For Kansas City Chiefs fans, 13-3 seems like a very long time ago.
The 2003 Kansas City Chiefs season represented a great leap forward for what had been a fairly mediocre squad the previous few years. In 2002 they were 8-8, in 2001 6-10.
In 2003 things finally came together. The Chiefs raced out to a 9-0 start and had folks talking about an undefeated season before losing their first game to the Cincinnati Bengals.
There were weaknesses of course. The team’s defense was a fraud and while a potent offense and some timely interceptions helped the them blaze through the regular season, they couldn’t stop Peyton Manning in the playoffs. Not even once.
Those Chiefs were not unlike the Saints team that won the Super Bowl. New Orleans had struggled on defense in the past but in 2009 they lived and died off an aggressive unit that did everything they could to force turnovers. We now know they also engaged in some other unsavory practices that may or may not have aided their title run. Still, in the end, they stopped Peyton Manning.
The 2003 Chiefs were Kansas City’s last legit Super Bowl contender. Even given their porous defense, the Chiefs were so good on offense that year that had they drawn a different opponent in the divisional round, things might have turned out much differently. They were good enough to win it all.
It is hard to believe that was nine years ago. The Chiefs have been to the playoffs twice since that season, once with Herm and once with Haley. The difference between those playoff appearances is that Herm’s run was with leftover players from the Dick Vermeil era. His squad was old and was riding Larry Johnson to what we all knew would likely be a short playoff appearance.
Haley’s team, while fueled largely by Herm Edwards leftovers, was clearly a team with a future. In fact, despite their lopsided loss to the Baltimore Ravens, few remember that mid-way through the third quarter, the Chiefs were only one score behind.
Entering 2011, few believed the Chiefs could repeat their 2010 run. Optimistic predictions seemed to top out at 10-6 with most expecting a season somewhere in the 8-8 to 7-9 range. The Chiefs had a ludicrously easy slate of games in 2010 and a schedule so tough in 2011 that most expected a step back.
In an interview with ESPN radio before the season, I was asked to give my prediction for KC in 2011. I said I expected a step back record-wise. I told them I thought the Chiefs would go 7-9 and that while it would be disappointing, what I really wanted to see was how they played against some of the league’s elite teams. I wanted to know they could beat the likes of the Steelers or Patriots. Even if they couldn’t get them all, I said that a few wins over teams like that would make me very excited for 2012 because I believe that despite a step back in the standings, the Chiefs would be more battle-tested and prepared to make a playoff run in 2012.
In a roundabout way, my prediction was spot on. The Chiefs did finishe 7-9 and they nearly beat the mighty Steelers with Tyler Palko and were the only team all season to knock off the Green Bay Packers and they did it with a QB that wasn’t even on their team to start the season.
I of course, had no idea what would happen to Tony Moeaki, Eric Berry, Jamaal Charles and Matt Cassel. I in no way expected someone named Tyler Palko to start four games. I sure as hell didn’t think Kyle Orton would even be on the roster in 2011, let along leading the Chiefs on a potential playoff run down the stretch.
That’s the NFL I suppose. Every year we try to predict what will happen and every year we are all miserably wrong.
Yet looking back on 2011, the Chiefs were even better than most of us predicted. When we made out 9-7, 8-8 and 7-9 preseason predictions, we did so thinking that Berry, Charles, Moeaki and Cassel would play the entire season. The fact that the team ended up with the same record most of us predicted without those men, with three QB’s and despite firing their head coach before the season’s end is absolutely remarkable. What might their record have been with those players? 9-7? 10-6?
After a free agency period that has been widely declared a success by even the grumpiest of Chiefs fans and just before a draft that is sure to add even more depth to a team that is suddenly looking a lot more deep, what are we to expect in 2012? Will the 2012 Chiefs, like the 2003 Chiefs before them, take the great leap forward that we’ve all been waiting for? Or, like the 2002 team, do they owe the Football God’s one more season of mediocrity before they can ascend to the heights of the perennial Super Bowl favorites?