Marred in the midst of a two-game funk and seeing their division lead evaporate in the process, the Chiefs have opted to pull a page from the notebook of Sunday’s opponent. The move represents an attempt to get back on track. It’s a “Back to Basics” approach; one that we’ve heard so much about throughout the course of the week. It’s a mindset that’s roots trace back to the 2008 Arizona Cardinals.
In December of Arizona’s Super Bowl season, Todd Haley, Ken Whisenhunt and the rest of the Cardinals coaching staff came to a late season crossroads. Although the team had clinched its first division title since 1975, the Cardinals were beginning to dig their own grave before the playoffs even began.
Arizona locked up the NFC West in early December with a blowout win over the woeful Rams, but they followed up that division-clincher with two ugly losses. The first of the two defeats came at home in a 35-14 spanking by the Vikings and the second was an embarrassing 40-point dismantling in New England.
Just two weeks after clinching the division, Arizona flew back across the country and returned home with an 8-7 record. They looked nothing like a division champion.
“We had a young team that had never had success before and we wrapped the division up before we (played) those games,” Whisenhunt remembered. “After (New England), you reached the point where there had been many games that had been up and down during the course of the year, which is not something that we were working to try to get done. We wanted to be a more consistent football team.”
So the Cardinals went “back to basics.” Full-padded practices returned, captains meetings were held and Arizona focused on the fundamentals before closing their season against Seattle.
“We got back to basics and we went out on the field the week before Christmas in pads and we got focused,” Whisenhunt said. “I think we played Seattle that last game of the season and won that game, but more importantly the next week we won a playoff game that nobody in the country expected us to win. That obviously gave us a tremendous amount of confidence and we went from there.”
Though the playoffs are still more than six weeks away, and Kansas City is far from clinching a division title, the Chiefs current situation mirrors that of Arizona’s Week 17 from 2008.
Just six quarters ago the Chiefs were on the cusp of taking a three-game lead on the rest of the division. We all know where they sit today. Following last weekend’s debacle in Denver, Haley had to try something that would get his team back to playing a Chiefs brand of football. The precedent set in 2008 with the Cardinals was a successful and Kansas City has decided to head in that same direction this week.
“That New England game was a wake-up call for our team that year,” Haley recalled. “I know that for sure and we happened to come back after that game to as bad a day as I’ve seen in Arizona or in Phoenix and it was miserable and it’s cold, your blood’s thin, you haven’t built up your cold-weather tolerance yet, we had a miserable day out there, I’ll never forget that day, but it was a turning point, we went back to basics, we put the pads on and figured out what we wanted to do and from that point forward, we did a pretty good job.”
The scenery in Kansas City was eerily similar this week. The term “wake-up call” was thrown around Arrowhead and Wednesday’s practice marked the coldest, windiest and nastiest conditions that the Chiefs have had to practice in all year. It was all part of the focus for a very critical week.
In Arizona, the 2008 season finale against Seattle was a biggest meaningless game in this history of that franchise. The Cardinals had already blown any chance of a first round bye and were on the verge of entering the playoffs with a .500 record and a three-game losing streak. In essence, the final game represented the start of the playoffs for Arizona. It was a week that everyone associated with the Cardinals that season remembers.
“What I remember the most about the 2008 season – being able to bounce back after that New England game and get on a roll, which is what you always want to do,” WR Larry Fitzgerald said. “I think guys were just so embarrassed to go out there and play a game like that. We came back and we had a team meeting and guys were brutally honest with each other. I think that was the turning point.”
For the 2010 Chiefs, the Cardinals represent the Seahawks from Arizona’s 2008 schedule. This week is a turning point for Kansas City. The Chiefs haven’t played solid football for at least three games and a home loss would make clinching a playoff berth an uphill climb. However, finding a way to right the ship this weekend would continue to breathe life into this season and extend Kansas City’s record to a perfect 5-0 at Arrowhead.
Sometimes there isn’t a logical explanation as to why a team begins to falter. Haley mentioned earlier this week that the 2008 Cardinals might have fallen into the trap of reading their own press clippings and thinking that they were better than they really were. Maybe that happened to the Chiefs this season too. Who knows?
Then, of course, there are the numbers. The Chiefs are committing more penalties and are seeing their giveaway totals increase over the past two games. They’re also struggling to run the football with extra men stacked into the box. Last weekend, Denver’s 32nd rushing offense outrushed the Chiefs top-ranked rushing attack by over 100 yards. Oh, and injuries affecting a roster with shallow depth are a factor as well.
What we know for certain is that the Chiefs need to get right in a hurry. This weekend presents a very winnable football game. Arizona comes into town riding a four-game losing streak and ranks towards the bottom of the league in nearly every major statistical category.
Playoff teams win these games. They also find answers to battle adversity. This isn’t a division game, but it’s a key game in Kansas City’s hopes for winning the AFC West.
These are the reasons that the Chiefs decided to switch things up this week. They’re getting back to the basics, focusing on fundamentals and accountability. It worked for Arizona in 2008. The Chiefs are hoping that the strategy can work for them nearly two years later.