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Leadership Kick

Posted Sep 18, 2010

Kansas City's veterans are guarding against an emotional letdown against Cleveland

Matt Cassel walked up to the podium earlier this week to address reporters. Within the first 90 seconds of the press conference, he was touching on the theme of the week.

“Coach has put a great emphasis this week so far, since we’ve gotten started here, that this isn’t our Super Bowl – it is one of 16 games,” Cassel said.

Head out the press room doors and take a left towards the locker room, inside you’ll hear much of the same.

Eric Berry: “Nobody is really talking about what happened on Monday anymore. We’ve kind of moved on from that and we’ve just been focusing on what Cleveland has been doing.”

Demorrio Williams: “That was just the first step. After the game everybody celebrated and was happy, but we came back to work on Wednesday with a different mindset to get ready for Cleveland.”

Brian Waters: “We’re not even talking about last week. We’re not listening to compliments or really any conversation about last week. The main thing is really about getting into focus and making all of the conversations about this week.”

Dexter McCluster: “It was a great feeling in the locker room and we celebrated a little more afterwards, but now we’ve forgotten about it, it’s over and it’s about getting ready for the Cleveland Browns.”

Rookie or veteran, head coach or coordinator; almost everyone associated with the team was asked about they’ll keep from suffering a “letdown” this weekend in Cleveland. For the most part, everyone provided a similar answer.

The Chiefs are well aware of a possible “letdown,” and they should be.

This game is a bit different than others that get the “letdown” label attached to them. Here’s a Chiefs team that yielded 351 rushing yards in a home loss to the Browns just nine months ago, finished with a worse record than Cleveland in 2009 and who is also a small underdog on Sunday. Those factors don’t normally lead to “letdown” talk infiltrating press conferences, talk shows and newspapers.

Regardless, that talk occurred at Arrowhead throughout the week.

“I think the guys understand the mode that we are in and we are focused on the Cleveland Browns and we are playing against a team that really handed it to us the last time we played,” Haley said. “They ran for 350-plus yards and were able to return two kicks for touchdowns.”

Monday Night Football was an emotionally charged game, both for the players and for the fans. The night represented so many historic moments for this franchise beginning with the opening of The New Arrowhead and then going forward with the first game in the Chiefs second 50 years of existence.

Throw in a Monday Night atmosphere that resembled a playoff game, a fourth-and-goal stop in the final minute and the first win over San Diego since September of 2007, and you have your setting for a potential bout with flatness this weekend.

Its human nature to enjoy a moment such as Monday’s for as long as possible. That’s also the reason that Haley reminded his squad this week that, “this isn’t our Super Bowl.”

The last time that Haley used that phrase with the team was after the Chiefs overtime win against Pittsburgh in November of 2009. Kansas City followed up that performance by losing the next two ballgames by an 87-27 scoring margin and wouldn’t taste victory again until January of 2010.

Haley believes that this year’s team has made the proper additions and matured since that Pittsburgh game a year ago.

“When the Pittsburgh game occurred, I know I was worried about that and said ‘this can’t be our Super Bowl,’” Haley remembered. “A struggling young team learning how to win, that’s one of the pitfalls is you do achieve some level of success and then there is a letdown of sorts. With this group of guys, the way they’ve continued to work, the effort that they’re putting in; they’re showing me that they’re listening to what we’re telling them.”

Its times like these that the role of Kansas City’s veterans is obvious.

Proven winners like Waters, Mike Vrabel, Thomas Jones and Casey Wiegmann are the players that a young locker room watches closely. When Pro Bowl player who have proven their keep attack a new week of practices with the same intensity as they did the week prior, it sets forth a standard for the rest of the team to follow.

“I think that’s the number one reason you bring in any veteran is to help you win games and play football for you,” Haley said. “If you have the added bonus of having some true leadership-type guys that have been around and understand the ups and downs of the season and the emotional highs and lows that can help spread that word, that is a big, big help and that’s something that we’re on.”

The 2010 Chiefs are driven by young players with three years of experience or less. For the most part, the youngsters are the difference makers on this team, but it’s a select group of veterans that keep that young talent on track.

Jones, just as he had done in New York, had the team surrounding him on the field, listening to his words before kickoff.

 Wiegmann, just as he has done since 2001, took every snap of the game and showed his blue collar mentality.

Vrabel, just as he’s done throughout his career, was right in the middle of conversations during the timeout prior to Kansas City’s fourth-and-goal stop and displayed his knowledge of the game.

And for Waters…he was already focused about guarding against a letdown in Cleveland some 20 minutes after the victory over San Diego.

“I truly believe that the one thing we are trying to establish is consistency and not being an up-and-down football team,” Waters said in the Chiefs locker room after Monday night’s victory. “Part of that is realizing that this is just one win and we have 15 more to go. If we want to be a good football team then we have to shake loose the wins just like we shake loose the losses.”

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