With back to back losses against NFC powers, Kansas City came into Saturday's AFC West showdown with a purpose. Knowing the playoffs were a remote possibility at the start of the day, the players on offense and defense appeared more relaxed.
In fact if not for bitter losses at home against the Philadelphia Eagles and road losses at San Diego, Buffalo and of course Dallas and New York, next Sunday's contest at home against the Cincinnati Bengals would have had more meaning for the Chiefs.
Granted Kansas City has some glimmer of hope of making the playoffs if the Lions can defeat the Steelers in Pittsburgh and the Broncos can win against the Chargers on the road next Saturday. Of course the Chiefs have to beat the Bengals but it should not have come down to this. But it has and now the only thing to play for is pride.
"I'm proud of these guys the way they bounced back from last week," Kansas City Chiefs President Carl Peterson said after the game.
He should be but he also knows this team missed some golden opportunities throughout the season. With that said, there is little doubt that he's already started laying down plans for 2006 that could include the search for a new Head Coach.
Regardless if Vermeil has any interest in coaching another season or two, he was nonetheless pleased with his teams' ability to fight through their recent adversity.
"That was a hard, hard fought football game. (The Chargers) came in here with the number one offense and number one against the run," Vermeil said minutes after the victory.
Well the Chiefs didn't give them a whole lot of respect on Saturday. Kansas City running back Larry Johnson lit up the Chargers heralded run defense by gaining 131 yards on 32 carries. He scored his first touchdown of the game in the first quarter when he ran around left tackle Willie Roaf that gave the boys in red a 7-0 lead.
But his second score of the game might have cemented his claim that he needs to be the featured back in 2006 and beyond. On the play, LJ caught a pass from quarterback Trent Green in the flat, broke a pair of tackles, tip-toed down the sidelines and ran into the end zone carrying three Chargers on his back.
"I think he wants to be known as a tough, mean running back. He has some streaks in his personality and I think he likes those kind of challenges," Vermeil said.
But the offense was not the question that needed to be answered heading into this game, instead it was the defense that had something to prove. They had to question themselves to a man after their horrific performance in New York last Saturday. In what likely will be the game that knocked them out of the playoffs, these defensive players had to dig down deep in order to face the trio of offensive stars that tortured them in October.
They did redeem themselves against the Chargers. Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson could not get on track against the Chiefs run defense. In fact, Tomlinson was held to just 49 yards on 15 carries. Most of his success came at the beginning of third quarter when the Chargers dedicated themselves to establishing the run. But they quickly abandoned that theory and instead put the game in the hands of Chargers quarterback Drew Brees.
He was unable to get the job done. On the afternoon, Brees connected on just 18 of 31 passes. Though the Chiefs defense could only sack him one time, he was under some pressure all day. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham did a good job disguising blitzes and for the first time in two weeks used his linebackers to get pressure on the quarterback.
"We all went out there with a purpose," defensive end Eric Hicks said. "I'm not saying we didn't go out with a purpose every week, bit this was a do or die situation and we got it done today, I can't really explain it."
Nor can Chiefs fans or the coaching staff that has to be beside themselves after failing to get the job done; especially on defense sooner.
But there is little that anyone can do about it now but hope and pray that a football miracle can still happen in Kansas City.
After next Sunday and the Chiefs fail to reach the post season for the fourth time in the Vermeil era, then everyone will be lamenting over one of the teams six losses. Outside of the games at Denver and San Diego; the Chiefs should have won at least one of the other four games.
Instead they only have themselves to blame.
Where Was This Team All Season
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