Have The Chiefs Taken A Step Backwards?

Don't let the final score of Kansas City's thrilling, 38-24 loss to the Ravens fool you. Despite the fact the Chiefs treated us to a whirlwind of emotions and flirted with a huge upset, there were no surprises inside Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium Sunday. Only confirmations.

There's no question the Chiefs were completely overmatched against the Ravens. Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis blew up Kansas City's running game. Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson breathed down Brodie Croyle's neck all afternoon. Kansas City made Joe Flacco look like Peyton Manning. Ray Rice darted and juked his way to 108 yards, rarely lacking for running room.

The Chiefs did earn a small victory, as Dustin Colquitt out-punted Sam Koch by a wide margin. Otherwise, the Ravens clearly had an enormous advantage and pressed it at every turn. Baltimore was aggressive on offense and defense and outgained Kansas City 501 to 188 in total yardage.

Surprising? Not at all. The Chiefs are who we thought they were.

That they managed to stay in the game with two fluke plays – a blocked punt for a touchdown and a 70-yard interception return – was surprising, if not admirable. But make no mistake – those two plays were complete flukes, the kind usually reserved for the first mistake-filled week of NFL action.

On Jon McGraw's punt block, no one elected to stop him. This was not a Herculean one-man effort, ala the departed Bernard Pollard (thank you for that, by the way, Mr. Pioli). McGraw simply ran up the middle of Baltimore's protection, completely untouched, and dove at the punter. Does that sound like something the Chiefs can count on every week to you? Improbable.

When Derrick Johnson stole Baltimore's momentum with his interception midway through the third quarter, it was an unforced error. Flacco was under absolutely zero pressure, as was the case most of the afternoon. He was throwing to a wide open receiver, who stood a decent chance at gaining a first down on yet another third and long (the Chiefs gave up several Sunday).

Flacco simply missed Johnson floating over from the right side of the field. He probably won't make that mistake again all year, and it's doubtful any of the experienced quarterbacks the Chiefs face down the road – Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer – will commit the same error.

Flukes.

Other than those two admittedly inspiring and spectacular plays, the Chiefs were headed for a pitiful 38-10 loss. Even the Baltimore Sun, Maryland's premier fishwrap, did not foresee such epic domination by the hometown team, predicting a 17-0 shutout of the Chiefs. As negative as Warpaint Illustrated's own preview of Week 1 was, our 24-10 prediction pales in comparison to what Sunday could have been, had the Chiefs not stumbled upon good fortune.

The point is this – there is no question the 2009 Chiefs are an absolutely terrible football team. For 60 minutes Sunday, the Ravens had their way with them. At one point, Kansas City even struggled to snap the ball.

It's true. After the Ravens' defense called a timeout early in the contest, the Chiefs' offense responded with one of their own before running another play. Croyle looked lost, head coach Todd Haley looked livid, and the Chiefs in general looked lame. It wasn't surprising that despite the time out, on the ensuing snap Croyle threw an ill-advised pass short of the first-down marker.

It was a bad football team, doing what bad football teams do.

Kansas City converted only two third downs and ran just five plays that gained over 10 yards. Those are numbers that make even Herm Edwards puke. In fact, if Herm was watching in the first quarter, he was probably chuckling at the struggles the Chiefs went through just to get a first down.

So there's no question at this point. The Chiefs are not really an improved football team. They are terrible. Apart from some tremendous, impressive exercises in kicking the football, the Chiefs did nothing with any consistency Sunday. The running game was a mess, the passing game was an exercise in desperation, the defense gashed.

For all the mystery surrounding Kansas City before kickoff, there was little advantage to be gained from it. You might say the Ravens started the game knowing little about the Chiefs, and ended the game knowing the Chiefs could do little.

Now here's what's really going to get you down - are the 2009 Chiefs actually inferior to the 2008 squad? It's quite possible.

Dwayne Bowe was noticeably absent from the Chiefs' attack Sunday (just four catches). Without Tony Gonzalez drawing coverage, we're going to find out quickly if Bowe is the top receiver Haley wants him to be. Sunday, Bowe was covered for much of the afternoon by Baltimore's Domonique Foxworth, whom the Chiefs used to torch when he played with the Broncos.

I don't think Foxworth turned into Champ Bailey overnight. What happened to Bowe? Can he beat Oakland's Pro Bowl corner, Nnamdi Asomugha, next week? We'll see.

Bowe's offensive teammate, Branden Albert, had a terrible game Sunday. Had Croyle not released the ball quickly on several occasions, Albert might have been beaten for three or four sacks instead of just two.

If Bowe's production slips while Albert experiences a sophomore slump and the Chiefs' running game is stuffed, the offense gets really ugly. If the defense continues to get gashed (there are more far more productive offenses yet to come on KC's schedule), it adds up to a huge step backwards.

But don't get too depressed. The Chiefs are obviously going to play with a lot of heart, and Haley's laser-like focus and determination has them headed in the right direction. Beating the Raiders next week is a distinct possibility.

Just don't count on a lot of long interception returns and blocked punts leading to drama-filled fourth quarters. This team is still struggling to snap the ball.

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