Denver — The Chiefs are big, fat frauds.
That's the narrative everyone expected. It is the narrative many wanted. It's what you will hear now and until the two teams meet again in a couple weeks. Talk radio, television types, writers…they'll all say it. The Chiefs will now get patted on the head and pinched on the cheeks and saluted for a good job, good effort. Relax, little Chiefies. You've been a nice story. Now go back to your barbecues and losing seasons and sit the hell down.
Yeah, that's what everyone will now say. Bad ass Peyton Manning sent the big, fat frauds home, humiliated and de-legitimized.
But that's not what happened. What you saw Sunday night was a Kansas City team prove it can compete with the best team in football, and make things more interesting, if only its head coach would let his quarterback play.
The Chiefs hung. And hung. Then hung some more. They hung despite mostly gutless playcalling by Andy Reid. They hung despite putting almost no pressure on Manning. They hung because this team is for real.
The final score of Broncos 27 and Chiefs 17 may not show it, but the Chiefs are who we thought they are: a nasty, physical defense with an average offense controlled by a control-freak coach who fears letting his quarterback loose.
That is the biggest takeaway from this game. It's not "Are the Chiefs for real?" They are. They proved that. The story is Reid must let Alex Smith loose. They cannot beat the best in the sport with Alex Smith playing Alex Trebek.
Reid has a tactical decision to make. Either trust Smith or don't. Either treat him like a real quarterback or don't.
After the game, I asked one of the Broncos defensive players about Smith's play. The player expressed respect for Smith and said that while game film shows some physical limitations, the Broncos believe the veteran signal-caller is capable of far bigger statistical numbers. That's not gamesmanship from the Broncos. That's the truth.
There were times when Dwayne Bowe couldn't be covered by the Broncos. He looked like Randy Moss against that secondary. Then, mysteriously, the Chiefs would go away from him and resort back to the dink-and-dunk.
Kansas City entered the game leading football in sacks but didn't get one against Manning. You knew that was going to happen. Despite taking some hits in the past few weeks, it remains rare for Manning to get sacked, and the Broncos were going to do everything in their power to protect him this week. That meant he was going to get time, score points and the Chiefs would have to keep up.
If Reid's decided to treat Smith like he's Blaine Gabbert, then Kansas City is going nowhere in the playoffs. Maybe a first-round victory. Maybe. You're not going to beat Denver or New England by having Smith just hand the ball off and throw predictable screens.
Trust him or don't trust him. Pick one. Len Dawson ain't walking through that door. Smith is what you got. Use him.
Smith is flawed and limited, but he's not that limited. I'm not a huge believer in Smith, but I know he's better than what Reid sees. The limited number of passes Smith threw toward the deep middle of the field in Denver—just a handful—is almost criminal. The Chiefs weren't facing Ronnie Lott.
Reid tried to use the same formula that saw the Chiefs beat Blaine Gabbert/Chad Henne, Tony Romo, Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Terrelle Pryor, Case Keenum, Jason Campbell and Jeff Tuel. You can play small ball against the law firm of Keenum, Campbell and Tuel, but not against Godzilla, otherwise known as Peyton Manning.
"There are a lot of things we need to work on," Reid said, "and will work on."
Not we, Andy. You. You need to give Smith some more room to be a quarterback, not a caretaker.
Smith had 45 attempts, which is more than Manning had (40). But so many of those Smith throws were short ones, and despite almost 50 attempts he had just 230 yards passing. His long was a measly 26. Manning's was 70.
Entering this contest, the most points the Chiefs gave up in a game was 17. The Broncos had scored that many with 9:05 left in the second quarter, but they were playing Manning. Of course he was going to score. Notice, however, the Broncos had only 10 points the rest of the way.
If the K.C. offense had been a little more open, this game would have been completely different.
What I liked about this Kansas City team was its toughness. This is a mentally stern group. They also smash you in the mouth. That was Kansas City's rep coming in, and that is its rep leaving.
The Chiefs, despite a loss, have legitimacy. Now all the Chiefs need is trust.
In their quarterback.