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The Morning After: Cleveland

Posted Sep 20, 2010

Fourth-and-One attempt shows confidence in players; unity of team

When the two-minute warning arrived at Cleveland Browns Stadium, Todd Haley had a decision to make. Facing a fourth-and-one from the Cleveland 36 yard line, and holding a two-point lead, Haley had two options to choose from.

1)      Punt the football away and trust the defense to continue its second-half dominance of a Cleveland team that held no timeouts.

or

2)      Go for the first down and seal the victory at that very moment, but risk surrendering a short field if stopped short.

“Obviously a lot of the guys wanted to go for it,” RB Thomas Jones said. “We work those plays all the time in practice, so that was a great opportunity for us to take what we’ve practiced and get the first down to run the clock out.”

Whether or not it was the will of the players, or discussions with assistants, that convinced Haley to make the call doesn’t exactly matter. When Matt Cassel jogged back into the game at the conclusion of the TV timeout, it was all about the now. Todd Haley was playing to win.

“I think you can probably look at it like that,” Haley said. “I was doing what I thought gave us the best chance to win. I thought that our offense had stuck together, made some first downs and grinded it out against a real physical group, so at that point I felt pretty confident that we would be able to end the game there with the ball in our hands.”

And so the play-call came in. The call was simple; a power run up the middle to Jones. The veteran took the handoff, going up and over the pile of defenders just as a running back would do near the goal line. If Jones had to get six inches, he may have gotten nine.

Whatever it was, it was enough to seal victory (after an officials review, of course).

“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Jones said afterwards. “I just reacted to what they did. They went down to the ground, so the linemen tried to keep them there and gave me an opportunity to go up and over the top.”

If anything, the play-call sent a clear message to the team.

Haley has repeatedly said over the course of the preseason and into the regular season that he wants the Chiefs to be an aggressive and physical team that is able to run the football. He hasn’t just said this to the media in press conference, but to the team plenty of times behind closed doors as well. The decision to go for it on a crucial fourth-down play put those goals through the ultimate NFL test.

Success on that play, and sealing a second victory in as many attempts, helps validate the offseason effort that went into building this team. It validates the line of thinking not only to the players and fans, but to the coaching staff as well.  

“It says a lot,” Jones said. “For coach to have that confidence in us to go for it on fourth-and-one in a critical point in the game it means a lot and it definitely makes us want to go out there and get a first down.”

When the time calls for it, the Chiefs can be a team that turns a football game around with a blue-collar style that is about physical play and doing the dirty work. That’s the style of football that this team wants to play.

The Chiefs overcame two turnovers on the road, a 0% TD efficiency in the Red Zone and a whole lot of other ugly numbers in the stat book to achieve victory. None of those negatives mattered on Sunday. The Chiefs found a way to win for the second consecutive week and are still atop the AFC West.

“It’s not going to be pretty,” Haley said. “That’s how it is going to be most of the time for a little while. Everybody did enough to win and they really stuck together, which is what has me really excited.”

Three to Like

1)      Return Scores

For the second time in as many weeks, the Chiefs found a way to score via defense or special teams. It was Dexter McCluster’s record-setting punt return that proved to be the difference in Week One, and it was Brandon Flowers’ 33-yard pick six that gave Kansas City its only TD in Week Two. Scoring TDs on defense or special teams are game-changers. That proved to be the case once again in Cleveland.

2)      Halftime Adjustments

Outside of Brandon Flowers’ INT return TD, and a few other plays, there wasn’t much to feel good about heading into halftime. In fact, the Chiefs had to feel a bit lucky to only be trailing by a four-point margin at the time. After picking off Matt Cassel at the KC 27 yard line, Cleveland committed an unnecessary roughness penalty and then missed a 42-yard FG to help bail the Chiefs out of the danger zone right before half.

When halftime arrived, Kansas City had given up nearly 250 yards of total offense, converted just one offensive third down and had already turned over the football two times. But when the Chiefs came back out of the locker room, Cleveland gained just 55 yards the rest of the game and was held off the scoreboard for the final two quarters. Offensively, the Chiefs would go on to put together two scoring drives of 10-plus plays.

3)      2-0

It hasn’t exactly been pretty out there, but the Chiefs are 2-0 and that’s enough to feel good about this team.

Wins are tough enough to come by, but Sunday’s win was particularly impressive considering the scenario that the team faced. Kansas City had to overcome the potential for a letdown following an emotional win on Monday Night Football, fought through a short week of game preparation and had to travel on the road as well. Sunday’s win was a salty performance and the team is showing the beginning signs of being a nasty fighter.

“Being 2-0 in the NFL is pretty hard to do,” RB Thomas Jones said. “The good thing about this team is that we’re not satisfied in playing well and getting one victory. Guys will enjoy this win when we go home and tomorrow we’ll get ready for San Francisco.”

The Chiefs haven’t been 2-0 since the 2005 season, but that doesn’t matter to this team. The 2010 Chiefs are the 2010 Chiefs and nothing else.

“We’re not the 2005 team, 2006, 2007, 2008 or 2009 team,” CB Brandon Flowers said. “This is a new Kansas City Chiefs and that’s all we’re going by. Nobody is even thinking about the previous years and what went on. That’s what I think it taking us a long way.

Three For Improvement

1)      0% Red Zone TD Efficiency

The Chiefs scored on 100% of their Red Zone attempts in Cleveland; unfortunately, those three trips amounted to a total of just nine points.

When it came to Red Zone TD efficiency, the Chiefs finished the day at 0%. None of those deciding third down attempts had more than six yards to gain, and two of them came inside the Cleveland five yard line. Had the Chiefs lost this game, they would have been kicking themselves for kicking field goals.

2)      Turnovers

Winning on the road with two turnovers isn’t normally a recipe that leads to victories, but the Chiefs were able to do so on Sunday by forcing two turnovers themselves and turning both of those into points. In general, turnovers lead to points, and the Chiefs dodged multiple bullets when Cleveland was unable turn either of Kansas City’s two INTs into scores.

“Fortunately the guys stuck in there and played hard,” Haley said. “We knew that we had to stop the run against these guys and our defense did a tremendous job. They are making progress.”

3)      Big Plays

Josh Cribbs’ 65-yard TD catch in the second quarter gave Cleveland a lead that wasn’t overcome until halfway through the fourth quarter. Earlier in the game, TE Benjamin Watson made several defenders look silly in a 44-yard romp into Kansas City’s Red Zone. Those big plays led to all of Cleveland’s points, just as San Diego’s big plays from WR Legedu Naanee and TE Antonio Gates led to both of the Chargers’ scores a week prior.

KCChiefs.com Game Balls

Offense: The Offensive Line

Rookie TE Tony Moeaki might have gotten the game ball had Haley decided to punt on that fourth-and-one play. But by going for the win on fourth down, Haley had placed his confidence in the big boys up front to be physical enough for just one more short-yardage gain. That confidence paid off.

Defense: CB Brandon Flowers

Flowers’ 33-yard INT return TD was a game-changer and the Chiefs only TD of the game.

Special Teams: K Ryan Succop

Succop did a nice job of keeping the football out of Josh Cribbs’ hands with his pooch kicks and accounted for 62.5% of Kansas City’s points.

 

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