Okay, shake it off. You win some, you lose some, and every once in awhile, you get completely humiliated.
Please forgive me if I—and what I write here—seem a little discombobulated. I will admit I didn’t expect this. It’s not that I thought the Chiefs would surely win, nor did I have any real faith in Brodie Alabama, but I felt confident that the rest of the team would at least show up. I expected that they would…what’s the word? Ah, yes: care. Apparently, they didn’t. “I guess we just weren’t into it,”* Eric Berry told the Kansas City Star afterward. And he was one of the few players who did seem to care.
*Huh. Well, “it” should have seen that coming when the Chiefs asked it out and then never called even though they totally said they would.
The average sitcom runs 22 minutes. The Chiefs didn’t take even that long to compose this tragedy, holding on to the ball for just 19 minutes and 50 seconds, less than half as much time as Philip Rivers & Friends got to play with it. I happen to think that the defense didn’t completely embarrass itself—in fact, it seemed the only quarterback the Chiefs could get the ball from was Rivers—but the offense left them on the field for more than two-thirds of the game. Jamaal Charles got just one carry for every $3.25 million of his new contract, and every third down was like a religious zealot (there was just no converting it). As Brodie also told the Star, “It got out of reach pretty fast.” No, he wasn’t talking about one of his passes.
All that said, it is reassuring how quickly everyone is moving on.
“We’ve got to move on,” said Todd Haley at his Monday afternoon press conference.
“You have to let it go,” said running back Thomas Jones in the moments after the shutout.
“I’m glad I got the heater in the car fixed in time for this frigid weather,” said my father—though he, too, when pressed, acknowledged that it is in the players’ and coaches’ best interest to focus acutely on what they have to do next Sunday.
Yes, the Chiefs were building up a bit of momentum the last few weeks while the Chargers and Raiders seemed to be falling by the wayside, and it can be demoralizing to get tripped up. But things could be much, much worse. As we all know, the Chiefs just need to keep running—and, assuming Matt Cassel is back, passing—and none of their pursuers will be able to catch them (until the first round of the playoffs*).
*Don’t look now, but there are several not-so-improbable scenarios that see the Ravens and/or the Jets falling in some difficult season-ending games and leave the Chiefs, at 11-5, hosting the 10-6 Chargers in the opening round of the playoffs—or, if the Chiefs drop another game to finish 10-6, making the trip to San Diego for a rematch. If you haven’t discovered it already, the ESPN Playoff Machine will keep you driving yourself insane for hours with hypothetical playoff pictures—pick an upset and watch those seedings change!
So what I’m choosing to focus on now, in my weekly probing for optimism, is the renewed sense of urgency. As Merlin pointed out last week, the Chiefs were playing with house money. Well, that’s not a good situation for a gambler who’s used to losing. Instead of paying off his debts, he stays at the table, relaxed. And then, before he knows it, his favorite dealer has to leave his shift for—get this!—an emergency appendectomy.
Okay, so I bailed on that analogy—it was never gonna make it anyway.
But the point is that a little pressure-just-short-of-panic isn’t a bad thing. Most of us as fans would have been happy to be in a situation in December where the Chiefs were still mathematically alive and just needed something crazy to happen. Something still probably will—remember, the Bengals beat the Ravens, the Cardinals beat the Saints, and the Browns beat the Saints and the Patriots (by 20 points!). The fact that none of that other stuff matters is itself still a luxury we weren’t expecting. And now, it seems that the team, after one really bad hand, feels compelled not to blow the rest of their unforeseen winnings. (Analogy restored!)
We learned that the Chargers are likely the best team in the AFC West. But so what: The division title doesn’t go to the best team. It goes to the team with the most wins. Right now, the Chiefs have that distinction, and they have the power to keep it, starting with Sunday’s game against the Rams, or as Mitch Holtus has taken to calling them, the “Goats.”*
*We all know the Broncos are the “Donkeys,” the Raiders are the “Petty Felons,” and the Chargers are the “Electrical Repair Guys—You Know, The Ones With Their Butt Cracks Showing,” but “Goats” was actually a new one to me.
As Todd Haley put it, “We’re now 0-1 in the fourth quarter [of the season]…so our main objective right now is to try and get back to 1-1 so we have a chance to accomplish our goal.” And then he added: “You worry too much. Just enjoy it. And get a good night’s sleep.”
Actually, that might have been my dad.