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The Morning After: Denver

Posted Nov 15, 2010

There isn't a better time for Kansas City to be returning home

The Denver Broncos looked like a team that had been lying in the weeds, waiting for Kansas City to arrive. As soon as the Chiefs stepped foot inside INVESCO Field, the ambush was on.

Riding a nasty four-game losing streak that included an embarrassing home loss to Oakland, the Broncos struck the Chiefs from opening kickoff and never relinquished control of Sunday’s game. Behind a recipe both simple and effective, the Broncos started fast, protected their passer and took Kansas City’s greatest asset away. Denver put up 21 first quarter points and only faced one third down in the process; it happened to be a third-and-one at that.

“It seemed like we were bleeding from the beginning of the game,” LB Derrick Johnson said. “We just needed one spark and a couple of plays to stop the bleeding. That didn’t happen.”

Everything that the Chiefs had previously done to get atop the division didn’t show on Sunday. The running game was non-existent, there weren’t any key defensive stops and Kansas City allowed its first defensive score of the season. A pre-game goal to pressure Broncos QB Kyle Orton failed to generate a single QB hurry and Matt Cassel was sacked a season-high 4.0 times.

The list goes on and on.

“We were unable to get a stop,” Coach Todd Haley said. “We kicked off and had a clear-cut plan for how we want to do things and we were just unable to get a stop.”

Unless you’re a Matt Cassel or Dwayne Bowe fantasy football owner, there wasn’t much of a silver lining to Sunday’s showing. It’s now been two consecutive weeks that division rivals have found a way to stall the Chiefs rushing attack and it’s no coincidence that Kansas City sits with a winless record over those two contests.

Sunday’s game saw the Chiefs average just 2.3 yards per rush with Jamaal Charles carrying the football nearly two out of every three attempts. Charles was stunted by the league’s 31st ranked rushing defense in the same place that he challenged for the NFL’s single-game rushing record some 10 months prior. Kansas City’s other ball carriers gained only 10 yards on eight carries.

“We talked about really not letting them outside – they do a great job of getting the ball to the edge of the defense and we kind of compared it to (Tennessee RB) Chris Johnson and the game plan we had against Tennessee earlier in the year, in that we didn’t want to allow them to get the ball to the sideline,” Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. “I thought our defense did a good job of containing their runs tonight. Of course, getting out in front and getting the lead always helps, so that they can’t just try to wear you down and run 34 or 35 runs at you.”

By scoring the game’s first 35 points Denver eventually forced the Chiefs to abandon the run, but Kansas City never controlled the line of scrimmage. As difficult as this one was to watch, the single-game shutdown of rushing production isn’t necessarily what’s troubling. Most alarming is the fact that division rivals have used copy-cat tactics in back-to-back weeks to stall a Chiefs running game that had produced over 1,300 yards in the seven games prior.

Teams have stacked the box with extra linebackers and the Chiefs haven’t found a way to stretch the defense from sideline to sideline these past two games.

“Teams are going to put more in there than you can block and it really comes down to understanding that and knowing that you’re not going to be able to get hats on hats every play,” Haley said. “But you still have to be able to find ways to run and we’ve been unable to do that.”

For the first time this season, the Kansas City resembles a beat-up team. Already down a pair of free safeties and a wide receiver/running back that requires defensive game scheming, the Chiefs appeared to have more players join the injury list on Sunday.

Brian Waters left the game in the second quarter with a groin injury and didn’t return while Tony Moeaki failed to re-enter the game after getting roughed up on a fourth quarter onside kick attempt. Mark Simoneau didn’t play in the second half after leaving the field gingerly and there are other players in question. We’ll learn more about those injuries as the week unfolds.

While it seems that the cards are starting to stack against the Chiefs, Sunday’s loss only accounts for one tally in the “L” column. Locked in a tie at the top of the division, and with games remaining against each division opponent, Kansas City’s fate is still in its own hands. The next seven days, however, represent a critical time in not only the Chiefs run at a division title, but in the long-term building of the team.

It’s gut-check time.

“I think that games like this will test your mettle, will test your character as men and what’s important for us to recognize here as the Kansas City Chiefs because that is what is important for us,” Haley said. “This is about our team and our push to try to become a good team in the NFL. To take a team that has had some struggles and to continue to make positive movement here for the last year and a half and today, a game like this will really test our resolve as a group – as a team – and that’s everybody.”

Kansas City’s margin for error has diminished over the past two weeks, but the season is far from over. It’s vitally important for the team to bounce back this week similar to the way they recovered following a two-game road swing in Indianapolis and Houston last month.

There’s still time to find solutions, and what better place to get right than at Arrowhead?

“Right now we’re 5-4, we’re trying to win our division, and we lost to a division opponent,” DE Shaun Smith said. “This is two losses back-to-back to a division opponent. We see them in a few weeks, and hopefully everything goes well when we see them again. We just have to bounce back, but the good thing is that we’re going back home.

“We’re undefeated at home,” Smith continued. “Hopefully the fans will have our back.”

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