Hali's Legend Grows

All season long, Tamba Hali had been unable to finish.

When the Chiefs hosted the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5, Hali had beaten Flozell Adams and had Tony Romo dead to rights. He got two hands on the quarterback, but just couldn't finish.

In Jacksonville, Hali toasted Ebon Britton around the outside, just took the rookie to school. He was inches from David Garrard, who stepped up to avoid his rush. Hali got one hand on him and slid to the ground in defeat, another opportunity for a sack slipping away. Later, Hali beat Britton to the inside, had two paws on Garrard and, again, couldn't finish. Wallace Gilberry cleaned up Hali's mess, stole his sack.

Against the Steelers a few weeks ago, Hali knock Willie Colon on his butt and was breathing down Ben Roethlisberger's neck, but the quarterback released the ball a fraction of a second before he was knocked to the ground. The pass was intercepted, but the play just illustrates how Hali had been frustrated this season.

He couldn't finish. The opportunities were there. Hali was beating pass protection, a notion reinforced by the fact that ProFootballFocus.com ranks him fourth among all 3-4 outside linebackers in pass rush rating. Hali was keeping good company in that sense – James Harrison, DeMarcus Ware, Elvis Dumervil, all among the league's elite pass rushers.

The difference? Harrison, Ware and Dumervil are finishers. They get to the quarterback, combining for 34 sacks this season. Hali had a measly 3.5 through 11 weeks this season.

But last Sunday, against Denver, Hali finished. Not only did he rack up three sacks, he produced two turnovers by stripping Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton. Perhaps more impressively, he did it against Ryan Clady, Denver's talented second-year left tackle, who had allowed just three sacks entering last weekend's game.

Hali beat one of the league's best young pass protectors, took down a quarterback who had been sacked only 15 times in the previous 11 games, and almost single-handedly generated 10 points for the Chiefs. That's called finishing. Impressive? No question.

But adding to perhaps the best game of his career were the things that didn't show up on the stat sheet. Like any great pass rusher, Hali was affecting the decisions of the opposing quarterback, and his throws.

It started early when Mike Brown intercepted Orton on Denver's first possession. Brown may be getting all the glory, but it was Hali who beat Clady with a quick-as-a-cat inside step before he pressured Orton, making him throw off his back foot. Because of Hali's pressure, the pass was underthrown, allowing Demorrio Williams to tip it into Brown's waiting arms.

Later, Hali's bull rush and driving feet forced Clady into Orton's drop, making him step up into Tyson Jackson's pass rush. Orton had to dump the ball short to avoid a disaster in the backfield.

With the Broncos facing a key third down and ahead only 7-3 at the start of the second quarter, Hali looped around from his left outside linebacker position and busted up the middle of Denver's protection. He was too quick for right guard Chris Kuper, and Orton had to release the ball early, resulting in an inaccurate throw and an incompletion.

It was fitting that Hali played so well and terrorized the opposing quarterback on a day when the Chiefs retired Derrick Thomas' jersey. Like Thomas used to do with regularity, Hali gave the Chiefs a chance to win, even if it was only for a brief moment before halftime, when they were still in the game. His teammates noticed.

"It's sad that we couldn't win for a guy like Tamba (Hali) who played his ass off," said linebacker Mike Vrabel. "So, we just need to try and play up to what Tamba and guys like him are doing. If we win, it's a great story."

A great story? That's what we're witnessing. You might think it's silly to say Hali's legend is growing, but it's the truth. A few months ago, there were plenty of fans who considered Hali a bust, another failed draft pick from the Herm Edwards era like Bernard Pollard, Brodie Croyle or Turk McBride. For a former first-round pick, his stock had fallen considerably.

In the final game of 2008, Hali disappeared at the hands of a right tackle who had never before started a game in the NFL. He was playing left defensive end that day, because his attempt at moving to right defensive end was a complete flop. Hali had been dominated all season long a year ago in attempting to replace Jared Allen.

With a new coaching staff, a new defensive scheme, and a new position to learn, few people expected a turnaround for Hali in 2009. He runs painfully slow in the open field. He couldn't even find the right pair of shoes to wear. How could he possibly play outside linebacker?

But now? He has defied everyone's expectations. He's putting pressure on quarterbacks by beating left tackles. He couldn't do that last season. At times, he's effective rushing with his hand on the ground, as a right defensive end. He couldn't do that last season. Who can forget his struggles with staying healthy? This year, it seems as if he hasn't missed a single defensive series, let alone a half or a game. He couldn't do that last season.

Hali is playing his guts out for what might be the worst team in football. That, he did last season. The fact he's doing it again, and producing, should solidify his place with the Chiefs for years to come.

Born in war-torn Liberia before escaping to America, Tamba Hali became an All-American in High School and led the Big 10 in sacks at Penn State. After being drafted by the Chiefs, he started racking up sacks with Jared Allen and now, he's racking up sacks on his own. In 2009, he even sacked a Manning. In the entire history of his franchise, only two players have forced more fumbles than Hali – Thomas and Neil Smith. One of them was immortalized last weekend. The other sports Super Bowl rings. Like Harrison, Ware and Dumervil, once again, Hali's in good company.

How can you argue against the obvious at this point? The legend of Tamba Hali is growing. Because finally, he finished.

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