Playing For April

Sunday, the better team won at Arrowhead. The Chargers are the division's best and they'll win the AFC West by default, because the Chiefs, Broncos and Raiders are that bad. In fact, the Raiders have now leapfrogged the Chiefs.

That scenario was unthinkable when the Packers came to town a few weeks ago, but five straight losses means the season is essentially over for Kansas City. The only thing to do now is get out of these four games with a healthy team that features youth. In the meantime, Herm Edwards has some tough decisions to make.

After the game we chatted in the locker room. He was dejected, but the man has a plan. I think it will eventually work. The Chiefs have a good foundation that will only improve with 11 draft picks and a few key free agent additions this offseason.

But this time, Edwards can't settle for free agents over the age of 30. Even if it's more expensive, the Chiefs have to sign a few who are in their prime. The word "stopgap" shouldn't be uttered within the executive offices.

What we've learned over the last five weeks is that this team doesn't yet have the horses to win close games. The mark of any great NFL team is the ability to make plays in crunch time. In KC's four wins, players on both sides of the ball made plays in the second half and in the fourth quarter. In the eight losses, the exact opposite occurred.

The Chiefs are in this position for a variety of reasons that we'll banter about throughout the offseason, but the difference this time is that what failed in the past won't be repeated. The approach to team-building at One Arrowhead Drive will change so the Chiefs can drive for a championship.

This franchise hasn't won a Super Bowl since 1970. If it ever wants to claim another, seasons like this one are necessary. The Chiefs have to be willing to make sacrifices from top to bottom, however.

Edwards understands that more than anyone. After two seasons on the job, his organization is poised to take the next step.

Five To Remember

1. LB Napoleon Harris - I picked on the free agent linebacker last week, and it's time to do so again. Harris vacated the middle of the field on LaDanian Tomlinson's first touchdown run, which changed the course of this football game. Instead of moving up and stopping LT in the middle of the field, he curiously moved to his right. Chargers' fullback Lorenzo Neal didn't move outside on the play, nor did any of San Diego's offensive linemen.

Harris was responsible for the middle of the field and he was nowhere to be found. He's been missing in action the last five weeks and his poor play is one of the reasons teams have been running all over the Chiefs. Harris might be one of those tough decisions Edwards has to make this spring.

2. QB Damon Huard - It's just not meant to be for Huard in Kansas City. He gave it his all Sunday, but San Diego's defense pounded him. When the Chargers weren't hitting or sacking Huard they forced him into bad throws, resulting in turnovers and overthrows.

Clearly he's done about everything he can for this organization, but Chad Pennington will likely replace him next year as KC's backup. I'll say this for Huard – he's been a warrior in the locker room. He took a beating for his team and acted like a man despite the fact he had a crumbling offensive line around him that really never gave him the time to be successful.

3. RB Kolby Smith - After gashing the Raiders for two touchdowns and 150 yards rushing last Sunday, he came crashing down to earth a bit against the Chargers, gaining 83 yards. The gaping holes he found last week were swallowed up by San Diego's front seven.

Smith showed an ability to cut back against Oakland but those avenues were shut down yesterday. I'd like to see more of Smith, even if Larry Johnson returns this week. The Chiefs should get the rock in his hands outside the backfield – perhaps a couple of pitch packages to get him out in open spaces. This offseason he needs to work on his receiving skills, because I think he could gain significant yards in the screen game.

4. SS Bernard Pollard - I'm not sure what the Chiefs have in the second-year safety. There's no question he has talent, but he's too slow to the ball. On Vincent Jackson's long touchdown pass Pollard and Greg Wesley were late getting to the spot. Pollard can defend the run but if he's going to remain the starter going into 2008, the coaching staff has to spend a lot of time with him studying film of his mistakes. Jarrad Page has a solid future in the organization but Pollard's future isn't as bright if he can't find a better path to the ball in pass defense.

5. OC Mike Solari - Any offensive coordinator who instructs his quarterback to hand the ball to tight end Kris Wilson in a key situation needs to find another line of work. The hot rumor after Sunday's game was that former Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan is one of the leading candidates to replace Solari this offseason.

WarpaintIllustrated.com Top Stories