No More Mulligans for the Chiefs

If anything was learned from the Chiefs 22-16 loss at Jacksonville on Sunday, we found out that Kansas City continues to do things the hard way. After suffering their fourth loss in five games, they are attempting to do what only one other team in NFL history has done, make the playoffs despite a dismal start. Is it likely?

That will be the 64,000 question all this week as the Chiefs prepare for back to back home games against the Atlanta Falcons and the Indianapolis Colts. These two teams could represent their respective conferences in the Super Bowl so the Chiefs are finding that they'll have to be virtually perfect the next eleven games.

If they falter at home in either game, then they can forget the playoffs and any chance at winning the AFC West. With the Denver Broncos out to a 5-1 start after their 31-3 shellacking of the lifeless Raiders in Oakland, Kansas City has to come to the conclusion that they have little shot to catch their Rocky Mountain division rivals.

The Broncos to their credit made the bold moves in the off-season that have paid huge dividends as they appear a lock to win the AFC West. Much maligned quarterback Jake Plummer played his best game of the season on Sunday and Denver Head Coach Mike Shanahan knew the improvements that had to be made and unlike the Chiefs off-season moves, they have paid off handsomely while the Chiefs are scratching their heads wondering why they didn't do more in the off-season.

But the Chiefs face a stretch where they'll play two of the NFL's best teams and then two of the worst over the next four weeks. After the Colts game, Kansas City travels back to Florida for a match up with Tampa Bay then back on the road to the Big Easy to face the New Orleans Saints.

Not an easy task for a team that has no identity and has put themselves in such a crater that they have to be flawless the balance of the year; they've yet to show they can win back to back games and putting a string of 10 or 11 games together seems remote at best.

The blame is thick! The most disappointing aspect of the 1-4 start has been the head coaching of Dick Vermeil. Granted he's been the leader of two Super Bowl teams but his game decision have cost the Chiefs three wins this season. Sunday was his latest blunder and he continues to back the wrong horse.

Facing a critical fourth and one with less than three minutes left in the game, he put the ball on the foot of kicker Lawrence Tynes, who promptly missed a 41-yard field goal. This after becoming the first NFL kicker this season to miss an extra point minutes earlier.

That's inexcusable for a coach with that resume to not go for the jugular considering the Jaguars had no time outs left. All the Chiefs needed was one first down and the game was over. Instead as become Vermeils downfall this season, he is going to be second guessed to death by everyone from coast to coast. He appears to be coaching not to loss instead of trying to win each game, each quarter, each possession. He believes that in time his players will make the plays that are necessary to put a string of wins together. Well that's not happening and he has to take the blame.

On the infamous final game winning drive by the Jaguars, he should have gone up to the Coaches box and choked Gunther Cunningham for rushing only three lineman against an hobbling Byron Leftwich. Oh yeah the Chiefs did start blitzing but that was after the Jaguars were well into Chiefs territory and simply needed a chip-shot field goal to win the game. I refuse to use the excuse that the Chiefs lost this game because of rookie kicker Lawrence Tynes. His four points would have made little difference in the outcome. The Chiefs still would have lost this game.

I will blame defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham who continues to baffle me with his defensive play calling. In the NFL, you do the same things over and over again until the other team stops you, then you do something different. For someone who claims to ooze this attacking philosophy he put his team in a prevent defense and that was a recipe for disaster. It happens week after week in the NFL and with the Jaguars already with three comeback wins under their belt before Sunday's game; you'd think Cunningham would have learned something.

This defense didn't lose this game, their defensive coordinator did. Granted he was handicapped by the poor play of cornerback Dexter McCleon but for someone with his mentality I can't understand why he went soft at the end. Just a series before they shut down the Jaguars on four consecutive plays to get the ball back for the offense.

As for McCleon, his career with the Chiefs is over. There is no way this former back-up has what it takes to be a starter. Granted it's easy for me to criticize considering I can't cover my seven year old in the back yard. But I don't make millions of dollars and to be out of position play after play is inexcusable. He has no speed or size to play the position.

The other disappointing aspect of the game was safety Jerome Woods who also has lost the ability to make plays. His feeble attempt in trying to tackle running back Fred Taylor was scooting down the sideline was a perfect example that he has lost more than a step. For the record McCleon missed him as well.

Now the head coach and the defense was not the sole reason for the loss. Offensive coordinator Al Saunders did not have his team prepared. If he watched the game film from the Jaguars loss in San Diego a week ago, he would have ran the ball more times especially in the first half. When the Chiefs were facing a 2nd and goal from the five yard line; he went to the pass instead of giving the ball to Holmes two or three more times. That would have tied the score at 7-7 but Saunders has the need to think he can out coach the opposing defensive coordinator. He better understand that teams fear the Chiefs when the ball is inside the ten yard line and Priest Holmes is in the game. Instead Green threw and incomplete pass to Eddie Kennison in the end zone and then was sacked on third down.

Saunders refusal to use the best touchdown scoring machine at a crucial juncture simply baffles me. He must have his reasons but when a team is struggling as the Chiefs are now, you have to just use the strengths and this team fails to do that time after time especially on offense.

But last but not least is the play of return man Dante' Hall. I don't believe that teams are all of a sudden figuring out how to stop him but instead Hall looks lost. He has yet to use his speed. He makes up his mind to go one way and he's cooked. The Chiefs should consider giving Chris Horn an opportunity or two in the return game; if for no other reason, to shake Hall up and get under his skin.

If none of these things can be corrected before Sunday's game against the Falcons, then the word rebuilding must become part of the Chiefs daily routine. If indeed next year is Dick Vermeil's last season with the Chiefs, he needs to address the age and start making decisions that impact the 2005 roster. It's also time that Chiefs Owner Lamar Hunt make some serious decisions about what to do with some aging veterans because this team needs a flux of younger talent and free agency is the only way to make that happen. However, that may not be limited to the players.

With the Chiefs facing a critical vote next November for Bi-State II, that will renovate Arrowhead Stadium, it would seem a moot point of this franchise is going to return to the form that led to empty seats for most of the 70's and 80's. Nobody is going to feel sorry for the Chiefs as other teams in the NFL will kick them when their down.

That's however a lesson the Chiefs have not learned. Too many times this season they've imploded when they could have put an opponent away.

The window of opportunity might indeed have closed at One Arrowhead drive with the loss to the Jaguars on Sunday as the playoffs and a second consecutive AFC West title appear to be out of reach of the Chiefs.

Unless they can win the remaining games on their schedule. That might be the only way to salvage the season. Nobody knows if Vermeil can turn things around or not. But one thing is certain management and coaches have clearly been part of the teams under-achievement this season.


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