By KENT BABB
The Kansas City Star
Chiefs tight end Tony Moeaki (right) celebrated his one-handed touchdown catch in Sunday’s victory with fellow rookie Dexter McCluster.
Tony Moeaki was holding a football in the locker room this week, and someone brought up the subject of his one-handed touchdown catch Sunday.
It was all over the television highlights. Did he see himself? Moeaki, a soft-spoken rookie tight end, shook his head. Not really, he said, though he heard some talk about the play on some TVs near the team’s meeting rooms. Heck, he wasn’t even sure that the ball he was palming was or wasn’t the one he caught; someone just put a football in his locker, so he might as well hold it.
“I wasn’t going into the play trying to catch a one-handed pass,” he said, “but it just happened that way. It was just coincidence.”
Fine. But the part that clearly isn’t coincidence is that Moeaki is among several new toys for the Chiefs’ offense — weapons the team lacked throughout most of last season, and targets that ease pressure on quarterback Matt Cassel. Kansas City hasn’t been perfect on offense this season, even amid a 3-0 start, and Cassel has occasionally struggled. But with options like Moeaki, Dexter McCluster and Jamaal Charles, who needs perfect?
During Sunday’s 31-10 thrashing of San Francisco, the Chiefs took full advantage of their playmakers. Moeaki, McCluster and Charles combined for 266 of the team’s 457 total offensive yards, and that doesn’t even include McCluster’s 59 yards on kick returns. Combined with veteran running back Thomas Jones and wide receivers Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers, Kansas City’s offense has begun to look like a formidable unit.
The Chiefs emphasized those players more often against the 49ers, and Cassel’s numbers reflected it — 250 passing yards, including touchdown passes to McCluster and Moeaki.
“It was a fun play,” Moeaki said of his touchdown, which ESPN chose as its most outstanding play of the weekend. If he won’t elaborate, there are plenty of teammates who will. Offensive lineman Brian Waters said he noticed that, on Sunday, things just went more smoothly; players seemed more comfortable. And he definitely didn’t think Moeaki’s play was a coincidence.
“He’s a very good pass catcher,” Waters said. “Those are things we haven’t had. We didn’t have it last year, and then you add the different types of personalities. We have a different group, in that we can throw so many looks at (defenses) right now, and that’s a plus for us. We think that’s going to continue to grow.
“The key is that our coaches did a good job of going out and finding some guys who can do a lot of different things, and I think that’s really helped us a lot. We’ve got guys who are a very versatile group, who can play a lot of different positions.”
San Francisco found that out the hard way on a single play. It came in the third quarter, when Jones lined up at quarterback in the Wildcat formation. Cassel was split wide. Jones took the snap and ran left before pitching it to McCluster, who tossed to Cassel, who zipped a pass 45 yards to Bowe in the end zone.
Coach Todd Haley said this week that a play like that brings with it plenty of risk; the more players who handle the football, the more chance that one of them makes a mistake. On that play, everything worked.
“Those packages and what you’re seeing,” Waters said, “that’s what we want. We know what that does to defenses. When we throw all that at them, we prefer that because we know that keeps them off-balance.”
Waters acknowledged that, last season, the Chiefs just didn’t have these kinds of playmakers on offense. Tony Gonzalez was traded to Atlanta in April 2009, and Bowe missed four games because of a failed test for performance-enhancing drugs. It wasn’t until running back Larry Johnson was cut and Charles took over that Kansas City realized it could move the ball with consistency.
Now, Waters said, the group is gaining a confidence that it lacked a year ago. Yes, even Moeaki, who admitted that he’s not always so quiet.
“Everyone flips a switch when they’re out there,” he said. “That’s just the way it is. If you’re the same guy on and off the field, you might have a heart attack. I guess you’ve got to experience it. When you’re on the field, you’re just in a zone.
“I just feel different.”
For the first time in a while, so do the Chiefs.