to dominate in the post season.
3. Referee Ron Blum has to be the worst in the NFL. His blown call on Kennison's fumble was a terrible insight and it changed the game. If the Chiefs, who should have retained the ball, score a touchdown; it's a 7-7 game. For further proof of that fact, look at the Colts/Broncos game. The Colts get a quick defensive touchdown and the Broncos come right back and score a touchdown to tie the game. That punched a whole in the spirit of the Colts and it would have likely done the same thing to the Vikings.
4. Kudos to Priest Holmes for his record tying touchdown mark on Saturday. His three touchdowns gave him 25 touchdowns on the season and tied him with Emmitt Smith for the NFL record. Holmes needs to score one touchdown against the Bears on Sunday to secure his place in NFL history. There is not a better running back in the NFL in the red zone. The Chiefs need to ride that horse in the playoffs.
5. Trent Green had one of his poorest games of the season completing only 18 of 38 passes. After his perfect game the week before against the Lions, fans are perplexed with the results against the Vikings. The answer is very simple. He had no passing lanes to throw the ball and he was not patient enough when the team was behind in the first half. Instead of running a more ball control offense and using play action, Green tried to make spectacular plays. In the second half with the Chiefs climbing back in the game, Green forced too many balls and suffered two interceptions. A more patient and diligent effort in the second half and the Chiefs might have had a different outcome. Green has to be more consistent especially in the first half.
6. Greg Wesley had a solid game for the Chiefs. He had 11 solo tackles and intercepted a pass. Wesley was burned on the touchdown pass to Randy Moss but to his defense with a safety and corner blitz, middle linebacker Kawika Mitchell was supposed to help out on coverage but he was late getting to the ball. If he had been in the right place, that pass might not have been completed.
7. The lack of pass rush is a concern. A huge one for the Chiefs as pass rushers Vonnie Holliday, Erik Hicks and Ryan Sims were retreating in pass coverage on some third down plays. Those three need to pin their ears back and head toward the quarterback in passing situations. Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil will likely ask defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to junk those plays from the playbook in the playoffs.
8. Linebacker Shawn Barber had five solo tackles but he's not been the leader or playmaker on defense that Kansas City was expecting when they signed him to a $31 million free agent contract. But he has been injured and he'll need to be 100% for the playoffs if the Chiefs have any chance of putting forth a better defensive effort in the playoffs.. Barber had five solo tackles but he was nowhere to be found in crunch time.
9. Linebacker Scott Fujita also played a very poor game but he was limited with a tweaked knee. Still Fajita has not been the same player he was in the first half of the season. He needs to blitz more often and the Chiefs need to use his speed to their advantage in the playoffs.
10. One positive note was punter Jason Baker. On four punts he averaged 41.5 yards per punt including a 45-yarder. Baker who had struggled in previous weeks has done much better the last two games. The Chiefs with their offense not hitting on all cylinders will be asking Baker to win the battle of field position in the playoffs.
Chicago Bears @ Kansas City Chiefs
1. The Chiefs will have their hands full trying to stop running back Anthony Thomas. The Bears who are starting rookie quarterback Rex Grossman, will give Kansas City a steady diet of Thomas. He might get the ball close to 40 times on Sunday. Thomas has scored six touchdowns this season and has been one of the primary reasons the Bears have won four out of their last five games.
2. Speaking of Grossman, he's led the Bears to consecutive victories over the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins at home. This will be his first road game of the season as the starter and playing at Arrowhead might prove unsettling for the former Florida Gator. Grossman has a lot of upside as do the Bears. Its likely Grossman has permanently unseated Kordell Stewart who is now relegated to a back-up role.
3. The Bears defense is led by linebacker Brian Urlacher. He leads the Bears with 109 tackles (80 solo) entering the last game of the season and the Chiefs will need to make sure that they know where he is at all times. Urlacher is best at stopping the run but can also blitz the quarterback. Urlacher and his teammates have done a great job keeping teams in check the last several weeks.
4. Rookie cornerback Charles Tillman was a solid #2 draft pick for the Bears. The rookie from Louisiana Lafayette has intercepted four passes this year, knocked down eight passes, one sack and 67 tackles. Tillman was one of the players the Chiefs were considering drafting late in the first round. Tillman made a name for himself two weeks ago when he stole a pass from Randy Moss to secure the Bears 13-10 win in Week #15.
5. The Chiefs are likely to only play their starters for about a quarter just to get some work in for the playoffs. However, if the Buffalo Bills actually play to their potential and somehow manage to defeat the New England Patriots on Saturday, then the Chiefs could still get the #1 seed in the playoffs if they defeat the Bears. I suspect the Chiefs players and coaches will be tuned to the CBS telecast on Saturday afternoon. In this wacky 2003 NFL season, it would not surprise me if Bills and Drew Bledsoe had one of his best games of the season and defeated his old team.
6. I expect that rookie running back Larry Johnson will be active this weekend. One thing is certain he has not been given the chance to play this season but this could be a good test for him. Holmes after securing the NFL touchdown record will sit out most of this game unless they are still in contention for home field advantage. The Chiefs are pleased with Derrick Blaylock but they did not use him last week in the offense but this is not the game to do that Johnson needs to get some work with the first or second team and get some confidence for next season.
7. Former Missouri wide receiver Justin Gage has been making a contribution to the Bears offense in his rookie season. He is second among gall Bears receivers with touchdowns (2) and leads the team in receiving yardage (19.5) per catch. He's shown great hands, skill and the ability to maneuver in open spaces. Gage has a lot of upside and the Bears are confident that he'll be a major contributor in 2004.
8. It's real important for as long as the front line defensive unit is in the game that they put up a good showing for their playoff run. The Bears can run the ball and pass to some degree and the Chiefs defense needs to attack their offense. Even if they hit or miss on some plays they need to go after the running back and get in the face of their rookie quarterback.
9. The offense needs to do the same. They need to show the same aggressiveness and work on their four wide receiver sets and no-huddle offense. The Bears are fast on the defensive line and their linebacker corps might be one of the best the team faces all season. But they tend to get up field to quick and the Chiefs can exploit that.
10. Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil has a lot riding on this game. If the game means something, then how well he gets his team focused and ready to play on Sunday. If the Chiefs come out smoking as a team, that will go along way toward his ability to repair the fractured clubhouse atmosphere that exists now.
Around the AFC West
1. Thank you Denver! With the Broncos 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Night, the win guaranteed the Chiefs would get a bye week and skip the first round of the playoffs. In essence the Broncos victory gave the Chiefs a win in the first round and that will give them two weeks to heal the wounded and get them focused for a two game format that could vault them into the Super Bowl.
2. Now the bad news. The Broncos are playing great football. With Clinton Portis on the sidelines, Denver used rookie running back Quentin Griffin (136 yards) and fullback Mike Anderson (56 yards) to control the clock and punish the Colts at the line of scrimmage.
3. I might have been wrong about Jake Plummer. He played with so much poise especially after giving the Colts a touchdown on an ill-advised pass that gave the Colts a 7-0 lead. But whenever the Broncos needed a big play on third down, Plummer hit the open receiver or scrambled for a first down. If he had not been injured midway through the season, the Broncos could have won the division.
4. More kudos for the Broncos! Trust me this is making me sick. But tight end Shannon Sharpe is one of the most outgoing, colorful and full of life players in NFL history. For those who missed his verbal onslaught on ESPN's telecast missed a treat. Sharpe besides being one of the greatest Tight End, if not the best, in NFL history will be missed if indeed he retires after this season. Sharpe for Chiefs fans has always played with class and his unique style is refreshing.
5. The Oakland Raiders lost more than a football game on Monday Night. They lost their starting tackle Lincoln Kennedy is going to retire. Love him or hate him playing for the Raiders he was one of the best to play for the Silver and Black at tackle. His latest injury this season a torn left calf muscle did him in and after limping off the field on Monday night, he informed team officials that he's going to retire.
6. As for the game itself, the Raiders lost of course to the inspired Green Bay Packers 41-7. Packers quarterback Brett Favre, after learning of the sudden death of his father on Sunday, came out and shredded the Oakland secondary with four touchdowns and 399 yards passing.
7. It's apparent to me that cornerback Phillip Buchanon after making comments about being snubbed for the Pro Bowl, might be the most overrated at his position in the NFL. He could not shut down any of the Packers wide receivers and he continues to underachieve in Oakland. At least he'll have a new head coach to impress next year as Bill Callahan will be fired after Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers.
8> Speaking of coaches the San Diego Chargers announced on Tuesday that Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer would be retained for the 2004 season. After another miserable season that resulted in the likely honor of selecting the first draft pick in the 2004 NFL draft, Schottenheimer once again brought in some low character guys and made some stupid decisions with personnel. Look for the Chargers to clean house again in the off-season.
9. Quarterback Drew Brees continues to struggle despite having one of the best running backs in the NFL in LaDainian Tomlinson. The Chargers are not sold that Brees can run the offense and might be very interested in drafting Eli Manning with the first pick in the draft. If the Chargers wanted to move Brees, they could probably get a second or third round draft pick for him. It's a lock Doug Flutie won't be back but Schottenheimer has stunted the growth of Brees and he'll need a change of scenery to get his confidence back. Don't be surprised if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the New York Giants make a run for Brees.
10. Speaking of Tomlinson he did get snubbed for the Pro Bowl but when you have Priest Holmes, Clinton Portis in your division and they have winning records, then you can understand why he didn't receive enough votes to crack the top three. The other running back to make the Pro Bowl was the Ravens Jamal Lewis. In fact, Lewis could break the NFL rushing mark set by Eric Dickerson with a strong game this weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tomlinson did have his best season as a pro and if the Chargers learn to use him more in the passing game next season, then he might just crack the top three in 2004.