Time to Stop Making Fun of the Chiefs
By Andy Benoit, NFL Contributing Editor
(Sports Network) - Okay, so all those early-season Kansas City punch-lines were a bit premature. Fine. No more name-calling or taunting. For now. The Chiefs find themselves 2-2 after going into Qualcomm Stadium and handing the San Diego Chargers their third consecutive loss. It was a game they won in the second half, when they outscored the Chargers 24-0 and held San Diego's desultory offense to just 111 total yards.
Now with a .500 record and nearly half of their road games on the season already behind them (Kansas City has been away from Arrowhead for three of these first four weeks), the Chiefs find themselves tied atop a mediocre AFC West, and competing with a defense that has become the stingy unit that fans have been clamoring for since the beginning of the Dick Vermeil era.
"We said (the defense was) getting better, but they're not where they should be at this point. (San Diego) ran the ball on us and we didn't play our gaps very well early in the first half," said head coach Herman Edwards. (The Chargers) got off pretty good offensively, but I thought what we did pretty well and what we've done well all year is we don't give up a lot of touchdowns in the red zone. We've been pretty good down there. We've talked about holding teams to field goals and we did a pretty good job again today. We held them to one touchdown."
One touchdown, and more importantly, four turnovers. Those four forced turnovers by the Kansas City D helped set up 13 points for the "developing" offense.
Much of the recent development on offense can be credited to the sudden emergence of first-round rookie Dwayne Bowe. After setting the tone with five catches for 71 yards and his second touchdown a week ago, the former LSU standout torched the Chargers with a Chiefs single-game record for receiving yards by a rookie with 164 (the old record was 130 yards held by Chiefs team Hall of Fame safety Johnny Robinson, who was a two-way player for the Dallas Texans in 1960). And for the second week in a row, Bowe caught a game-changing touchdown pass (he has three touchdowns on the season).
The freshman phenom wasn't Kansas City's only pass-catching connoisseur to make history on Sunday. Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez hauled in his 62nd career touchdown on a brilliant 22-yard leaping catch in the third quarter, surpassing Shannon Sharpe for first place on the all-time touchdown list for tight ends in the process.
"With me and Bowe in there, we're like Tim Duncan and David Robinson. We're the Twin Towers," Gonzalez said, perhaps with a somewhat liberal approach to the art of hyperbole. "This is the way we're going to have to do things. Most teams run to set up the pass. We have to do the opposite to get Larry (Johnson) going as long as teams are stacking the box."
The Chargers stacked the box against Johnson and limited his production to just 86 yards on his first 24 carries (3.6 yards per carry). A 37-yard burst on third-and-short in garbage time put Johnson up over 100 yards on the afternoon - his first triple-digit outing of the season.
In all, the Chiefs offense is playing better, though don't confuse a lack of noncombustible weapons for a surplus of firepower. When reminded that his offense has still scored only four touchdowns in four games, Herm Edwards put a subtle onus back on his burgeoning defense.
"If you continue to take the ball away you always have a chance to score. Our defense did a pretty good job the last two or three weeks. What we hadn't done was capitalize on them and score. Today we did."
Linebacker Derrick Johnson is looking like the flourishing star that the team hoped he would become when they drafted him 15th-overall three years ago.
Johnson had only three tackles against the Chargers on Sunday, but he recorded his first career interception and, most notably, forced a fumble from Philip Rivers late in the fourth quarter. The fumble was scooped up by upstart undrafted rookie Tyron Brackenridge and returned 50 yards for a game-deciding touchdown.
"If we're going to become a great defense, we've got to keep making big plays like that," Johnson said.
If Eddie Kennison weren't out with a hamstring injury, Samie Parker probably wouldn't still be starting for the Chiefs. Parker did not catch a pass on Sunday - no receivers other than Dwayne Bowe did - and he has just eight receptions in four games.
The Chiefs return to Missouri to begin a six-week stretch that features four home games and a bye. It starts this week with what figures to be a defensive fistfight (or offensive catfight) against the 2-1 Jacksonville Jaguars.