Inside Slant: Chiefs In The Mix

The Chiefs' playoff atmosphere following their 19-10 Thanksgiving Night victory over division rival and fellow playoff contender Denver wasn't minutes old before Larry Johnson turned his attention to where it needed to be. "Doing this at home is one thing," the Chiefs workhorse back noted, "but now we have to carry this same aggressiveness and enthusiasm on the road."

Getting to 7-4 and dropping Denver to the same record was significant for the Chiefs. Yes, even more important than winning a truly special game for their ill and absent owner. Lamar Hunt, who had lobbied more than 30 years for a third Thanksgiving Day game, missed the game while battling a bad reaction to medication in a Dallas hospital, one that didn't get the NFL Network telecast of the game.

But to a man afterward, the Chiefs knew they still were not where they needed to be in the playoff chase. Getting there, they know, requires taking care of business at home (against Baltimore and Jacksonville) in the final five weeks, then getting at least two victories in three games on the road, beginning this week in Cleveland.

"We're in the middle of the pack, but we're closing in," said Pro Bowl left guard Brian Waters, who returned from a two-game absence with a knee injury. "But at least we're in control of our own destiny if we keep winning games."

"We're only 7-4. If we lose the rest of our games, that's a terrible year," added defensive end Jared Allen.

"Still, we're right where we want to be," Allen added. "The opportunity is there. Every game is a big game now, and that's all you can ask for - to keep yourself in position to get to where you want to be. Now we've got to do something in Cleveland."

Kansas City's road woes in recent years - they won only 40 percent of their road games in five seasons under Dick Vermeil - was the single biggest factor in keeping the Chiefs out of the playoffs, especially last year when they failed to qualify at 10-6.

If they fall a game short again this year, they will look to road games like their narrow loss three weeks ago in at Miami, a game they should have won, and see that as the place where they tripped up. A year ago, the stumbling point was a loss in a winnable game at Buffalo.

Cleveland cannot become such a place again.

If the Chiefs play anywhere close to the way they did in beating Denver - when they ran for 223 yards, limited the Broncos to a mere 38 rushing yards and had a 35-25 edge in time of possession - they should be good enough to win on the road or at home.

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Larry Johnson ran 34 times for 157 yards with one TD in the win over the Broncos. Johnson has averaged 30 touches in his last six games. He has rushed 282 times in 11 games and is on pace to tie Jamal Anderson (Atlanta, 1998) for the NFL's single-season record for rushes (410).

--TE Tony Gonzalez returned to action against Denver after missing the Oakland win with a shoulder injury. Gonzalez caught only four passes for 35 yards, but several came on key third-down situations.

--QB Trent Green, making just his second start after missing eight games with a severe concussion, had a so-so night against Denver in hitting only 13 of 22 passes for 161 yards with one interception, a mere 62.9 passer rating. But he hit a huge 26-yard pass to WR Samie Parker on a third-and-six play from the Chiefs' 14 with the game hanging in the balance at 16-10 in the fourth quarter. Green's pass kept alive the drive for an insurance field goal.

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