How far has this team come in the last month? Depending on whom you ask or read everyone has an opinion on the Chiefs newfound success at winning four consecutive football games. But I've watched this team all year and though I was one who said when they were 3-8, they'd be better off losing out to get a higher draft pick. Well, I was wrong.
By winning four straight, twice over the Raiders, once each over the Broncos and Titans, Kansas City showed some heart and passion. Something that I questioned during the first ten games of the season. But looking for a silver lining this season, the Chiefs might have found a recipe for success to build upon.
History in the NFL shows that when a team has great success closing out a regular season, that generally leads to a better team the next year. That's the case this year. Granted expectations were high after the 2003 season yielded a 13-3 record but instead that masked deeper rooted problems on the roster and within the organization.
Everyone has beaten the decisions the Chiefs made this past off-season, or lack thereof, to death. But it's clear that Carl Peterson and Dick Vermeil learned a valuable lesson. It would be shocking if they weren't aggressive in the free agent market or even further made a shocking move next April in the draft.
Still the Chiefs have reason to be excited for next season. Running Back Larry Johnson added his seventh and eight touchdowns of the season. He's now scored two touchdowns in four straight games and if he does that feat next week in San Diego; he'll tie Priest Holmes for the record for most multiple touchdowns in consecutive games at five.
Johnson though statistically didn't have a great day running the ball; he did score a pair of touchdowns and his second score was all power and determination. With two Raiders on his back and legs, Johnson stretched the ball into the end zone that was reminiscent of a Holmes like score. I don't think Holmes could have made that score and that's what makes Johnson so impressive. The Raiders defense was keying on Johnson and he did lead the team with 79 yards rushing but he also had 43 yards receiving. Not a bad day for Johnson who should be the starter next season over Holmes.
Trent Green who I have questioned especially early in the year; almost gave the game away to the Raiders. His interception on the first drive and his fumble late in the fourth quarter could have torpedoed the Kansas City four game winning streak. But he did manage to make the plays when they counted on the final drive.
Green quietly has passed for 4218 passing yards with one game left. He just set a team record for games in which he has passed for over 300 yards and his patience in the pocket is almost as cool as legendary Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson. For the record nobody was as cool in the pocket as Dawson. But Green is a close second and the only thing that will make him pass Dawson on that list is a Super Bowl ring.
That could happen next season, especially with a pair of 1000 yard receivers to work with in Eddie Kennison and Tony Gonzalez. Kennison is having the best season of his career. I've been fortunate to get to know Eddie Kennison the last several months and I can tell you; this man has put it all together. Though he has been in the league for nine seasons, he's simply getting better with age. He reminds me of James Lofton who was stellar in his mid 30's.
On Saturday against the Raiders, Kennison caught six passes for 79 yards. Those hard earned yards gave him 1013 for the season and he joins Gonzalez in that exclusive club. With their success young Samie Parker has started to show why he was so heralded coming out of college. People questioned his ability to learn routes in the NFL and he slid until the fourth round. But Parker might have the best hands of any receiver outside of Gonzalez. He'll only get better and better with an increase in playing time.
On defense, Jared Allen continues to impress his teammates and coaches. A penalty wiped out one of his sacks against the Raiders but the rookie from Idaho State did get his ninth on the season and he's only one sack short from tying the Chiefs rookie record held by the late Derrick Thomas. What Allen has done considering the Chiefs have not put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks speaks volumes for the kind of player that Allen could become.
Another player who was impressive yesterday was the much maligned Kawika Mitchell, he made solid plays yesterday and his eight tackles led the Chiefs defense against the Raiders. He has the talent but it will be up to him and Kansas City defensive coordinator to utilize his strengths next season.
The defensive backfield is still bad. If Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins was more efficient; he'd have thrown for another 100 plus yards on the day. The former New York Giants routinely overthrew open receivers.
But the true key for next season will be the sacrifices some of the starters make by playing on special teams. It's so obvious that when Dante Hall has better blockers in front of him, that he can change the outcome of games. He's done that the last five games and that's happened because some of the starters like Tony Richardson and Monty Beisel have returned to the kick-off units.
The blocking schemes have been solid the last two weeks but they still need some work. Hall could have broken for at least two scores but a couple of his mates failed to get a couple of key blocks that would have sprung him for longer gains or touchdowns.
This team must put its best athletes on the special teams units next season. They have to understand that Hall sets the table and they have to surround him with more hungry players who are willing to block like madmen for Hall. Dante also has to do a better job of using his speed. Granted yesterday he was injured and his 49-yard return late in the game set up the game winning field goal by Lawrence Tynes, Hall has not been as patient with his blocks. But he had a fire in his belly the last five games that needs to carry on into next year.
Speaking of Tynes, I though he made a significant leap forward in his development. The hardest off-season move was letting kicker Morten Andersen go before the season started. But Tynes who has a stronger leg has struggled at times this season. But after getting his first field goal attempt blocked and then clanking a 50-yard attempt that hit the cross bar; he was all nails with his game winning 38-yarder with .22 seconds left on the clock. It was the first time he was in a pressure situation like that and he responded.
So what does this all mean? We won't know until the Chiefs start to overhaul some of the roster but thanks to some of this team's youth, the foundation is set for more success in 2005. With the right mix of veterans and young playmakers this team is actually on the rise. Make no mistake about it the defense must improve and nothing short of completely re-tooling the entire defensive secondary is a must; but there is some talent to work with on the defensive roster. Some players have shown some heart the last four to five weeks and that's a good sign for the future of this defense.
I would not have said that when the team was 3-8 but after four consecutive victories, the Chiefs might finally be on the right track to turning around this franchise once and for all. It took a supreme sacrifice this season by everyone but it was a lesson that many won't soon forget.
Let's hope they won't repeat those mistakes this off-season and from the way they build upon the current winning streak and ride into 2005 with a sense of urgency and purpose.