I don't know about you folks, but this season for the Kansas City Chiefs is probably one of the most unusual that I can remember in recent times. We have been suffering through losing three star players then the starting QB (no matter what you think of Matt Cassel, his loss has given the fan base fits in the form of Tyler Palko and Ricky Stanzi --and yes now even Kyle Orton -- camps that are constantly debating about which one of them is worst) and at the same time watching the emergence and continued growth of some individual players (Derrick Johnson, Dwayne Bowe and now Justin Houston, we're looking right at you) that give us great hope for the team's chances going forward.
We've spent just as much time arguing over whether or not we should short sheet the season in an effort to gain a higher draft pick, as we have over whether the coaching staff is competent and whether or not the GM is really all he's cracked up to be. All of this points to the simple fact that this team in undergoing change. What's not so simple is the relative degree of that change. With the extremes that have cropped up in this season, one could (and many of us have) make an argument that the Chiefs are improving. By the same token, one could (and many of us have) make just as good an argument that the Chiefs are descending and getting worse. It is my impression that this state of affairs could be explained by something called the Paradoxical Theory of Change. We may have to get UPS to translate this once all is said and done, but let's go high brow for a minute and explore what is happening with our beloved Chiefs. After you.
If you could look at the Chiefs as a patient in need of change to become better in their life, then you could look at Scott Pioli, Todd Haley and the coaching staff as a collective 'therapist' that is trying to help the patient become whatever it is in life that they want to be. In the Chiefs case of course this would be Super Bowl winners. One theory on how that should be handled is Gestalt Therapy.
In Gestalt therapy, the therapist (GM and coaches) encourages the patient (Chiefs) to be what he is in an effort to build a stable platform to become what he wants to be. The paradox involved here is that change does not come about through coercion or persuasion, but rather by the act of the patient abandoning what he wants to become in favor of what he is. Dr. Arnold Beisser M.D. puts it this way
Briefly stated, it is this: that change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not. Change does not take place through a coercive attempt by the individual or by another person to change him, but it does take place if one takes the time and effort to be what he is -- to be fully invested in his current positions. By rejecting the role of change agent, we make meaningful and orderly change possible.
Is it possible that Haley has tried this with the Chiefs? Could this season not be described as metamorphic based on what we are seeing happen each week or was it simply fate that determined the outcome of those games? You have to admit that this season has contained some complete polar opposites.
The Chiefs get beat by a total of 79 points in their first two games only to shut out the Raiders on their own turf. Could this have been the game where DJ emerged from the paradox of change into the new DJ? You have to admit the guy nearly single-handedly shut down the only scoring drive that the Raiders had inside the five yard line. He was everywhere. It was as if something 'clicked' and he suddenly knew that he could do things he had never done quite so well before. The best part is that so far, he has not regressed. He is still playing at an extremely high level. In the words of Brian Urlacher, "That 56 is something else!".
In a season where the Chiefs have played so poorly, they have still done some remarkable things. They lost their first three games and then reeled off four straight wins. Only a few teams have done that before. How does that happen? The paradox of change could be an explanation. Maybe the Chiefs have been and continue to experiment with being who they are in an effort to become who they want to be. They stopped overplaying their hand and settled down into a period of self realization of who they were. As time continues to go by, they are leaning how to move from that platform to the next stage in the process which is where they 'want' to be.
Ryan Succop has seemed somewhat shaky this season at times, especially early, yet he tied the single game record for FGs in the Minnesota game, including a 51 and 54 yarder. He is now tied in that category with the likes of Jan Stenerud and Nick Lowery. I would assume that Succop would rather be associated with those kickers than the many, many kickers that no one now remembers, or the one who shall remain nameless. At one point in the season, Andy Studebaker even told coach Haley that if he let Succop kick a long one, he'd make it. And he was right. Haley even mentioned it in the press conference after the game. Does that sound like a team doing a bit of self actualization?
Matt Cassel and the Chiefs were able to overcome a 17 point halftime deficit to beat the Colts. That matched a franchise record for the biggest point differential ever overcome by any Chiefs team for a win. In Indianapolis. That's the first time the Chiefs have ever won in that city. In 27 years. Doesn't it seem paradoxical that in a year where the Chiefs look to be struggling just to find the locker room, they continue to accomplish firsts? Could the therapy be working?
Dwayne Bowe started out this season and has continued to be the most focused, hardest-playing Dwayne Bowe I think I have seen since he put on the red. I am very proud to say that he is a Chief. A couple of years back, I didn't know if I would feel that way now. Bowe's metamorphosis began a bit earlier maybe than some others, and his has been no less stellar. Bowe is now a top flight WR in the NFL and I have to give at least part of that credit to the coaching staff and Haley. Their guidance has given Bowe a swagger. He knows that he can carry this team -- and he wants to each and every week. Cris Collinsworth can say what he wants about Bowe's effort, but it doesn't make it accurate. I wonder how many plays ol' Cris has seen Dwayne make. Talk to me then Crissy, and maybe you should consider a public retraction of your comments on national TV about Mr. Bowe. Bowe is indeed an example of the paradox of change.
What about now? The defense has been playing as good or better than it has since Haley came to town. Are we nearing the end of the change process for them? We simply don't know, but watching Justin Houston get three sacks against the Bears certainly wouldn't cause one to think that the defense is getting worse. To watch this defense get seven sacks in one game, any game, during this season after giving up 89 points in it's first two games would certainly seem to feed the idea of paradox.
The offense has been struggling since summer camp. Remember the reports of the clashes between the offense and defense in camp and how the offense was said to be behind the defense in terms of being in sync? The loss of a Pro Bowl running back, a go to tight end and later the starting QB has delayed their progress even longer. Maybe, however, we are on the cusp of a change in direction for this offense. Maybe, assuming the paradox of change model, what we have been witnessing is this offense finding it's way and now, with four weeks to go in the season they are finally in touch with who they are and moving into who they want to be.
Palko has gone from six interceptions in two games and two losses to no interceptions and one TD (I know, it was a Hail Mary. So? Matt Cassel even screwed that play up earlier in the season so you would have to give Palko the nod on at least making the throw as you should instead of holding the ball and looking too long for an open receiver). He is learning to protect the ball. The Chiefs went 7 for 20 on third down conversions versus the mighty Bears defense and had 13 first downs in the game -- without Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki. I know those stats aren't great, but they aren't the worst this team has turned in this season either. Why do you think that Hail Mary turned into a TD instead of Palko's seventh interception on the season? Bit of a paradox there too, eh?
From two disastrous games to start the season, to four straight wins, to Phillip Rivers fumble on Monday night, to a shut out in the black hole, to watching this defense come alive and the offense showing the slightest improvement, we have been witness to the paradox of change. It's almost too much to lay this all at fate's door and blame entropy in the universe for these results. These Chiefs have never quit on themselves, their coaches or yes, even their fans. They are becoming the master of their destiny. Or should that say dynasty?
Please understand this folks. You don't see efforts like DJs, the secondary and even Justin Houston on a team where the psyche is sick. Sometimes you can push too hard for change and it gives the opposite results. When the therapist assumes the role of 'changer' it often backfires and the patient regresses. Once again from Dr. Beisser:
The analytic therapist, by contrast, uses devices such as dreams, free associations, transference, and interpretation to achieve insight that, in turn, may lead to change. The behaviorist therapist rewards or punishes behavior in order to modify it. The Gestalt therapist believes in encouraging the patient to enter and become whatever he is experiencing at the moment. He believes with Proust, "To heal a suffering one must experience it to the full."
I believe what Haley has done is allowed this team to grow by making their mistakes to begin with. How many times have we heard him say that they need to get a little better every day? He has not really had much choice. The loss of key players this season has not only changed how those players must play together, but how they must play their roles individually to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. To embrace who they are (as it were) so as to learn who they want to be. For the fans, this process is tedious and difficult to watch. For many on the team it seems to be working. Tyler Palko may just be the next Chief to break through and surprise us all.
Jared Gaither may be an example of someone who simply could not come to grips with this type of therapy. Maybe that's why he is now playing for Norv Turner. Let's see how this season plays out before we shoot the coaching staff for letting him go. It's more than possible that the Chargers will have to scrape Rivers off the turf before it's all over. After all, they only beat a team in disarray last week that fired their coach mid season. Blaine Gabbert looks like he forgot how to play football. That team really has 'hung it up' for this year.
So we come to the rest of this season. Could it be that the team really is making a long, looping turn into betterness? I think so, but as you well know, I am normally accused of always thinking so. A majority of the fans are looking back and using past performance as a yardstick to measure the future. All the stockbrokerage houses use the same disclaimer when talking about investing. They say that past performance is no indicator of future success. I think that's fair to say about these Chiefs as well. Most will say 'bunk' to that, but I gotta tell ya, when a team looks as inept as this one has at times this season and is still able to pull off franchise firsts, it's no time to doubt their ability to adapt and over come. I know it's cliche' and I know Haley has said all season that he likes this bunch of guys, but that's because of how they are approaching this thing mentally. That is why these firsts have happened. It's also why the Chiefs still have a shot at making the playoffs.
Bet against 'em? Considering how this team embodies the never say die attitude, well, you won't find me in that line. Long odds and wins and losses aside, this team has been and continues to grow. I think it's all due to our therapist(s). Maybe we won't have to wait too much longer to see our patient becoming what the fans desire. Playoffs? Don't count 'em out just yet.