The 2011 season turned the entire AFC West on its head, multiple times. All four teams, which have had fairly stable identities over the past several decades, went schizo – and those changes may be permanent.
In Oakland, the King is dead. Long live the King.
When that eccentric 82-year-old lunatic died this year, with him died the personality of the franchise that had persisted from its 1970s dominance to its 2000s irrelevance. It was a franchise governed by gut decisions, obsession with raw athletic ability and disregard for red flags in personal conduct. If you were an axe murderer with a sub-4.3 40, you would never be unemployed in Oakland.
If you haven’t read Mike Silver’s controversial article about Mark Davis yet, do it. Silver has taken a lot of flack and hate for it, but much like Kent Babb’s investigation into the Arrowhead Gestapo-state, it is very well researched and smells like the truth. Nearly all of the anger towards the column came from zealously loyal Raiders fans, who, let’s face it, are psychopaths.
In the column, Silver makes the case essentially that Mark Davis, who appears to still get his Prince Valiant hair cut by an protective aunt of sorts, essentially pulled the plug on the Hue Jackson regime primarily because Jackson was a guy with a strong personality who had seen him repeatedly humiliated by his reptilian father.
Another former Raiders coach said that he “saw [Al Davis] tell Mark to ‘shut the [expletive] up’ all the time. It was a regular occurrence. He treated him like his opinion didn’t matter.”
With Al Davis gone, and Reggie McKenzie in, Oakland will have something resembling an NFL front office for the first time in Raiders’ history. It appears that Mark Davis, the gentle giant, will cede most real authority to McKenzie, who was brought up through the Packers’ methodical organization. This means – gasp – long-term planning and conservative personnel moves. This could be trouble for the strategic balance in the division. But it won’t matter this year, since the Raiders will use their first draft pick in the fifth round. It won’t matter much next year, when the Raiders will also be missing a second-round pick, plus whatever else they manage to trade off during this offseason. Still, it does mean that over the long term, this is going to become a very different team than it has been historically.
In Denver, the King is born, although it’s not quite clear if he is the Messiah or just a baby found in the Broncos’ stables.
One day, we will know what John Elway really thinks of Tim Tebow. I, for one, think that a legendary passer like Elway must think this kid has set the game back for decades with his generally awful vision and throwing, but is somehow more beloved already than he, and that must drive him crazy. Right now, the (sexless) Tebow-Bronco marriage is unavoidable and the Broncos are going to do everything they can to surround him with complementary talent. It also means they are going work to become the best defense and the best running attack in the league – a consistent problem for the Chiefs’ inconsistent offense and so-so run defense. The years of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall seem like ancient history already.
In San Diego, the King got his stay of execution, but is still probably on death row.
I honestly don’t know what it is going to take to get A. J. Smith and Norv Turner fired, but I bet this is the year we see it happen.
Smith and Turner have to get aggressive this offseason to save their jobs, and it truly is (deep in the) playoffs or bust for them. One of the least talked about aspects of the Chargers this past year is that they have very quietly become a heavy running team with Ryan Matthews averaging 77. 9 yards per game – just behind Willis McGahee at 12th in the league in that category. With Philip Rivers coming off the worst season of his career, and the coaching staff playing for their jobs, don’t be surprised if they continue to move in this direction. Against teams like the Chiefs in particular who have stout defensive backs, expect the Bolts to run early and often. And if they fall short again, the entire team is likely to be purged from the top of the front office to the lowest position coaches.
So, three years into the Scott Pioli Chiefs, who are we?
There will obviously be some changes with Haley gone and Crennel in the big chair, but those will be changes in tone most of all. The offensive coordinating hire will indicate a lot, but that’s only part of the story.
Watching the Chiefs this year I got the feeling that I was watching an identity emerge in the team. After losing key guys on both sides of the ball and being embarrassed to start the season, not only did the Chiefs never give up, but they continued to play like a team that was defending its division championship. After two blowout losses, the team circled the wagons and began its climb back into contention.
Why? Generally when a team deals with adversity the way this one did, it’s because the team, even if they are aware they are playing in a lost season, fights with heart to keep their head coach’s job. That apparently was not the case this year. The other reason teams are able to pull through is usually because they are full of veteran leaders who have seen the highs and lows before and are able to guide and motivate the rest of the players not to give up. That was also not the case with our team.
While there were clearly players in each unit that had been around the block, none of them are Ray Lewis out there. Wiegmann holds the middle of the line with the same quiet professionalism as a plumber snaking a toilet. John McGraw appeared to do more or less the same. Thomas Jones was physically assaulting rookies.
No, I think we saw that same tough, workman-like attitude spread throughout this whole team over the last two years with young players taking the field in clutch situations like they were on a business trip. I once heard someone say that adversity doesn’t forge character, it reveals it; and we learned a lot about the character of the Kansas City Chiefs this year.
By the end of the season, we learned that they are a team that can hold anybody to fewer than 20 points. We learned that they can persevere through the worst quarterbacking and safety-play imaginable. We learned that as an organization, as long as there is an outside chance we can make it to the postseason, that is the only goal.
Through several different themes, we at AA were trying to figure out what the 2011 Chiefs were this year. First, they were the Zombie Chiefs, then the A-Team – a video I think encapsulates our whole season.
In all I think we’ve seen accountability, professionalism and, yes, wiretaps, redefine this team. Some call it the Patriots Way, but I think it’s just some imported New England leadership presiding over a mix of guys that understand the mindset that has been a central feature in the mentality of the Chiefs nation and the Chiefs organization – albeit some aberrances – for decades.
I went to my first game in quite a while this year, and I realized I had forgotten what a stark cultural contrast is cut between Raiders fans and Chiefs fans. Among the Chiefs fans it was work boots and hunting hats — and more than a few sets of overalls. No bling, no costumes, just fans coming to support their team like miners in the shaft.
Many of our stars that have emerged over the past years – Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki, Justin Houston – were mid-round picks. Behind them, unheralded lunch pail guys like Andy Studebaker, Jackie Battle and Jovan Belcher have come in and held it together. CHIEFS WILL was a great rebranding move, and it suits this group well.
Because of all of this, tough, excuse-free guys like Matt Cassel are not likely to be replaced in favor of flashy alternatives. Through all of the upheaval since Scott Pioli came in, the greatest acquisition this team has made was an identity.
Sure, that identity was not enough for us to get us in to the playoffs this year, but I strongly believe we have yet to see the best from this group, and I greatly look forward to the workmen Chiefs taking on the saintly Broncos, the desperate Chargers and the suddenly rational Raiders.
2012 is going to be a great year.