Growing up on the fly isn’t an easy thing to do, but that’s exactly what the 2010 Kansas City Chiefs are doing. Locked smack in the middle of an AFC West division race nothing is anonymous anymore. A football game like Sunday’s, marred with self-destructive mistakes, may not have made headlines outside the film room a season ago. This, however, isn’t 2009.
In a sense, the Chiefs have arrived. On the other hand, there’s still a lot of growing up to do. The rate of Kansas City’s progression has happened faster than most expected. With a load of young players playing critical game day roles, the team’s success has required many of those key contributors to learn on the fly.
A trip to The Black Hole was one of those new experiences. The Chiefs haven’t been part of a big-game road atmosphere that mirrored Sunday’s since a 2006 playoff tilt in Indianapolis. That game took place over three seasons ago and predates most of Kansas City’s current players.
Unfortunately, the Chiefs responded to the new setting in an atypical manner, committing a season-high 12 penalties, turning the football over twice and leaving double digit points on the field due to various preventable miscues.
“It was a game that was very uncharacteristic for the Chiefs, but remember that the Chiefs are a very young team,” CBS color commentator Solomon Wilcots said on Chiefs Live Tuesday afternoon. “They have a lot of young players and I think that you’re going to find that when you have a team that’s young, and particularly on the road, that those anomalies are going to occur.”
Take your hat off to Raider Nation. After barely drawing 35,000 spectators against Seattle just seven days prior, the Silver and Black packed The Coliseum to give the Chiefs/Raiders rivalry an atmosphere that had been missing from the rivalry for the better part of the past decade.
The place was overwhelmed by a raucous swarm of Black Hole misfits that resulted in a definite home field advantage for the hometown Raiders.
“Prior to say, 2002, that’s what we always saw whenever we would see a Raiders/Chiefs game, whether it was at Arrowhead or in Oakland,” Wilcots said of Sunday’s atmosphere. “This is what this rivalry has always brought; they’ve been playing one another for over 50 years. Its two teams that don’t like each other with two proud owners with a great legacy and they are two teams that have won Super Bowls and have had Hall of Famers on both sides of the rivalry.”
This time around, the crowd appeared to have an effect on Kansas City. It would be shocking to see the Chiefs take a u-turn from the identity that Todd Haley has worked so hard to establish long before the first game of 2010 ever kicked off. But last weekend, the least penalized team in the National Football League looked similar to the traditionally undisciplined Raiders.
It wasn’t what we were used to seeing out of these Chiefs. It was also the sign of a young team still in transition.
“There’s no question that the crowd can definitely affect you,” former Chiefs rival Bill Romanowski said on Chiefs Live. “Arrowhead…oh my lord that place can affect you…that takes things to another level. But when you have a sold out Coliseum, The Black Hole, that is an intimidating atmosphere and if you’re not ready for it and that can get you.”
How could the Chiefs have been ready for it? For many, the trip to Oakland was a professional first. Those that had been before, sans
The same type of thing will happen to many of Oakland’s younger players when they visit Arrowhead in Week 17; particularly if that matchup presents divisional implications.
“That Sea of Red, I remember going there for the first time as a Bronco and everyone warning me what it was like there,” Romanowski remembered. “That Marty Schottenheimer football team; what you knew about it was that it was going to be physical. You better bring your big-boy pads and if you didn’t you were going to get your block knocked off.”
The Chiefs didn’t get their blocks knocked off in Oakland. In fact, they played every bit as physical as the Raiders. The difference in the game occurred on the mental side of things; preventable mistakes.
“It kind of shows you that there is still some growing to do,” Wilcots said. “Everyone knows it. No one expected a perfect run in 2010 for the Kansas City Chiefs. They are growing in front of our eyes and Sunday was an example of it.”
The positive from Sunday is that the Chiefs have gone through a new experience. Kansas City’s younger players have shown the ability to learn from their mistakes and minimize the chances of those same missteps happening twice.
That’s a good thing, because “big games” don’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
“I think that both organizations have positioned themselves now where they appear to be headed to the top again,” Wilcots said. “I like Todd Haley. I like him as a head coach and I love his staff. I really like the collection of players that they have assembled and their stock is on the rise. They are going to be okay.”
With another big game approaching this Sunday, the Chiefs don’t’ have much of a choice other than to make sure that they’re okay.