Welcome to Week 1 of a new regular season column, Chief Concerns. I love dad jokes and the Chiefs. Onward...
Spencer for Higher
The debate will rage (more on that later) on whether Spencer Ware should be the No. 1 back overall, but let's pause for a minute to honor him for an inspiring Week 1 performance that made him a legend to Chiefs Kingdom. Spencer Ware had 413 total career yards (both rushing and receiving) in his first three years in the NFL. On Sunday, he had 199 total yards from scrimmage (70 rushing, 129 receiving) despite playing only 48 percent of the Chiefs' offensive snaps. It's the sort of gutsy impact performance we'll all still remember and discuss for years to come.
About that fourth quarter
Let's forget those other quarters. The numbers on the fourth quarter are staggering to look at. Some choice selections:
*The Chargers actually won Time of Possession down the stretch (8:01 to 6:59 for the Chiefs), just like a team with the lead would want. In that time, the Chiefs outscored the Chargers 17-3. The Chiefs also had more penalties. It wasn't a case of the Chargers shooting themselves in the foot so much as it was the Chiefs' offensive and defensive units each turning into complete monsters.
*The defensive monster kept the Chargers from completing a single third down in the entire fourth quarter. Philip Rivers had a 59.4 passer rating in the fourth. The Chargers running game, who had even enjoyed a very healthy 6.4 yards yards/attempt in the third quarter, were held to exactly half that: 3.2 rushing yards per attempt. Every switch was suddenly flipped. Anything that worked before suddenly stopped working.
*The offense looked just as dominating. Alex Smith played on another level entirely at the end of this game. Jeremy Maclin showcased why he was such a big ticket free agent. Chris Conley emerged as an important offensive option. Spencer Ware kept doing Spencer Ware things (to use a Twitter joke of mine, we saw Spencer's Gifts). The offense was efficient, smooth and dangerous.
Believe in these coaches
Many teams would have looked panicked in the same situation, down 24-3 with the sun setting on the game clock. Many teams would have reached for more extreme measures. Throughout the Chiefs comeback, Alex Smith and company kept their rhythm steady and their confidence sure. They knew they couldn't get to 24 (or more) until they got to 10. The same until they got to 17. As young as the Chiefs are, the coaching continuity (and the style of leadership from the top down) kept heads on straight until the clock ran completely out.
Mistakes were made. Holes were revealed. This is a team that has a lot of work to do and adjustments to make. It was also a team that showed what they are capable of: complete domination on both sides of the ball. When you get an honest glimpse of both (in any scenario, not just the football field), it's the ideal atmosphere for growth. You'd better believe these same coaches will use this to raise the floor for many of these young guys getting their feet wet in the NFL.
Charles still in charge
Jamaal is the man. Jamaal will always be the man. I was as in awe of Spencer Ware as anyone, and it brings a cheshire grin to realize just how loaded the team's backfield is. But despite the all-world effort from Ware on Sunday, Jamaal Charles has been and will be the greatest impact player on the Chiefs offense (if /) when he is healthy.
As long as Charles' effectiveness and health remains a concern, Ware should be the bell cow. If Charles exhibits signs of wear and tear (or age), Ware should be the bell cow. But until then, 99.9 percent of all running backs in the NFL would sit behind a healthy Jamaal Charles. Ware had a great game. Ware could even be a great player. Charles is elite, and the difference between those terms on the NFL level is significant.
Looking ahead: Lamar Miller
The Houston Texans went for a complete offensive reinvention this offseason after being fleeced in the playoffs by Kansas City last season. One of those imports, Lamar Miller, will be hungry to run against the Chiefs given how successful the Chargers were against KC's defensive front (32 carries for 155 yards). The second half adjustments kept Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead in check down the stretch, so it will be interesting to see how the Texans attack the Chiefs as they seek retribution for last season's shutout.
Charger fans, be proud (after being pissed)
The book written about the Chargers before the season wasn't pretty. Despite the presence of one of the NFL's best pure passers, they picked No. 3 in the draft last spring, behaved embarrassingly toward Joey Bosa and had plenty of roster holes after yet another offseason. Then they proceeded to steamroll the Chiefs for the first half of their 2016 season.
Let's be honest: we saw this before with the Titans versus the Chiefs, and they crumbled to the second overall pick by season's end. It's possible the Chargers flame out too, giving their best football in Week 1, but this is a younger team with a lot of solid developmental players in the making. The loss of Keenan Allen will hurt, but the Chargers might be much better than anyone realized.
The Chiefs will remember these everything-falling-apart sort of games. The Colts' unbelievable comeback versus the Colts three seasons ago became a strong motivational force for players and coaches that entire offseason. Just last September, the Chiefs were stunned by the visiting Broncos and costly late turnovers. It was the sort of loss that still showed just how good the team could be, having the Broncos on the ropes. The Chargers will hope to see the same sort of results even after collapsing against the Chiefs.
Heading into San Diego later in Week 17 suddenly feels a lot more daunting than it did a few days ago.