I-65 Is Closed

When Willie Roaf shocked the NFL by retiring at the beginning of training camp, howls of dismay rose from Kansas City's fan base.

After signing four-time Pro-Bowl cornerback Ty Law and drafting defensive end Tamba Hali in the offseason, many believed the Chiefs had finally fielded a balanced team that could last deep into the postseason. Big Willie's decision to walk away from the game (while walking was still an option), dashed many of those expectations.

The agony grew worse when the offensive line gave up seven sacks on opening day against the Bengals. When a recurring back injury forced left tackle Kyle Turley onto the injury list, the cries of woe reached their peak. The Chiefs were 0-2 and forced to play Jordan Black at the critical left tackle position.

Never mind that Black had been flipped from the left side to the right side and back again. Fans expected the worst. Black was a guy that some frustrated fans had christened "I-65," because they believed he was an open freeway to the quarterback.

Black, however, wasn't listening.

"It just got to the point where I had to block it out and not pay attention to it, and keep telling myself to let it pass," said Black of the criticism he received.

It's a good thing, too. Rather than the disaster many anticipated, Black has played well since replacing Turley in the starting lineup.

Against San Francisco, KC's line gave up no sacks and the offense scored 41 points.

Against Arizona, Black shut out 2004 NFL sack leader Bertrand Berry.

Even in the debacle in Pittsburgh, the Chiefs only surrendered one sack to linebacker Chad Brown (which did come from the left side).

Against San Diego, Black faced a stiff test against 2005 Rookie of the Year Shawne Merriman, who came into the game with 5.5 sacks. Black shut him down as well.

Last Sunday, Black struggled with Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson, who recorded a sack and fumble that led to a Seattle touchdown, but he provided enough protection to allow Damon Huard to throw deep down the field (321 total yards on 25 attempts).

During this five-game run, the offense averaged 27.2 points per game and Huard ran his passer rating to 100.4, good for third in the NFL.

Suddenly, the Jordan Black critics really don't have much of a case. No one is happier about this situation than Black himself.

"It feels great," said Black. "It's just good to get that monkey off your back. I'm glad to get that behind me and just think about football."

Of course, in the NFL, the challenges never stop. This week, Black faces rookie defensive end Victor Adeyanju (one sack this season) and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. On paper, this matchup seems like a breather compared to the last few weeks, but Black will have to handle the crowd noise inside the Edward Jones Dome.

Black also has more competitors for his starting spot. Last week, the Chiefs brought back John Welbourn from suspension and worked him at left tackle in practice. They also signed right tackle Chris Terry, a former second-round draft pick.

Black, however, is unlikely to let those things distract him.

"You work hard during the week, and you'll receive a reward on Sunday."

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