From the FanPosts. A day late getting this up to the front page. -Joel
Wow. What a game. What. A. Game. Even my cat, Dumbledore, was upset. He attacked Former Harvard Ryan Fitzpatrick midway through the 3rd Quarter (he still hasn't figured out the TV isn't interactive). It was a lot of fun to watch, but a rollar coaster of emotions.
I'll be honest, when the Chiefs' offense stalled in the second half I thought the game was over. I figured that the Chiefs' second-rate offense finally cost them a game against a team with a good defense. A couple of Harvard INT's (patent pending) later and the Chiefs turned the game around, retaking the lead thanks to a stellar effort by Jamaal Charles and the KC offensive linemen pulling their heads out of their asses.
But we should also give credit where credit is due. This was a quality Titans team the Chiefs faced today, and I think some of us (including myself) were overconfident going into the game. Fitzpatrick played better than I thought he ever could, and the defense matched up better with the Chiefs' offense than I thought they would. The Chiefs absolutely earned this win, and the Titans (and their fans) have nothing to be ashamed of. Here's what went right and wrong between the whistles.
1. Defensive pressure. The one thing the defense did consistently well Sunday was to put pressure on Fitzpatrick. Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, and Dontari Poe (a.k.a. the Triforce) each tallied a sack, and the Chiefs got a couple QB hits as well. Fitzpatrick was hurried throughout the game, and never got into a great rhythm with his receivers. To his credit, Fitzpatrick handled the pressure much better than I expected him to.
2. The secondary's coverage. The Chiefs' secondary had a great day. Nine passes defensed and two interceptions, as well as that
Dustin Colquitt Marcus Cooper TD. If you take away the 46 passing yards the Titans had on their last drive (when they had no hope of winning), and the 63 yard freak play to Chris Johnson, the Chiefs held the Titans to 152 passing yards. The two INT's came at the absolute right time: the first when the Chiefs were down by 4 and needed a score, and the second to halt the Titans' last, best hope at a comeback drive.
3. Jamaal Charles. Charles had his first 100+ yard rushing game of the season, and the Chiefs needed every yard. He had the go-ahead TD in the 4th quarter and was crucial in the Chiefs' final three drives to end the game. Alex Smith might be the driver behind the wheel, but Charles is the engine that drives the Chiefs' offense.
4. The endgame. For the fourth time in as many games, the Chiefs showed a remarkable ability to close out a close game. It started with the 10-play, 66-yard drive in the fourth quarter to retake the lead (for good), and ended with two drives that resulted in the field goals to put the game out of reach. The defense gave up a long drive to end the game, but the Titans were down two scores and had no timeouts so it basically doesn't count. If the offense could play every quarter like it was the fourth quarter the Chiefs would be in great shape.
5. The turnover battle. For the fourth time in five games, the Chiefs won the turnover battle, with a +1 TO margin. Alex Smith had a pass get away from him for an interception, and Charles fumbled on a dangerous play, but the special teams recovered the fumble off the punt for a TD, and the defense grabbed two Harvard INT's (patent pending). The Chiefs made their TO's count more, as they scored 17 points off the Titan's three TO's, while they held the Titans' to 3 points off of their own two TO's.
5. Avoiding 3rd down. The Chiefs' offense picked up 17 first downs against the Titans (plus three additional first downs from penalties), but were only 1-for-12 on 3rd down. That means they picked up 16 first downs on first and second down. Alex Smith and Co. are awful on third down, so it's nice to see them picking up yards and moving the chains early on in series.
6. That goal-line stand. When Smith floated that pass over Charles' head and Bernard Pollard picked it off, the Titans promptly marched down the field to the Chiefs' goal line. That's as far as they got though, as the defense denied them points on four straight plays. It was a huge turning point in the game, as the Chiefs were only ahead 10-0 at that point. Had they not held them, it is likely the deficit would have been larger in the second half, because...
7. The 94-yard drive that might have changed the game. Pinned deep in their own territory (the less-than-one-yard-line, to be exact), you might have expected the Chiefs to hand the ball to Charles once or twice to try and get some breathing room. What did Andy Reid do? Called a passing play, of course! One 42-yard completion to Donnie Avery later, and the Chiefs were in great position to march the rest of the way down the field to pick up a FG to end the half. If they had only picked up one or two first downs and had to punt the Titans would have had time to go on one last drive for points before half. Instead, the Chiefs found themselves with a 13-point cushion at half, and as it turned out they needed all 13 of those points because the Titans scored 17 unanswered points to open the second half.
8. The resiliency of this team. Football is a game of runs. Bill Barnwell over at Grantland abhors, loathes and detests the very idea of momentum in sports. I personally am of the belief that if players think it exists, it damn well exists and it effects how they play. As Yogi Berra said, "90% of the game is half mental." The Chiefs had a hard-fought first half (this Titans team is clearly the best team they have played this year) and were ahead. Then Fitzpatrick came out in the second half, scored some points, and the offense wasn't able to respond. The Titans' defense stepped up, Smith had that interception, and just like that Tennessee was up 17-13. Due to the last, oh say, 10 years of Chiefs fandom, I was convinced the Chiefs were done. The Titans had turned the game and it was time for the Chiefs to finally get that first tally in the "L" column.
But it was not meant to be. This Chiefs team doesn't roll over because they got punched in the mouth. They punch back. In the second half the defense came up with two huge Harvard INT's (patent pending), and the offense did what it is supposed to do: score. This is a team that is tired of losing and sick of being the laughingstock of the AFC. No more. This is a new era. A new brand of Chiefs football. CAN YOU DIG IIIIT?!?!
1. The Penalties. The Chiefs were technically penalized nine times for 61 yards, but we're not going to count Eric Berry's eight yard pass interference penalty because it wasn't pass interference. (Though to be fair, the unnecessary roughness penalty Smith drew on third down when he scrambled was a bad call as well.) Still, eight penalties for 53 yards is too much. A number of those were false start penalties on the offensive line, which especially hurts because it puts the offense into unfavorable yardage situations. Even though the OL played well in the fourth quarter, they need to improve. Rapidly. Penalties will kill you, and Reid needs to get his team to clean things up.
2. The defense's inability to finish plays. This is an odd "bad", but it was certainly frustrating to watch as the game unfolded. Several times the defense either had stopped a Titans' RB or had gotten to Fitzpatrick in the backfield and they were unable to finish the play. Either it was a missed tackle (Justin Houston's whiff on Fitzpatrick's 9-yard TD run) or an inability to bring the runner down (when Fitzpatrick escaped a sack and flipped the ball to Chris Johnson on the 63-yard TD). I'm not even sure there's anything to be cleaned up here (there are only so much tackling drills can do), and this defense has proven it's ability to sack the QB and end plays in the opposing backfield. Ultimately it's not something I'm worried about long-term, but was frustrating this one game.
1. Third downs. I don't know what it is about third down, but it is the Chiefs' kryptonite. Sunday they were 1-for-12 on third down. For the season the Chiefs have converted on 33% of their third down opportunities. Bottom line is the offense has to get better on third down. They won't ever be anything but a below-average offense if they continue to fail on third down.
2. Dwayne Bowe. We're five games into the season, and it's officially time to start questioning Alex Smith, Andy Reid, and John Dorsey. I want to be clear: I'm not saying there's a problem with Bowe's health, his mental state, or his work ethic. Could he be playing injured? Sure, but I don't think he is. I'm saying Andy Reid is failing as a coach by not utilizing his best receiver. Bowe's 183 receiving yards rank 63rd in the NFL, and he's only averaging 3.4 receptions per game. There are two major problems here: 1) The Chiefs best receiver has been completely useless the entire season; and, 2) Bowe is dead weight against the salary cap.
In today's NFL with a hard salary cap, you have to get as much value out of every dollar as possible. That's why first round picks are so valuable; high draft picks on rookie contracts usually outperform the value of their contracts. That's what makes Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, RGIII, and Colin Kaepernick so valuable; their teams can spend money on other positions. The Chiefs signed Bowe to a 5-year, $56 mil deal this offseason, making him a top-5 paid player among WR's in the NFL. So far he has performed up to the level of an underrated free agent from a Division III school.
The first couple games when Bowe underperformed we thought it was simply due to defenses keying on him because he is the Chiefs' best receiver and they didn't know what to think of anyone else. The argument (that I mostly agreed with) was that as the offense got more in synch and Smith spread passes around to other receivers the coverage on Bowe would loosen up. Five games into the season and that argument is no longer valid.
Andy Reid is a good coach, Alex Smith is a good quarterback, and Bowe is a good wide receiver. Reid and Smith have to find ways to get Bowe the ball. This offense isn't going to improve to the level it needs to be at without Bowe being more involved in the offense. If Reid and Smith can't get Bowe the ball, then Dorsey needs to either trade him or cut him this offseason so he can spend the Chiefs' cap money on players that will produce at their salary level.
The Big Picture
The Chiefs are 5-0, so what else matters? This is only Year 1 of the Andy Reid era, and the Chiefs are in great position not only this year but for the next decade. Yes the offense can't convert on third down, and yes Bowe is having the worst season of his career, and yes this team commits way too many penalities. But you know what? The Kansas City Chiefs are 5-0 for the first time in a decade in spite of all their problems. Every problem I just listed is fixable, either through a schematic change or developing chemistry. So let's enjoy this season, because the Chiefs are only going to get better from here on out.