The Chiefs are entering new territory this weekend. For the first time in quite a while, Kansas City enters Sunday as the choice of the public.
Everyone…and I mean EVERYONE…seems to be picking the Chiefs to win this weekend.
They’re a favorite for the first time this season; a rarity in itself given the past three years of Chiefs football. Some of the new-found respect is a tribute to the current state of the Chiefs. A lot of it is the result of Jacksonville drawing a 7.2 market share in nationally-televised 30-3 home blowout loss to Tennessee on Monday Night Football.
"I don't think we'll be on Monday Night ever again after that performance," Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew joked earlier this week.
The country saw Jaguars starting QB David Garrard go down with a concussion on Monday night. The public knows that there is a good chance Jacksonville starts a quarterback that hasn’t thrown a NFL pass since 2005 this Sunday. Everyone looks at the Jags’ current situation and figures that Kansas City pushes its 2010 record at Arrowhead to a perfect 3-0 on Sunday.
The perspective has shifted for this young team. Unfortunately, that’s what makes this game so dangerous.
“All you have to do is tell (the team) that this is the NFL and on any given Sunday anybody can beat anybody,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said. “We are not underestimating anybody because we know that this is a game we need to get so we are going to do everything we can to win this game.”
Jacksonville brings it. Quarterback situation aside, this is a defense that will hit you in the mouth and Jones-Drew is as good as it gets at the running back position. He’s been especially effective against the Chiefs in recent years, churning out 225 rushing yards on 50 attempts with three TDs in his career against Kansas City.
Jones-Drew is a player who can single-handedly take over a game with clock-draining offensive drives. Jacksonville’s final offensive drive against Tennessee last week offers a perfect example: an eight-minute long drive that featured 11 runs, including six consecutive rushes in the Red Zone.
Playing as the favorite requires taken a different mindset into Sunday; particularly when it comes against a team that has beaten Indianapolis and faces a “must” game to stay part of the division race in the AFC South.
Good teams also have a history of rallying around each other when a key player is ruled out and Jags head coach Jack Del Rio has been playing that card with his quarterback position throughout the week.
“Most importantly as you watch that tape and as you’ve watched any of Jacksonville’s losses, they’re 3-3, any of the games they haven’t come out on top, it has not been, that game included, an across the board poor performance – it’s been a lot of good plays and two or three that really changed the outcome of the game and kind of turned it into what the final was,” Haley said. “I think you can easily be fooled by looking, just watching and enjoying yourself and then seeing the final score.”
Part of the job of a professional football player is to be ready to play at their highest level each and every Sunday. It’s what players a paid to do. But players are human too. It takes discipline to bury the natural urge that pulls and says “hey, we’re in a good spot this weekend.”
This weekend is another test for the Chiefs as they transition into a contender. We’ve learned a lot about this team over the course of these past five weeks, but this Sunday offers a new glimpse at the mental makeup of the club.
“Our guys, they’re very respectful of this team,” Haley said. “This team really beat us up last year pretty good and it’s a lot of the same guys. They’re a team that has won a lot of games themselves. We’ve got to do everything we can to get ready. They have one of the best backs in the league. They are as big and physical of a team as we’ve seen and we have not seen a team like this and our players understand that. And we’re 0-1 in this quarter of the season and we need to figure out a way at home to go out and really play our best game to have a chance.”
This is a game that the Chiefs need. It’s the first of a pivotal two-game home stand that can help the team further separate itself from the rest of the AFC West. These are the games that division champions are supposed to win.