Herm Edwards is a patient man. You get the feeling he’s the kind of guy who would show up at a crowded restaurant, hear there’s a two-hour wait for a table, and say: “OK, I’ll be standing over there.” You get the feeling he plays five-hour rounds of golf.
That sort of patience has served him well much of his career as an NFL coach. His players respect him. His teams mostly play with purpose and without penalties. He has been to the playoffs four times in six years.
But there comes a moment in football when you must run out of patience. When you have to be bold. When you go for it.
And the big knock on Herm Edwards has long been this: He doesn’t recognize that moment.
Sunday, it happened. He missed the moment. He took out quarterback Damon Huard one play too late. The Chiefs lost big to Denver at home. The season has taken a dramatic turn downward. The Chiefs will never get that moment back.
Here was the moment: The second half had just begun, and the Chiefs led the game by the telling score of 8-6. Whenever you have a Fenway Park score like that in a football game, you know that there’s some ugliness going on. But, hey, the Chiefs were winning, and the miracle man Priest Holmes was running well, and the Chiefs’ defense seemed to have Denver quarterback Jay Cutler intimidated. So you figured the Chiefs would turn the boring dial up to 11 and try to win the game 15-13 or something like that.
Instead, in the locker room at the half, Edwards and his offensive coaches concocted a new plan: They would unleash Damon Huard.
In retrospect, this does not seem an especially wise plan. Then again, it did not seem an especially wise plan while they were doing it, either. Huard had been terrible all day. Brutal. Huard has been pretty uninspiring all season. No team in the NFL has scored fewer points than the Chiefs. And while this is a combination of pedestrian play-calling, falling offensive linemen, receivers who don’t get open and the frustrations of Larry Johnson, Huard has been the pilot.
He was especially bad on Sunday. He threw three straight incompletions when the Chiefs were in field-goal range. He threw a ghastly interception at the end of the first quarter. He looked spooked — and maybe he was. Edwards had hinted all week that he was about ready to make the change to young Brodie Croyle, the 24-year-old QB that Holmes calls “Blu-Ray,” after the laser.
“He’s got a laser for an arm,” Holmes says.
So, maybe Huard was nervous and playing to keep his job, which is never a good thing. Then again, maybe he’s a beat-up, 10-year NFL backup who at age 34 is just not quite good enough to be a starting quarterback for a team with playoff hopes. Whatever the reason, unleashing Huard seemed like the absolute wrong choice. And it was.
First down, Huard threw such a bad pass that the referee literally stopped play to announce that it was not intentional grounding because, “the quarterback wasn’t under pressure.”
Second down, Huard threw long to somebody, maybe Eddie Kennison, and the pass never even had a chance of being caught.
On third down, his pass was intercepted by Denver’s Dre Bly.
And here was the moment. The obvious moment. Most people in the stadium felt it. The players seemed to feel it, too. Croyle stood on the sideline and carefully watched Edwards’ body language — he was ready for the call. Huard went to the bench, stared at the ground and looked like a man ready to take the rest of the day off. Yes, it was time to change quarterbacks once and for all. It was time to find out what Croyle could do. Nobody knows whether Croyle can lead a team, but that’s the point: Nobody knows. Huard’s a good man and an excellent backup quarterback. But we know.
Thing is, Edwards is a patient man. We saw it last year in the Chiefs-Indianapolis playoff game, when the offense was lifeless — floating on the surface like my old pet goldfish — and he refused to pull ineffective quarterback Trent Green. Edwards would later say that it would not have been fair to pull Green. The Chiefs lost the game without even trying a quarterback change. That did not seem fair to a lot of fans.
Now, it was time again. The Broncos scored a touchdown and took the lead. The game was now on the line. Edwards sent Huard out for the next series.
“You can’t pull a quarterback every time he throws an interception,” Edwards would say.
No. You can’t. But this was different. And everybody knew it. This was not about an interception. This was about saving a game and a season.
The fans booed. This was not a smattering of boos, either — this was a whole stadium, booing Huard, booing Edwards, booing Chiefs president Carl Peterson, booing their ticket prices, booing their Congressional representatives, booing traffic, booing Brodie Croyle for not just grabbing a helmet and running into the game without permission. This was a stadium booing because they knew this was the moment. And they knew Edwards’ hesitancy was going to cost the Chiefs the game.
They did not have to wait long. First play, Huard dropped back, got sacked, fumbled the ball, and Denver returned it for a touchdown. Wah wah wah wah. Game over. Please tip your waitresses and drive home safely.
“This one’s all on me,” Huard said in a brief but stand-up interview after the game.
Only it wasn’t. This one was on Herm Edwards. He did not make the move. He let the moment pass. Yes, he went to Croyle after that fumble, but it was too late. Croyle played as you might expect under the circumstances. He made a few good passes. He made a few bad ones. He made one incredibly bad one. He moved the team some. He did not get the ball into the end zone, even in a final drive that featured an astonishing four Denver offside penalties.
He might not have won the game either. We don’t know. That’s the point. We don’t know.
Anyway, Croyle did not leave much doubt in anyone’s mind — it’s his team now. Edwards says he will think about what to do with the quarterbacks today, but there’s no decision to be made. The Chiefs’ season is heading the wrong way. The future is now.
Trouble is, the future should have arrived one play earlier.