After a dismal September, checking-out on the 2011 Chiefs a little early would have been more than justified. Many of us did just that. So if you came back around for the Monday Night Miracle this week, you may have been a bit confused as to just what you were seeing — on the field and off.
Not even the most optimistic of Chiefs fans were predicting this turnaround, a jump from 0-3 to first-place faster than any team has done prior in NFL history. So even those who hung around during the first month of the season aren't quite sure as to how it happened.
Some might credit the soft schedule the team faced after the 0-3 start, including games against the then-winless Colts and Vikings, and the banged-up Raiders.
The pessimistic view of Monday's miracle could be written off as a product of an amateur, yet timely parking lot firework combined with the electricity of a primetime game at Arrowhead and Philip Rivers' boneheadedness.
But regardless, the Chiefs have gone from last to first during the course of October, beating two division rivals in the process. Even the best of teams in the NFL struggle to string together four consecutive victories, but the Chiefs have done just that.
And The Beard deserves the credit.
That's right. Head coach Todd Haley, having vowed to not shave his beard as long as his team continued to win, is now four weeks deep in the greatest facial hair trend this side of the Mississippi, and well, how else would you explain this team's resurrection?
After being mostly ridiculed for a consensus misuse of training camp and the preseason, The Beard has overcome injuries to three key starters — two of them Pro Bowlers — and has the Chiefs in a tie for first-place in the AFC West with home games against the hapless Dolphins and Broncos coming up.
So ask yourself this: Knowing what we know now about the improved Bills, Lions, and Raiders, which would you choose ... starting the season over, or a first-place tie two months into the season?
I'd certainly take the latter.
And if we can agree that the front office could have done a better job equipping Haley with more talent in the offseason, we can probably agree that Haley has done a pretty damn good job getting the most out of what he does have.
Brandon Flowers made Chargers All-Pro wide-out Vincent Jackson disappear Monday night. Tamba Hali scared Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill into several false starts, at least one holding penalty, and had Rivers dancing in the pocket all night.
Other have improved. Dwayne Bowe is now being talked about with the very elite receivers of the league. Derrick Johnson is finally getting some credit for helping stabilize a rejuvenated defense. And rookie Jonathan Baldwin, in just his second start, made a highlight reel catch in front of a national television audience Monday that has the blogosphere already pushing for a new "OptimusPrime-time" nickname.
The Beard should have been here all along.
Best of all, the players look as if they're finally having fun, and that certainly showed in the moments after Ryan Succop's game-winning overtime field goal Monday when several Chiefs put on Scream masks to celebrate the win and the Halloween spirit all in one.
It's night and day from what we saw just a month ago, and it could get better. Two weeks from now the Chiefs could be 6-3 going into another Monday night showdown, this time with the Patriots, looking to create some separation from the Chargers and Raiders. This thing is just getting good.
What a difference The Beard makes.