Athan: He's been nothing short of amazing. I've watched him throw the ball for two seasons and he was nothing but a third-string quarterback in my opinion. But something happened in Denver when the Chiefs lost 9-6 in OT to the Broncos on the road. Huard didn't lose the game and the Chiefs gained confidence.
He's been passing the ball like Trent Green and even further he's acting like Trent Green in the huddle. He has the respect of his players and they like playing for him. As of now, this is Damon Huard's job to lose. I can't see any scenario outside of Huard laying an egg in Miami or Oakland next week that puts Trent Green back on the field. Herm Edwards told me last week that he hopes Huard continues his run.
Q: How big of a surprise has his performance been to the folks in Kansas City?
Athan: It's been shocking to every fan. But Damon Huard is so confident and he's a very likable person. His success has the entire Chiefs Nation jumping for joy and as he keeps winning each week, the pulse of the city is firmly behind the hot hand.
We've been through two quarterback controversies in Kansas City. The first was back in 1969 when Mike Livingston filled in seven games for Len Dawson, who was injured with a strained knee. Hank Stram didn't think twice and when Dawson was healthy he returned to the field and led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
Back in 1997, Rich Gannon led the Chiefs for nine games but Marty Schottenheimer chose Elvis Grbac to make the start in the playoffs against Denver. It was a disaster and Gannon went on to guide the Raiders to three consecutive playoff seasons.
So the fans are cautious in completely trusting Huard but he's give them no cause to be concerned that he can't continue to get the job done.
Q: How big of a help is it for him to have a running back like Larry Johnson?
Athan: Larry Johnson has shaken off the rust and he's dominating teams again. He really struggled early in the season because the offensive line was in shambles. But LJ has returned to his Jim Brown form and he's running up the middle and around the ends like he did the last year when he was the most feared offensive player in the NFL.
What he's done this year that he didn't do well last season was that Huard is getting him the ball through the air. He's scored two touchdowns catching short passes in the red zone and that's made defenses take notice of him when he slides out of the backfield.
When that happens, it just adds another option for Huard and with players like tight end Tony Gonzalez, wide receiver Eddie Kennison and fullback Kris Wilson having success, teams can't ignore Johnson in the passing attack like they did a year ago. He's been one the primary reasons that Huard is having this much success.
Q. It seems as though Johnson has found his groove after an up-and-down start. Is that accurate, and if so, why?
Athan: But LJ understands his role now and he's accepted his responsibility for the early-season failures. Losing Trent Green was a big blow, but so was losing Willie Roaf. It took LJ sometime to get back on track but if I'm an opposing defense, I wouldn't want any part of him right now. He's believes he can rush for 200 yards in every game. This weekend he might just do that.
Because he's up right now and I don't think there's a better running back in the NFL when they carry that chip on his shoulder. Right now his is large and that's the best news of all if you're a Chiefs fan.
Q: Tony Gonzalez once again has become a big factor in the offense. What happened to make the Chiefs suddenly go to him?
Athan: Credit offensive coordinator Mike Solari for solving some of the offensive line issues. In the first two games the offensive line was awful. That meant that tight end Jason Dunn and Tony Gonzalez had to be used to pass-protect. That meant Gonzalez could not get very far down the field when he released from the line of scrimmage.
Now the line is protecting better and Huard is going to his superstar tight end. It's working to perfection. Gonzalez, like LJ, is in a groove right now and he's taking advantage of obvious mismatches in the secondary.
Teams can't afford to double-team Gonzalez because the Chiefs are running the ball so well. Granted, the Chiefs have good not great wide receivers but they're capable of catching the ball. With Dunn chipping in to block, even Kris Wilson is getting into the passing game.
All that has made teams focus on all the Chiefs options in the passing game. And that's allowed Gonzalez to flourish in single coverage. He's like fine wine. He's getting better with age and Huard is making sure he gets the ball.