Everyone who follows football knows why the Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon: The defense didn't show up and gave up 49 points. I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time recapping this game in detail.
Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones were never given a chance to get going after the Broncos scored touchdowns on their first four drives. On the Chiefs' opening drive, Charles picked up a first down on a solid second down reception of over 10 yards, but it was called back on an illegal motion penalty on Charles which resulted in a three-and-out.
Again, I'm not blaming the loss on any little things that the Chiefs could have tweaked or making any kind of excuses whatsoever. The Chiefs lost because the defense couldn't stop anything the Broncos were doing.
However, the Charles penalty did contribute to the Chiefs not getting a chance to really utilize the run, in that it stopped them from having any chance to keep pace with the Broncos early. Shortly thereafter, the game was over for all intents and purposes.
With 5:48 to play in the first half, Matt Cassel was hit at around the Broncos 19-yard line and fumbled the ball resulting in a 75-yard fumble recovery for a TD by Broncos linebacker Jason Hunter giving the Broncos an insurmountable 35-0 lead. What happened after that, however, should be inspiring for Chiefs fans.
With the running game having been rendered useless, the Chiefs had no choice but to turn the reigns of the offense over to Matt Cassel. The Chiefs had been in every game of 2010 deep into the fourth quarter going into the Denver game, so they never really had to allow Cassel to let it loose. This left many skeptical as to just how effective Cassel could be if the team had to rely on him.
Suddenly, Matt Cassel began throwing strikes all over the field. Once he settled in, he began to prove he has the ability to do what I always suspected he was capable of: If given the chance, Cassel has the ability to lead this offense in more ways than just handing the ball off to the Chiefs' talented backs.
Cassel marched the Chiefs down 83 yards down the field and threw a TD pass that gave the Chiefs their first TD of the game. He converted on second-and-longs as well as third-and-longs on the drive, using all parts of the field and finding Charles down inside the 10-yard line to avoid a sack and get the score.
On the ensuing Broncos possession, the Chiefs' defensive unit finally stopped the Broncos and held them to a field goal attempt. The kick was short and fielded by Chiefs rookie safety Eric Berry in the end zone. Berry was just a little too impatient on the return, or he probably would have scored on the play. Still, he was tackled with a second to spare inside Denver territory and the Chiefs added a field goal, cutting the Broncos' lead to 35-10.
After another Chiefs three-and-out followed by Tim Tebow's first career passing TD to give the Broncos a 42-10 lead, Cassel was allowed to go back to work; and work he would do.
The Broncos were playing back a little and giving up some things underneath, but Cassel did a very good job of taking what the defense gave him and, in some cases, a little more. On the Chiefs next drive, Cassel lead the Chiefs 83 yards all the way down to the Broncos' one-yard line on seven passes to one run.
With only one pass thrown from that spot, the Chiefs' running game was unable to stuff the ball in on three attempts, and they turned the ball over on downs. The defense would hold up again, and Cassel again took the Chiefs 38 yards down the field on four plays for a Kansas City TD pass to Dwayne Bowe. It was Bowe's ninth catch for 127 yards on the day with 2:22 to play in the third quarter.
At that point, Cassel was 19-30 with 289 yards and two TD passes. If he stopped throwing the ball then, he would have already had his best game of the year. He didn't stop there, and after the defense gave up one more Broncos TD making the score 49-17, Cassel took center stage.
The Chiefs continued to play as if there was a chance, and Cassel continued to put up gaudy stats. In the midst of many passes underneath the soft coverage that the Broncos were playing, Cassel slipped in some very well placed throws both over the shoulder and bullets into the numbers.
Cassel found Chris Chambers just across the goal line with a pass that was on a rope for his third TD pass of the night, but he wasn't done there. He got two more mini drives that were half made up of gimme-dump-off throws to Charles, but Cassel did have to avoid pressure a few times to extend plays and get completions.
Cassel managed to find Bowe for one last TD pass inside the last 10 seconds of the game, giving Cassel a career high 469 yards on 33-53 passing and four TD passes on the day.
More important than the big numbers put up by Cassel was the huge day that Bowe had playing against an all-time great in Champ Bailey. Bowe ended up with 13 catches for 189 yards against one of the league's best cornerbacks.
I toss no illusions on the game against the Broncos. The Chiefs were beaten badly in the contest. However, the Chiefs do have some positive things that they can take away from this one.
For the first time this season, the Chiefs know what it feels like to be shamed and embarrassed. The defense isn't as bad as they played in this contest, but they are young and once they were put on their heals early, they just never could recover. This may be exactly the eye-opener that the defense needed after trying to coast to victory the last few weeks.
The Division Race
The Chiefs are still tied for the division lead with another game against every team in the division still to play. They get the Broncos and Raiders at home, and the Chargers, whom they've already beaten this season, in San Diego. With a strong showing in these match-ups, the Chiefs will still be in good shape as far as winning the division goes.
Apart from the division games, the Chiefs remaining schedule is very favorable. They have three games remaining against NFC West teams (Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams) and only one game against an AFC team (Tennessee Titans) remaining. The Chiefs still control their own destiny right now. Provided they can finish even with the other teams in their division, the Chiefs have the table set outside the division to make a run.
The Passing Game
Basically, the Chiefs proved that they have a legitimate passing threat over the course of the last two weeks. Cassel has thrown for 685 yards and six TDs with only one pick in his last two games. As for poor decisions or badly thrown balls, against Denver I only saw one throw that he probably wished he could have back. Everything else looked good.
Matt Cassel's No.1 option, Dwayne Bowe, has finally figured out what playing wide receiver in the NFL is all about. He's hauled in eight TD catches in his last five games, and has only dropped two passes that I've seen. As long as he has his hands issue licked, he'll begin to draw some serious attention from the Chiefs' opponents, opening up the field for other players to make plays.
Putting It Together
When the defense and running game are playing up to their potential, this team is very tough to beat. Throw into the mix a passing game that the coaching staff feels comfortable going to out of more than just necessity and defenses have to respect all game long; the Chiefs gain a new kind of credibility as a more complete team.
This team has everything laid out in front of them for the taking right now. With the schedule that remains and the things they've gone through over the course of the last few weeks—provided they learned from their mistakes—this is still a team that I can see getting into the playoffs if not further. They can go as far as they're willing to take themselves.
With young talent like Glenn Dorsey on the D-line, Eric Berry and Brandon Flowers in the secondary, and Jamaal Charles in the backfield teamed with veterans like linebackers Mike Vrabel and Derrick Johnson, Thomas Jones in the backfield and QB Matt Cassel with his experience backing up Tom Brady, this team is a fine fusion of young and old with a ton of winning potential.
Add to that the championship-caliber coaching staff of Super Bowl champion coordinators Charlie Weis (offense) and Romeo Crennel (defense) backing up Super Bowl runner-up Todd Haley who's manning the wheel as head coach, and there truly is the possibility of getting something special out of this team. The next few weeks will tell the tale of 2010.
I hate to see a loss like this, but it's now put up or shut up time. The 2010 season is going to come down to how the Chiefs respond to their recent adversity. If they play like men and move forward from it, the sky is the limit. However, they are very young in a lot of areas, and if their inexperience continues to shine through, the limit's the sky.