Mar 13, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey (right), quarterback Alex Smith (center), and head coach Andy Reid pose for photos during the press conference at The University of Kansas Hospital Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 Kansas City Chiefs: A Foundation Laid, An Opportunity Lost

ArmchairAddict1

As the final seconds of the Chiefs excruciating playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts ticket away I really wasn’t sure how I was going to write a column this week. What could I possibly write? The fine people at Fansided and Arrowhead Addict probably wouldn’t appreciate a piece that just consisted of a bunch of expletives. That’s what I really felt like writing as the Chiefs squandered a 28 point lead in a fashion that not only ripped the hearts out of every Chiefs fan across the world, but also seemed to pour salt into the wounds of playoff loses past. I saw Lin Elliot miss those kicks again. I saw Peyton Manning marching up and down the field in the infamous “punt-less playoff game”. I know as sure as anything I’ve ever known before that I’ll relive Andrew Luck picking up that fumble and lunging into the endzone for the rest of my days. The Chiefs could win the Super Bowl next season and it still won’t erase those heart breaks. Just like I’m sure long time Boston Red Sox fans will always remember Bill Buckner regardless of how many World Series they win.

This loss hurt.

It hurt bad.

I stayed off of the internet and Twitter Saturday following the game. I had to step away. I played video games with my eight year old son and my wife made us pancakes and bacon for dinner (one of my favorites). I’d like to say that it put things in perspective and I went to bed in a better mood, but that would be a lie. Despite my despair, the sun still rose Sunday morning and life marches on. As I returned to my online Chiefs community on Sunday I noticed that Chiefs fans largely seemed to be falling into one of two main factions in their approach to this loss.

The first group is the more optimistic outlook. The main points stressed by this group are that KC was the worst team in the NFL last season and that they exceeded expectations this season and we should all feel great about the fact that they went 11-5, made the playoffs, and have laid a foundation that they can build upon for years to come. There is more to this argument, but that’s the main idea.

To this group, I would say: “You’re absolutely correct!”

Then there is the more pessimistic group. The main point of this group is that the Chiefs had a great opportunity and wasted it. They were 9-0. They were up by 28 points in the third quarter of a playoff game and they blew it. The playoff losing streak should be over. There are no guarantees that KC will be able to make it back next year. Last year was last year, next year is next year, but they had a real opportunity to do something THIS YEAR and they squandered it. There are no excuses.

To this group, I would say: “You’re absolutely correct!”

While many in the Chiefs Kingdom seem set on fighting with their fellow Chiefs brethren I would argue that there is every reason to be both optimistic about the future and pissed off that they didn’t accomplish more this season. While it’s fine to debate where this team is and what needs to be done, it seems foolish to me to turn on each other following a painful loss like this one.

The only people that I can’t get on board with are those that seem to think that all hope is lost and that the Chiefs will be horrible next season and the sky is falling. While I’m upset and frustrated about the loss, I can’t buy into the “Chicken Little” outlook. While everyone is entitled to their opinion and free to express it, it’s a hard sell for total despair when a team made a 9 game improvement and made the playoffs, regardless of how brutal the playoff loss was.

There is real reason for optimism.

Did the Chiefs beat any elite teams this season? No, they didn’t. It’s valid to say that the Kansas City Chiefs do not belong in the “elite” of the NFL (at least not yet).

However, people saying that the Chiefs could only beat the bad teams like it’s a put down need to gain some perspective. In one offseason the new KC regime changed this team from a team that WAS the worst in the NFL to a team that could beat all the non-elite teams that they played and even gave the playoff teams that they played a run for their money. If they could take that big of step in their first season in power, shouldn’t Chiefs fans at least be willing to give them a second offseason to see if they can take another step next year before claiming that the sky is falling? Even if you are personally pessimistic about their chances next year, don’t you think that this new regime did enough this year that MAYBE you shouldn’t insult your fellow KC fans that ARE willing to see what season #2 brings?

On the other side of the coin, just because there is some hope for the future, that doesn’t mean that someone is a “bad fan” if they are pissed off about that loss. There are absolutely no sure things in the NFL. It is certainly possible that KC could be an improved team next year and have a worse record and miss the playoffs. Next year’s schedule does look a lot harder. Some of KC’s core players are old enough that they could begin to see their play decline. When the Chiefs started the season 9-0 they absolutely raised the expectation bar from where it was coming off a 2-14 season. At 9-0 nobody was saying “If KC falls apart, backs into the playoffs, and has a heartbreaking playoff loss I’ll be 100% fine with that!”. We were all hoping they’d find a way to dethrone the Broncos. We were all hoping that they’d end the playoff winless streak. It didn’t happen and that’s frustrating. KC fans have every right to be upset that they didn’t do more after starting out so well. Regardless of injuries, there is NO excuse for giving up a 28 point third quarter lead. KC fans absolutely have a right to be at their wits end over it. I know I am. So if someone is still pissed, still frustrated, and still in need of venting about it, that’s their right.

Despite my frustrations about how the season ended, there are some things (good and bad) that I feel I can take away from this season as a whole.

1. The Chiefs hired the right head coach. Andy Reid did a fantastic job of turning this team around and the players seem to have bought in 100%. You can criticize some individual decisions of Reid’s, but in my opinion, that’s nitpicking. The overall job done by Andy Reid was exceptional and in a league where a good head coach is more important than in any other sport, having a winning head coach in place is huge. He showed that he could utilize the talents of Jamaal Charles and as the season progressed the passing game began to click more and more. I believe with some more offensive pieces brought in this offseason we could see an explosive offense in KC next season.

2. The Chiefs made the absolute right choice in trading for Alex Smith. This is not just “homer fan”, “Kool Aid drinking” hyperbole. I actually was very disappointed when I heard about the Alex Smith trade. I wanted KC to draft and develop their own quarterback. I thought that the Chiefs drastically overpaid for Smith, who I saw as a temporary stop gap that would just hold down the position until KC found a QB that could lead them to post season success. I was wrong. As the season progressed and Alex Smith and Andy Reid became more comfortable with each other Smith began to shine. Since the bye week (and including the playoff game) Smith passed for 253 yards per game with a 62.8% completion percentage, 7.4 yards per attempt, and 18 TDs to only 3 INTs. If you averaged that over a 16 game season it would top 4,000 yards with 41 TDs and 7 INTs.

Plus, Alex Smith showed up in the playoffs. In the biggest game of the year, on the road, and without Jamaal Charles (the most talented offensive player that KC has seen in a generation) Alex Smith lead the KC offense to 44 points as he passed for 378 yards with 4 TDs and no interceptions. He did it with no real threat of a running game and a group of skill players that consisted of Dwayne Bowe and a bunch of guys that most of us are hoping get upgraded in the offseason

In fact, you can make a strong case that Alex Smith deserves to be undefeated in the playoffs. In his three career playoff games he has won a shoot out against Drew Brees and the Saints, lost the NFC Championship Game against the NY Giants because of two fumbled punts, and now lost to the Colts with KC because his defense couldn’t win despite the 44 points he put up. In those three games Smith threw for 9 TDs and ZERO interceptions. Alex Smith has proved his worth and absolutely deserves a new contract and to be the KC quarterback for the foreseeable future. If you give Smith another season with Reid and some more weapons for the passing game, there is every reason to believe that Smith can be a top ten caliber starting quarterback. Is he Peyton Manning or Tom Brady? No, but you could draft a first round QB every year for ten years and not find a QB of that caliber. I think Smith has shown himself to be as good as the Joe Flaccos and Eli Mannings of the NFL that have won Super Bowls recently. I believe that if the Chiefs improve around Smith they can absolutely win a Super Bowl with him.

Those first two points are really the heart and soul of my optimism going forward. Having a head coach and quarterback in place are two of the most important and hardest to find pieces of building a winning team in the NFL. The fact that KC looks set for the next few seasons at those two spots means that KC will be competitive and just needs to find the right pieces to put in place around them.

Some other short observations:

3. Dontari Poe, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, and Eric Berry make up a core group of talented defensive players that should be the foundation of a very good defense. The Chiefs just need to figure out how best to use them and make sure the other defensive spots around them don’t have gaping holes. Which leads me to……..

4. Dunta Robinson and Kendrick Lewis may be good teammates and good human beings, but they are absolutely worthless on the football field and don’t belong on an NFL roster. If they are Chiefs next season I will question John Dorsey’s competency as a general manager. The starting FS spot is at the top of my list of positions in need of an upgrade.

5. The Chiefs need a true starting caliber wide receiver opposite of Dwayne Bowe. There isn’t anyone currently on the roster that is capable of filling that spot.

6. Anthony Fasano is overpaid and not the weapon that Alex Smith needs at TE. If Travis Kelce either isn’t fully healthy or the powers that be don’t think he’s ready to be a #1 TE, they need more help at that position.

7. John Dorsey showed an eye for spotting diamonds in the rough. While his first draft is still a question mark (I don’t think we can say it was good or bad yet), the contributions of the players he signed after roster cut downs proved invaluable for the Chiefs. Guys like Marcus Cooper, Sean McGrath, Ron Parker, and James Michael Johnson not only provided quality depth and special teams contributions, but Cooper and McGrath actually did a great job of filling starting spots when injuries hit their positions.

8. Dave Toub is the best Special Teams coach in the NFL. I don’t think this is even up for debate. The turnaround in KC’s special teams from last year to this year was staggering.

9. Brandon Flowers had a down year. I don’t know if it was just a bump in the road and he’ll be back on his game next season or if this is the beginning of a downward trajectory for his career, but for what KC is paying him the Chiefs better hope it’s the first option.

10. Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton is the biggest question mark going into next season. After an amazing start, the second half of the season after the bye week the KC defense was horrible. Counting the playoff game the Chiefs gave up almost 30 points per game during that span. What’s worse, Sutton showed very little ability (if any at all) to make in game adjustments. If his strategy to start the game worked, the defense looked good. If it didn’t, or if teams adjusted to his game plan as the game progressed he had no answer. This is a big concern of mine looking ahead to next season.

I could keep going, but these are some of the main things that come to mind as I think back on this season. I’m curious to know if any of you disagree with these points (I’m sure the Smith take will have some opposition). However, regardless if you agree with me or not, my hope is that we as Chiefs fans can have a logical debate on this team moving forward instead of insulting one another because someone is either too “puppy dogs and rainbows” or “doom and gloom” for your liking. Blogs like this thrive off of good discussions. The comments sections are a great place to voice your opinion. If you disagree with everything I wrote in this column, feel free to tell me. Just save the insults for when you’re watching the Denver vs. San Diego playoff game this weekend (it hurt just to type that). There’s room for both optimism and frustration in Chiefs Kingdom after the 2013 season. I know I feel a healthy dose of both as I sit here writing this. Hopefully, as the offseason progresses, the memory of the Colts game will fade a little and the moves that John Dorsey makes will add to the optimism towards next season.

If not, you can still feel free to come to AA and vent your frustrations. All opinions are welcome, just save the insults for the Faiders, Dolts, and Donkeys. In times like these, us Chiefs fans have to stick together.

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Follow me on Twitter: @LyleGraversen

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