When the Kansas City Chiefs took the field in Week 3, their minds weren't on securing a spot in the postseason. They weren't even focused on bringing home a win.
After a complete implosion in their first two games, the Chiefs were probably more concerned with not looking ridiculous again.
Sitting near the halfway mark of the season, they've certainly accomplished that mission. Not only did they make a game of their Week 3 loss to San Diego, but they've gone on to win four straight, including an incomprehensible overtime win against the Chargers.
Now Kansas City sits in a three-way tie for first place, and looks ready to compete for the AFC West title despite losing three of their top players to injury.
The Chiefs have a number of shortcomings, though; here are five things that need to happen if the Chiefs want to keep the momentum going and make the playoffs for the second time in a row—something Kansas City hasn't done in 16 years.
Matt Cassel throws a pretty ball; a number of third-down strikes kept the Chiefs in the game on Monday night.
But losing Jamaal Charles puts the game in Cassel's hands, and he hasn't stepped up to make the kind of difference needed for the Chiefs to be considered a contender.
Cassel's completion percentage sits barely above 60 percent, and he's sitting even on his touchdown-to-interception ratio. For a team that should be depending on their passing game to get them through the season, his stats don't even come close to what should be expected.
One can't put it all in Cassel's lap, though; for one, his receivers still have trouble catching the ball (more on that later).
More importantly, Cassel just isn't the type of quarterback that is a difference maker. He executes his coordinator's plan decently, but lacks in his ability to improvise.
The best bet is for Cassel to get into a rhythm with his receivers. With Baldwin now in the lineup, he has plenty of options to overcome the loss of Tony Moeaki. Baldwin and Dwayne Bowe look solid for big plays, while Steve Breaston showed a knack for coming through in clutch situations Monday night.
However it happens, the Chiefs need their passing game to improve. Few of Kansas City's remaining opponents will give them opportunities to win like San Diego.
Building on the whole "stronger passing game" concept, Kansas City needs a blast from the past concept for the rest of the season.
When Dick Vermeil came to town and instituted his Air Coryell variant offense, the whole concept was to use the pass to set up the run, rather than the other way around.
Jackie Battle stepped up into the starting running back role after Charles' injury and Thomas Jones' ineffectiveness. The "between the tackles" plodder showed some ability the last three games, and should play a large part in saving this season.
Battle might be good, but he's not capable of generating much offense on his own. Fifty of Battle's 70 yards against San Diego came in the fourth quarter and overtime. Kansas City was stuffed over and over again earlier in the game.
Kansas City needs to establish their ability to stretch the field first. The playmakers are in the receiving corps; if the Chiefs utilize them first and push their opponents into nickel and dime packages, Battle and Dexter McCluster should start chewing up yardage.
More importantly, it will get McCluster in space, where he is as dangerous as anyone in the game today.
The receivers have their own part in this passing offense. Passes repeatedly bounced off of receivers' hands, each one a missed opportunity for Kansas City.
Bowe gained some company in the "I can't hold onto the ball" club. Despite a five-catch, 82 yard game, Baldwin lost control of a few easy catches. Yes, he's a rookie, and yes, he's really just now getting real playing time. But Kansas City needs him as a viable threat now, not just in three more years.
As for Bowe, he needs to remember that he's in a contract year; if he can't show that his poor hand skills are behind him, he might just need another home come 2012.
Holding on to the ball doesn't just apply to Kansas City's receivers. Lost in the mix of Monday night's mind-blowing comeback is the fact that the Chiefs committed four turnovers. Kansas City can't hold on to the ball, though that concept will get lost in the brightness of the Chiefs' four straight wins.
Part of this comes back to Cassel, who has nine interceptions already this season. Turning over the ball is one of the worst things that can happen to one's team; it puts the ball in your opponents' hands and is a motivation killer.
Kansas City made the playoffs last year largely on their ability to protect the ball; the Chiefs need to make that magic happen again.
This is a "duh, big red truck" kind of moment, where something transcends obvious. It's not about Haley's scruffy beard or his nasty, sweat-stained hat.
It's about winning, and the Chiefs need to do a lot more of it.
Kansas City can't afford to take a game off this season. Every matchup needs to be treated like a playoff game, or the Chiefs won't have one.
With their five-game gauntlet starting just before Thanksgiving, Kansas City needs as much momentum as they can find. A 6-3 record isn't unreasonable, but the Chiefs will need at least two wins against last year's top four teams and the Patriots.
If Kansas City can do that, then their season opener will fade into the background of a remarkable comeback.
If the Chiefs can do that, maybe they can put an end to the days where Kansas City's counted among the ranks of NFL doormats.