At this point I believe it’s safe to say that nobody has any clue how this is going to go. After the first two games of the season everybody knew the Chiefs were going to be awful. After seven games everybody knew the Chiefs were legitimate division contenders. After 11 games everybody knew that the Chiefs were out of it for the year and Head Coach Todd Haley was likely set to be fired. After yesterday, I don’t think anybody knows where this team is going.
A hard fought victory over the Bears has given the Chiefs some hope in this dismal season. True, Chicago was without starting QB Jay Cutler and Matt Forte got hurt early in the game. However, the Bears were still a team right in the thick of the playoff hunt in the NFC and with a legitimate top tier defense. As it turned out, the Chiefs were the one’s showing that they may also have a top tier defense. Shutting down the beleaguered Chicago offense the Chiefs, with the help of a Hail Mary to end the first half, were able to come away with a much needed victory.
When the Chiefs had their four game winning streak earlier in the year, it came against teams like the Chicago team from Sunday. These teams were hampered by injuries and in a difficult spot. Perhaps if the Chiefs played those four teams today, the results might be different. The Chiefs may have encountered another stroke of luck against the Bears.
On the other hand, the Chiefs could be showing how they are taking one step closer to being an elite defense in the NFL. The Dolphins and Broncos games may have been the low point of the season defensively. Both those teams made the Chiefs D look like it was awful and possibly beyond help. Since those games, Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel has been making adjustment after adjustment and it’s paying off on the field.
The Chiefs stuck with New England for the first half until they got worn down by the Pats offense. Being worn down by Tom Brady and company through four quarters is not unique to Kansas City. Then the Chiefs held the Steelers to only 13 points and less than 300 yards of offense. Yesterday was yet another step closer to becoming a top defense. While the Bears were injury stricken, the Chiefs weren’t exactly offensive juggernauts themselves. After extending their lead to 7 points in the third quarter the Chiefs relied almost solely on their defense. The D came through and basically won the game itself by shutting down the Bears offense.
What was thought to be the biggest weakness early in the season, now appears to be the biggest, if not only, strength of this team. There are few who could have seen this coming going in to the 4th quarter of the season. Yet, here we are.
As the Chiefs look toward closing out 2011, we have to wonder what we will know when this season’s over. When a season spirals out of control as this one did, there are some opportunities to be had. With so many injuries there are opportunities for other players to step up. Unfortunately, the Chiefs are yet to use this season to that end. Young players like Jerrell Powe, Jalil Brown, and Rodney Hudson have not been used very much. Kelly Gregg and Casey Weigmann are nearing retirement. Brandon Carr still has not signed a contract and is playing as a restricted free agent. This is the perfect scenario to find out what we have to replace these players, if need be. The Chiefs have chosen not to pursue this avenue.
In fact, the Chiefs have remained “in it” just enough to justify selling out everything to try to win. Todd Haley knows that he might have to make the playoffs to save his job. Scott Pioli knows that, even though he’d probably like to fire Haley, it would grant him favor with the fans if they made the playoffs. There is just enough motivation that they must do whatever is within their power to win. That includes signing Kyle Orton, keeping players like Powe inactive and starting Tyler Palko due to this familiarity with the system.
With four games left in the season, the Chiefs trail both the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos who are both 7-5. In the Chiefs final four games, they play both the Broncos and the Raiders. All three teams sit at 2-2 in the division. If the Raiders and Broncos go 1-3 the rest of the way, and the Chiefs go 3-1 beating both Denver and Oakland, then it’s the playoffs for the Chiefs. After all they’ve been through it’s just that simple, go 3-1 and you’ve done just about all you can to make the playoffs.
For the sake of this argument, let’s say that’s exactly what happens. The Chiefs wind up 8-8, division champions, and host a playoff game again. They will most likely host the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals, or the New York Jets. In all likelihood, any one of those teams is going to dispatch the Chiefs in the first round (even though in this scenario the Chiefs would have previously beaten the Jets).
At this point, 17 games (if we’re counting the playoff game) will have been played and we will have learned incredibly little about this team. With the lack of knowledge they would have, the Chiefs would then be able to convince themselves that the status quo is acceptable. If they can make the playoffs and win the division with this team, then who’s to say when everyone returns healthy they won’t be Super Bowl bound? All they need is just another player or two from the draft or free agency and that will make all the difference. It will feel like the Carl Peterson era all over again.
This is not to say that the Chiefs should lose. I will never stand for such a thing. “Suck for Luck” was never something I was about supporting. What I’m simply saying is that even if all the events unfold in this uber-lucky manner, nobody will know any more about the Chiefs than we did before the season started. With the exception of the emergence of Justin Houston, we are no better off. The viability of Hudson, Powe, Brown, and other young players is still in question going in to 2012. The depth issue will still remain going forward.
This season could have provided lots of answers for where this organization is headed. Instead, we are left not knowing anything more at this point than we did at the end of the 2010 season. This team has holes to fill and it’s anybody’s guess as to when they will be addressed.