Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Chiefs and Arrowhead return to relevance on Monday Night Football

More important than a last-second victory, a 1-0 start, or being alone in first place in the division was the resonating feeling every Chiefs fan at Arrowhead Stadium or watching at home surely felt in the moments after the team's triumphant 21-14 victory over the San Diego Chargers Monday night.

It was in the hugs and the high-fives. It was in the fist pumps and the cheers. It was in the war chant being belted out by fans on the walk in and out of the stadium.

Everyone felt it and everyone knew. On Monday, professional football in Kansas City became relevant again.

Chiefs fans cheered loudly as the team was introduced prior to Monday's showdown with the Chargers.

The players seemed to feel something similar, if their collective comments after the game were any indication.

"Very happy," Dexter McCluster exclaimed.

"The fans were amazing," Glenn Dorsey stated.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Mike Vrabel would say.

It began with the chilling opening video prior to kickoff reminding Chiefs fans of the days when Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith and Dale Carter made Arrowhead special every Sunday. It continued through yet another long touchdown run by Jamaal Charles and then the longest punt return for a score in team history by the rookie, McCluster. It concluded with the monster defensive stand by the defense with less than a minute to go, in which the Chargers ran six plays from inside the 20 and at one point had first and goal from the four.

Sure, there are plenty of reasons to believe this team hasn't improved as much as we'd like, and Monday was something like a fluke. The first is the most obvious and glaring, and would have dominated the talk today had the Chiefs lost the game: Matt Cassel looked horrendous. Rain did fall for most of the game, but Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers dealt with the same elements and his final stat line - 22/39, 298 yards, two touchdowns - looked much better than Cassel's - 10/22, 68 yards, one touchdown.

Unfortunately, that's not the worst part. Stats are one thing, but at times they can be misleading. While watching the game, though, it was obvious new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis had very little confidence in Cassel. In the third and fourth quarters, with the Chiefs clinging to a lead built from kick returns and a turnover, Weis' play-calling was extremely conservative, almost becoming a sadistic version of Marty-ball. It led to the defense being completely overworked - the time of possession was almost two to one in the Chargers favor - and San Diego coming within six yards of forcing overtime.

The Chiefs, overall, were outgained on offense by almost 200 yards. We can attribute some of that to the team dominating field position all game due to spectacular special teams play, but it probably had more to do with the offense going one of 11 on third down conversions.

This, naturally, leads us right back to Cassel. The quarterback controversy talk is quickly gaining steam, and we're a poor performance Sunday in Cleveland away from the speculation to be in full effect.

There were other things to fuss about, as well. Tamba Hali had a less than stellar performance against a San Diego left tackle making his first NFL start. Eric Berry, the team's much-celebrated first-round draft pick, was responsible for both Charger touchdowns - one he was beat on and the other on blown coverage.

Still - and even if this would be a tough conclusion to come to had the Chiefs lost - the good absolutely outweighed the bad. Aside from Berry, the 2010 rookie draft class shined Monday night. There was the McCluster punt return for a touchdown. The Chiefs' other second-round pick and more primary return man, Javier Arenas, almost broke free on two other returns and gave the offense great field position all night. Tight end Tony Moeaki caught three passes, including one for a score.

Underachievers from past draft classes also stepped up. Derrick Johnson, the Chiefs' first-round pick in 2005, had twelve tackles and was all over the field all evening. Dorsey, the teams' top pick in 2008, pressured Rivers multiple times and made a huge tackle in the backfield during the final series of the game.

You get the feeling Monday was the Chiefs' coming out party. McCluster, who's had 'star' written all over him since the day he was drafted, lived up to the hype in a big way. Charles continued his campaign to be considered the greatest backup running back of all time.

Best of all, the defense held strong, thanks to an electric crowd at Arrowhead which had the stadium rocking well past midnight. For the first time in a long time, it felt like the days of old.

And the Chiefs did it all in front of a national television audience, center stage on Monday Night Football.

Chiefs fans filed out of Arrowhead Stadium full of excitement early Tuesday morning after the team's upset victory over the Chargers.

The team can ill-afford a letdown in Cleveland Sunday, and that's certainly a possibility, but Monday was about as good a start as anyone could have imagined. Vrabel cautioned fans and teammates who might put too much stock into one game.

"By no means was this our Super Bowl," he said. "And by no means do we think that we're done winning games."

Fine. But for a fanbase and team starved of a playoff victory for almost two full decades, celebrating as if it were the Super Bowl seems justified.

It sure felt like it.


  1. It was a game that I'll ALWAYS remember-- They looked spectacular; McCluster looked as though he was shot out of a cannon on his return, Charles made that San Diego safety look downright stupid. You are absolutely correct in assessing Cassel as being "one week away from a QB controversy." The Chiefs need to implement play-action passes when the ground game is going to give him some confidence!

  2. Good piece. I will also always remember this game as my best Arrowhead experience to date, the crowd and atmosphere were simply unbelievable. Favorite memory besides the TDs was the tomahawk chant on the way out. We have some issues to work out, sure, but I'll take an ugly win over a good opponent every time. As you said, the time is quickly coming where no more excuses can be made for Cassel. I can see us wanting to protect the ball because of the downpour in the second half, but 10-22 is awful. By the time the bye week rolls around, if Cassel still looks clueless, Haley won't be able to ignore it any longer and KC will be in the midst of a full-blown QB controversy.