Beating Chargers? That's Progress

Evidently, Chiefs Nation didn't take too kindly to the reaction I had toward the Chiefs' last win, a 20-13 gift from the Oakland Raiders two weeks ago. To say the backlash was heated is putting it lightly.

To sum it up: people disagreed, I was called several nasty names, and accused of being a buzzkill. All I can say in response is it's a good thing I was wearing my asbestos pajamas. Chiefs fans, when incited to anger, can be magma-hot in their anger.

It's OK, Chiefs fans. You didn't hurt my feelings, and in fact, I think we can kiss and make up over the barbecue grill this Sunday. Maybe. All your team has to do is beat the Chargers.

That's because the more I think about it, the more this weekend's game with San Diego feels like the last best hope for the 2008 Chiefs to show real, tangible progress, the kind of showing that will make people who have been following this 2-11 trainwreck stand up and cheer with real enthusiasm.

Don't get me wrong – the Chargers are a horrible, disappointing team and beating them won't garner Kansas City a blip of extra coverage on any major sports network. But because of what took place in San Diego earlier this season, Sunday's game will be an outstanding barometer for the progress the Chiefs are supposedly making this season.

Consider that when this team ventured into Qualcomm Stadium over a month ago, the starting lineup included no Larry Johnson, no Derrick Johnson and no Brandon Flowers. Kansas City lined up with the disappointing Adrian Jones instead of Wade Smith at guard and the plodding Alfonso Boone instead of Jason Babin at defensive end. Roster rabble like Dantrell Savage and Wallace Gilberry played significant minutes.

With that skeleton crew, somehow the November Chiefs came within a two-point conversion of beating one of the NFL's most talented squads. Heck, the skeleton Chiefs led Philip Rivers, LaDanian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, Antonio Cromartie and the rest of the overtalented, underachieving Chargers into the third quarter, on the road, in a game few gave the Chiefs a chance to win.

Gunther Cunningham was probably right when he characterized the Chiefs' 20-19 loss to the Chargers earlier this year as one of the highlights of his coaching career.

"The Chargers game was one of the highlights of my coaching career even though we lost," Cunningham told the Kansas City Star. "We had so many injuries. To do the things we had to do to get through that game and fight them until the end and have a chance to win, that was pretty good."

Well, pretty good won't cut it this Sunday. If the Chiefs are truly on the right track, they ought to take control of the rematch with San Diego, impose their will and win convincingly. There are no excuses.

The Chiefs have most of the players they missed in the first matchup back in the starting lineup. Larry Johnson's got his sea legs under him, and Tyler Thigpen has another 100 passes under his belt since he fell just short of outdueling Rivers in San Diego. There's no question this Chiefs team is more talented and more experienced than the one we saw a month ago inside Qualcomm.

The only question is will it show up in Arrowhead Stadium?

This might be the last legitimate chance for these 2008 Chiefs to really flex their muscles and impress us. They'll be hard pressed to beat Miami in the home finale a week from Sunday. The Dolphins are fighting for a division title and are probably the best, most balanced team Kansas City will have played since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It's possible the Chiefs could pull off a shocking upset, but only if JaMarcus Russell is released by the Raiders immediately and has time to learn Miami's playbook.

The Chiefs' Week 17 matchup with the equally inept Cincinnati Bengals will be a waste of time. When you get that many players together on one field who are mostly playing for nothing other than a chance to get to the airport as soon as possible, you might as well just call the game on the opening coin toss.

In light of all that, this Sunday's game is the best chance for a demonstration of real progress before the Chiefs start calling you and begging you to buy season tickets again. If the December Chiefs do what the depleted November Chiefs came within inches of doing, and beat the San Diego Chargers, there's no way that anyone, your friendly neighborhood buzzkill artist included, can make a case the 2008 Chiefs aren't showing progress. Top Stories