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The Morning After: Tampa Bay

Posted Aug 22, 2010

What to make of the Chiefs 20-15 loss in Tampa?

First and foremost, thoughts and prayers go out to CB Maurice Leggett. It was a very scary scene in Tampa Bay on Saturday night when Leggett was carted off the field via stretcher, after suffering a neck injury in the second half.

Both teams came off their respective sidelines as a sign of unity and well-wishes for Leggett, and the fans in Tampa couldn’t have been any classier. Leggett was given a loud ovation as his cart exited the turf and pulled into the Raymond James Stadium Tunnel.

Leggett did not travel back to Kansas City with the team, initial signs regarding his injury were positive.

“Extremities and all those things were good,” head coach Todd Haley said. “They are going to make sure of everything, but at least from that standpoint it sounded encouraging. Our prayers are with Maurice and his family.”

As for the game itself, the preseason is a difficult animal to tackle for those of us that simply watch the game.

What should we look for? Is it notable progress from Game One to Game Two and signs of regular season readiness for the first-teamers? For a team in the Chiefs position, is it simply getting a win?

Of course, we’d prefer it to be both, but that didn’t happen on Saturday night.

The Chiefs looked better in a number of areas in Tampa. Both first-team units started out much faster, even with Thomas Jones’ fumble on the game’s opening drive. The Chiefs also showed signs of capitalizing on big plays, turning Javier Arenas’ 54-yard kickoff return into an offensive touchdown and Matt Cassel also had a very nice football game. Defensively, the first-teamers were able to keep Tampa’s run game in check.

Each of those were phases of the football game in which Haley was specifically pleased about during his post-game press conference. There was plenty to like when walking away from Tampa, but there were also three plays that ultimately shaped the game’s final outcome.

Tampa’s first touchdown of the game came on a 54-yard Michael Spurlock reception. It was the product of a missed tackle that turned a modest gain into a big play. CB Brandon Flowers went for the strip in his tackle attempt, but failed. With the Chiefs in a blitz, Flowers had no help over the top and Spurlock easily scampered down the sideline and into the end zone.

“That was a critical play and it changed the game,” Flowers would say afterwards.

That’s seven points.

Early in the fourth quarter with the Chiefs holding a 13-10 lead, Tyler Palko was intercepted on a third-down attempt at the KC 41 yard line. Palko’s pass bounced high off the hands of RB Javarris Williams and into the arms of CB Derrick Roberson.

A potential third-down conversion ultimately turned into three points for the Buccaneers.

Late in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs gave us a hint of the adrenaline rush that only a regular season game can fully produce. Down 20-13, the Chiefs had a fourth-and-goal situation from the Tampa two yard line with 1:22 left to play. A false start penalty backed that fourth-and-goal try from the Tampa two yard line to the Tampa seven yard line. The Chiefs ultimately came up short on the play.

Who knows what would have happened, but the mental error changed the way that the Chiefs had to approach the late-game situation and it was a preventable mistake. The three critical plays all represented area of the game that we know Haley places a high value on: limiting the big play, eliminating drops and being mentally tough.

 “It’s tough,” RB Jackie Battle said. “There’s a lot to learn from this game. A few key mistakes were made, and we just have to learn how to do the little things.”

Matt Cassel finished with a 108.4 QB rating. The run game was incredibly strong. The first-team defense suffocated the Bucs rushing attack. Big plays were made in the return game. Some young players were once again able to show up.

It’s not hard to find distinct areas of progress in last night’s football game. The question becomes whether or not those positives were overshadowed by the game’s final result?

In the regular season? Most definitely.

In the preseason? It’s a different animal to tackle.

Three To Like

1)      Run Game

The Chiefs run game was thought to be a strong point heading into training camp and it didn’t disappoint in Tampa. After coughing up the football on this first carry of the game, Thomas Jones rallied several tough runs together that moved the sticks. Jamaal Charles continued to show speed in the open field and an ability to gash a defense with his quickness. Jackie Battle was a machine, churning out a 5.4 yards per attempt average on 11 carries; most of them with a powerful, downhill running style.

As a team, the Chiefs were able to produce 152 yards on the ground and have averaged 4.5 yards per carry over the first two preseason games.

2)      Fast Start

After struggling in adapting to an early change in gameday tempo against Atlanta, the Chiefs came out of the gates ready to play against Tampa. Starting fast was a message point all week at camp and Kansas City answered that call, despite an early turnover.

After one quarter, the Chiefs held an 8-2 advantage over Tampa in first downs, nearly doubled the Bucs offensive production and were 100% in both third-down and Red Zone efficiency.

3)      Javier Arenas

There were plenty of solid performances, but Arenas’ 54-yard kickoff return was far more impressive than either of his two big returns in Atlanta; that includes the one that went 99-yard for a TD (minus the holding call). Arenas showed grit and power in breaking multiple tackles, as well as balance and open field speed as he sparked what would be the a lead-taking offensive drive for the team.

 It was important for the rookie from Alabama to remain consistent in the return game and he seemed to take care of that once again on Saturday.

Three For Improvement

1)      Turnovers

Kansas City is now -6 in the turnover category this preseason. The defense has yet to force a takeaway and the offense has given away the football three times in each contest (though Tyler Palko’s fourth-quarter INT was a desperation heave). It’s tough to win games fighting an uphill battle in the turnover department.

“We had some tipped balls that looked like chances for our defense to get the football and didn’t get it done,” Haley said. “That’s something that we have to get right back to work on, because we have to be an opportunistic football team.”

2)      Big Plays

Michael Spurlock’s 54-yard reception put seven points on the board and Carlos Brown’s 26-yard run set up another seven. Big plays led to Tampa’s only trips to the end zone.

3)      Turning Hurries into Sacks

The Chiefs did a decent job of getting pressure on Buccaneer quarterbacks, but once again no sacks. Defensively, the Chiefs are still shutout in the sack department. There have been plenty of opportunities; it’s just about turning the hurries into takedowns.

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