Close and Late. That will be the mark by which I judge the upcoming 2009 season for the Kansas City Chiefs.
I personally don't care whether we're 4-12 or 8-8 (or worse or better, for the most part) as long as we've made some significant strides in the fourth quarter. If our offensive and defensive lines are still holding their own, that's a great sign of progress. If our corners aren't getting burned from running all day, if our linebackers remain sharp in reading coverage in the new defensive schemes, if D-Bowe and company aren't letting balls bounce off their hands... those are all signs that your Chiefs are better than before. As for win-loss records, I could honestly care less. At least this year.
Some will scoff at thinking like this and I can understand that. "Wins and losses are all that matter in this league." There's some real truth to that. Intangibles don't fill the seats at Arrowhead, I realize. But in my view, the schedule for this next year is brutal. Absolutely brutal. And we need to be realistic that the good teams will most likely remain good and the bad ones have all reloaded in ways they believe will begin their own ascent. So we need to keep perspective.
This is why I'm looking to simply up our game in this key area of close and late. In the midst of a brutal schedule, are we still playing with the same tenacity in week 14 or 15? Does Todd Haley still have the ear of the players even if a losing season is already in the books? These are the real questions I care about in the 2009 season.
I have my reasons for loving this idea of Close and Late (both in games and in season). So let me tell you why:
2. Avoiding Another Off-season Fleecing - If we're showing strength in Close and Late situations, I can guarantee you we will be buzzing about some players that we currently aren't at this point. This will mean another receiver has stepped it up in a big way and that our linemen on both sides of the ball are fulfilling their promise. And instead of going into another off-season looking to add the right "53", we might just be looking at 5 or 3. Of course, I'm sure it will be more than that, but imagine the power of adding a solid draft class to a team with a strong foundation versus this year's draft of "which holes do we plug and which do we leave for later?"
3. Fans Will Flock Back - Many have noted just how close the Chiefs were in several games last year and yet we ended up 2-14. But the energy will be there if we continue to be strong late in the 4th quarter and good competition means games that are exciting to watch. And this means fans might want to fork over the money to actually BE at Arrowhead. And if that's the case, then the home field advantage might just come into play even more.
4. An Attractive Destination - Let's be honest. Endorsement opportunities aren't aplenty in KC and it's not the mountains or oceans or hot spots offer up much for free agents to lust after. And obviously the biggest "I don't want to play for them" remains the horrific record the last two years to go along with the new regime. But if the Chiefs are still Haley's team after 16 games and Pioli & Co. are building a solid team, Kansas City suddenly becomes a possible landing spot for those players looking for an up-and-coming team.