Chiefs Are Descending

There are times during every NFL season when teams, as the euphemism says, take a step backward. The Chiefs' defensive performance in a 27-17 loss to the New York Giants may have been a backward step into the Grand Canyon.

The Chiefs took some pride in not having allowed a 100-yard rusher in 20 games prior to heading into the New Jersey Meadowlands. But Tiki Barber made up for lost time when he gashed Kansas City's sixth-ranked rushing defense for 220 yards -- beating a Giants team record established in 1950 in the process.

If it was a breakdown in scheme or missed assignments, you can fix that. But Kansas City's failure to tackle Barber even when it had people flying all around him is not something you easily correct after 14 games in a season.

"This is like taking all our progressions and throwing them down the toilet," said defensive end Jared Allen. "It's going to happen where (an opponent) breaks tackles, but not in this fashion. We've got to start wrapping up and getting those guys down.

"It was a mess out there today." That's the polite way of putting it. Defensive tackle Lional Dalton used a messier word.

"We played like crap today," Dalton said. "We've shut a lot of guys down this year, but this sucked. We thought we were getting better each week, we thought we had it going as a defense. Hopefully this doesn't set us back as we try to win these last two."

No, the prospect of limiting San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson or backup Michael Turner, the understudy-turned-star in the Chargers' upset of the Colts.

But limit them the Chiefs must if they hope to remain on life support in their bid to make the playoffs. Now 8-6 and a game behind the 9-5 Chargers and the Steelers, the Chiefs must beat San Diego at home this Saturday and then beat the Bengals in the home finale.

But even that won't be enough. Kansas City also needs San Diego to lose its season finale against Denver. A Chargers win over the Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium would give the Chargers a tiebreaker over the Chiefs on the basis of a better record against common opponents. Kansas City also needs Pittsburgh to lose one of its final two games against Cleveland or Detroit for the Chiefs to slip into the playoffs at 10-6.

If they can get to 10-6, that is. After losing back-to-back road games to good but beatable NFC East teams in Dallas and Giants Stadium, the Chiefs look like anything but a team that could do any damage as a Wild Card on the road.

"That's the first time I've seen this team play like that. I didn't even recognize them," coach Dick Vermeil said. "I've got to take that responsibility on myself. It was a good old-fashioned butt whipping, and I wouldn't have thought that could happen to us. We didn't have a run defense; it was embarrassing!"

CHIEFS NOTES
Giants RB Tiki Barber, the NFL leader in total yards from scrimmage, had been held to a mere 29 yards on his first 12 carries. But on a second-down play from the KC 41, he evaded tackles by Eric Hicks and Eric Warfield and somehow slipped a last-chance Sammy Knight hit along the sideline to put the Giants up 7-3 in the second quarter.

"That first big run got him going, then we couldn't stop him," said cornerback Patrick Surtain. "We'd have him in a pile, and then he'd pop out.

"The guy has terrific balance, terrific vision. It was part him and part us. We've been a pretty good tackling team all year, but today we just didn't do it."

Barber had a long run of 55 yards early in the third quarter, and a second touchdown run of 20 yard to ice the game in the fourth after KC closed to 20-17 with 8:29 remaining.

Jared Allen, summing up the Chiefs' inability to tackle Tiki Barber on his 220-yard career day: "We tackled like a Pop Warner team. He broke tackles and ran all over us."

The NFL has confirmed that it will fine Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham $5,000 after TV cameras caught him flipping the bird to game officials in Dallas.

Cunningham was reacting to a defensive holding call that wiped out a fourth-down incompletion with 42 seconds remaining in the Chiefs' loss to the Cowboys. Given a fresh set of downs at the KC 3, Dallas scored the game-winning touchdown with 22 seconds left.

The Chiefs' record in December road games under coach Dick Vermeil fell to 3-9 with the loss in Jersey. They are considerably better at home, where they have a 17-0 mark under Vermeil in December games.

CHIEFS PLAYER NOTES
WR Eddie Kennison sustained what the Chiefs are calling a mild sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He likely will be very questionable for the Chargers game. Kennison injured his left knee late in the Giants game when he was sandwiched between two defenders and fumbled while trying to twist away from extra yards.

RB Larry Johnson had his second best rushing game of the season, a 31-carry, 167-yard, two touchdown performance, but was still playing second fiddle to Tiki Barber's career game.

TE Tony Gonzalez, limited to four catches for 51 yards against New York, performed primarily as a blocker as the Chiefs were concerned about dealing with New York's outstanding pass rushers, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. He had some great seal-off blocks, though, on a couple of Johnson runs.

DE Eric Hicks incurred a shoulder sublixation during the Giants game and will miss at least the first day of practice Tuesday as the Chiefs prepare for Saturday's game with the Chargers.

CHIEFS REPORT CARD VS. GIANTS
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Nothing wrong at all with a 34-carry, 188-yard day in which the Chiefs averaged 5.5 yards against an eighth-ranked Giants rush defense that was yielding only 98 yards on average. The offensive line opened holes continually, and RB Larry Johnson did a good job following his blockers.

PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Trent Green threw for his most yardage of the year (176), and his 58.0 passer rating was his second-lowest mark. His 15 of 28 accuracy wasn't bad, but it's always difficult to throw effectively in the Meadowlands in December. Samie Parker didn't help things in fumbling away a big gainer of 24 yards.

RUSHING DEFENSE: F -- Kansas City this year seemed to have addressed its problems with missed tackles, a huge contributor to the sorry defenses of the past several years. But RB Tiki Barber ran through more missed tackles (five) on his first 41-yard run than the Chiefs had in the last month.

PASSING DEFENSE: B-minus -- Eli Manning was being booed by his own fans after struggling to hit open receivers. Was it KC's defense or Manning's own inaccuracy that limited him to 17 of 32 throwing for 186 yards and one touchdown, a 31-yarder in which Amani Toomer -- here it comes again -- broke two tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Real average. Punter Dustin Colquitt was the high point with four inside-the-20 kicks on his way to a 38.4-yard average. Dante Hall was little factor in the return game with a mere 21-yard average on kickoff returns and basically nothing on two punt returns. Lawrence Tynes hit a chip shot 19-yard field goal.

COACHING: D -- When the Chiefs are this bad consistently when battling good teams on the road, the head coach and his staff aren't getting them properly prepared to play away from the comforts of home.

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