We'll have a better idea after the Chiefs face the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium.
Falling in Denver - or more specifically, getting drubbed on the Monday Night Football stage - wasn't a big surprise in itself. The Chiefs, remember, now have lost five straight times and in eight of the last 10 seasons in the Mile High city.
But it was the way Kansas City tumbled, and never got up, that cast doubt on this team's ability to challenge for only its second division title since after the 1997 season.
The Chiefs gave up 221 yards rushing to Denver after yielding only 128 combined in its two previous victories. Jake Plummer didn't have to throw often (only 18 times), but he completed 13 passes at will against a secondary that seemed incapable of stopping him or receivers Rod Smith or Ashley Lelie.
Offensively, the Chiefs couldn't run (74 yards total) and struggled to pass. Down 20-3 at half and 27-3 midway through the third quarter, the Chiefs had to pass in a desperate attempt to catch up. The Broncos pass rush pounded Trent Green accordingly.
Now the Chiefs have to wonder how good they really are after their confidence has been shaken and their lead in the AFC West gone after the tiebreaker loss to 2-1 Denver. Their game Sunday against Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens and Philadelphia's fifth-ranked defense will answer many of those questions.
"You're going to have games like (Denver), and you've got to put them behind you," said cornerback Patrick Surtain. "We got it handed to us on Sunday, but if we dwell on that, it'll affect us come Sunday.
"Coaches always talk about dealing with adversity, and this is the first real diversity we've faced this season," Surtain added. "We'll see how we respond, how we bounce back. We've got a lot of veteran guys who've been through this before and they know how to handle it. We'll be fine come Sunday."
Coach Dick Vermeil, while conceding that the Broncos "whipped me, they whipped my coaching staff and they whipped my team," insisted that he didn't see anything among the numerous failures in Denver that couldn't be corrected before taking on the Eagles.
"Sometimes you have to get hit in the mouth to get a point across," he said. "A lot of the things we did incorrectly (in Denver) we did incorrectly in our first two games, too. But they don't hurt until you get beat.
"This is too early in the season to panic," Vermeil added. "But sometimes you learn more from a defeat than you do from a victory."
The Chiefs will see if they've learned anything as they attempt to regroup at home against the Eagles.
This is the 5th meeting between the Chiefs and Eagles. The series is tied 2-2, with the Eagles having won the last meeting a 23-10 prime-time Thursday night victory at Arrowhead back in 2001. The Eagles are 2-1 at Arrowhead dating back to 1972. They lost to the Eagles 21-20 in November 1972 and again in November 2001 by the score of 23-10.
NOTES & QUOTES:
Chiefs cornerback Patrick Surtain, on the shin, chest and hernia injuries that are supposedly limiting Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. "He was hurting last week, too, when he threw for 352. A hurt Donovan is still better than 80 percent of the quarterbacks in the league. He's proven how tough he is. He'll be ready come Sunday, trust that."
Champ Bailey didn't say anything millions of Monday Night Football viewers couldn't see for themselves when the Denver cornerback observed that the Chiefs weren't playing with the same intensity they showed the previous December in their rout of the Broncos at Arrowhead.
"They're not playing as hard," Bailey said as he wore a sideline microphone for ABC. Dick Vermeil didn't necessarily disagree with Bailey's assessment. He just wondered if it was Bailey's job to make it.
"Yeah, I think we can play harder than that, but I don't know if Champ Bailey is the guy to evaluate it," he said when asked about Bailey's open mike comment. "I know this: none of our players said Champ Bailey didn't play hard when we beat him for three touchdowns out here last year. Eddie Kennison didn't say Champ Bailey was loafing and not playing hard. We have great respect for Champ Bailey."
But don't expect to hear any of Vermeil's players wired for sound on future Monday night appearances. If they get any more after Monday, that is.
"I just think the broadcast ought to be done by the guys in the booth," said Vermeil, a former long-time college football analyst. "That's what they're professionally trained to do. Champ Bailey's a fine kid and respected by everybody in the league, but you put a mic on him and you don't ever know what you're going to hear.
"I was asked if we could mic our players, and the director and I worked together for six years, we're very close friends, and I said no way. I say things I shouldn't say all the time, let alone put it on a player in the heat of battle. That's how I feel about it."
For a team coming off a 7-9 season, it will surprise some to learn that Kansas City will be featured in a fourth straight national telecast when they face the Eagles on Sunday.
Their season opener against the Jets drew the CBS first-string of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. Their Sunday night game in Oakland was supposed to draw the ESPN first team until Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire were reassigned to the Saints-Giants game on ABC's Monday night doubleheader. They were featured on Monday Night Football last week.
The Chiefs learned two weeks ago that the Eagles game had been moved from its scheduled 1 p.m. (EDT) start to the 4:15 slot at the request of Fox, which will have its ‘A' team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman calling the action.
BY THE NUMBERS:
17-3 Kansas City's record at Arrowhead against NFC opponents going back to 1995.
599-314 Kansas City's total margin of victory in its last 20 games at Arrowhead Stadium against NFC teams.
13-2 The Chiefs record in games immediately following a contest in Denver dating back to 1990.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"This is just the fourth game of the year and there's a long way to go, but yeah, it's a test. They're a Super Bowl team, and if you want to be considered among the best, you've got to beat the best." - Chiefs corner Patrick Surtain, on being tested against the defending NFC champion Eagles.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL:
The Chiefs offensive line, which saw Trent Green sacked twice and knocked on the ground on six other occasions against Denver, may get a retooling this week if Kevin Sampson is deemed ready to return to the starting right tackle spot, a position he manned through much of training camp before being sidelined with a dislocated toe.
Sampson's camp injury forced a major reshuffling along the offensive line. Jordan Black, who had been backstopping Willie Roaf at left tackle when Roaf worked only once daily, had to move to the right side as the starter. He consequently lost his chance to work at the more challenging left tackle spot.
Then went Roaf injured his hamstring on the second series of the first game, Black had to go back to left tackle on a hurried basis. Chris Bober, who played mostly at guard in his years with the Giants, was thrown into the right tackle spot without a lot of preparation.
Kansas City's pass protection has been less than sufficient amid all the shuffling.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES:
QB Trent Green had his bruised left hand wrapped during the Chiefs workout Wednesday. He said it did not affect his ability to throw, although it could be painful to take snaps. Still he's not listed on the teams official injury report.
WR Eddie Kennison is coming off his first 100-yard game of the year, an 8-catch, 112-yard effort in the 30-10 loss to Denver. Kennison would have had Kansas City's first touchdown reception of the year, but his catch late in the game was ruled incomplete on a replay challenge.
LT Willie Roaf, concerned that trying to return to action too soon might cause a re-injury of the hamstring that has kept him out of 2 3/4 of Kansas City's three games, talked Wednesday like a player who did not expect to play Sunday against the Eagles. He is listed as questionable but its not likely that he'll suit up for the game.
RB Priest Holmes, who has 1,443 touches in his four-plus seasons in Kansas City, needs just three more touches to pass Ed Podolak for the most attempts from scrimmage in club history. It took Podolak nine years and 104 games to total 1,445. Holmes will do it in 58 games.
EARLEY GAME PLAN:
The Chiefs inability to establish the run against Denver put a serious crimp on Green's play-action passing game. The Chiefs simply have to get a good run-pass balance at home against the Eagles.
Defensively, KC's best hope is that an ailing McNabb isn't at the top of his game. Philadelphia's Terrell Owens will have a huge advantage whenever he's lined up against any Chief not named Patrick Surtain, and KC has to hope McNabb can't take full advantage. Controlling Brian Westbrook as a receiver will be as important as limiting his running, and the Chiefs will be asking rookie Derrick Johnson to step up big in this regard.
KEY MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Eagles WR's Terrell Owens and Greg Lewis against Chiefs CBs Patrick Surtain and Dexter McCleon. Surtain plays only on the left side, which means he could be matched up with Owens when he takes the flanker position. Owens will get his wins, but Surtain remains KC's best bet to limit him. McCleon is coming off a bad game against Denver's Rod Smith.
Eagles DE Jevon Kearse vs. Chiefs RT Kevin Sampson or LT Chris Bober. This is clearly an edge to the Eagles regardless of who starts for the Chiefs.
CHIEFS INJURY IMPACT:
DT Ryan Sims (foot) will be out for an extended period.
LB Keyaron Fox (knee) remains out. LT Willie Roaf remains truly questionable for a third straight game with a hamstring injury that was nearly a complete tear. He didn't talk Wednesday like a guy getting ready to play.
DE Carlos Hall (questionable) played with his back injury a week ago.
TE Jason Dunn did not practice Wednesday, but is expected to play on his sore knee.
Warpaint Illustrated contributed to this report.
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