It was that kind of day for quarterback Damon Huard, who got pounded after fumbling in the third quarter. Denver recovered the ball and scored.
By the end of the third quarter, Larry Johnson had seen enough.
With the Chiefs down two scores, Damon Huard woozily sitting on the bench, coming to grips with the end of his starting career, and Priest Holmes impressively shaking off two years of rust, Kansas City’s highest-paid player limped out the front door of Arrowhead Stadium to his $450,000 Maybach 62 and chauffer.
By the end of the third, you knew all you needed to know about these Chiefs. They’re going nowhere, and it’s time to make some very difficult decisions.
The AFC West standings might define the Chiefs as a contending team, but Kansas City’s 4-5 record, stuck-in-neutral offense and impossible-to-watch-and-stomach, 27-11 loss to the injury-riddled-and-mediocre Broncos told an uncomfortable truth.
The Chiefs are rancid, and the only way to clean the stench is to make all decisions with next year in mind.
We know what happens when you back into the playoffs with a shoddy offensive line, washed-up quarterback and unimaginative, in-over-his-head offensive coordinator. You get eviscerated by a legitimate playoff squad. You fail to pick up a first down until late in the third quarter. You play offense so bad that Chris Berman can’t help but crack jokes when he shows the highlights on ESPN.
No one wants to see a KC-Indy sequel.
So it’s time to move on. Time to play the young guys, not just at quarterback.
Huard is done. I like him. He’s taken a beating playing behind a line that is just as ineffective blocking the run as it is in pass protection. Huard hasn’t complained. He’s absorbed the licks and tried to be more than what he is — a backup quarterback.
It’s now time to see whether Brodie Croyle is more than a backup. Now is the proper time. The pressure is off. Johnson is down for the season. Everyone, especially the veteran players, can accept that the Chiefs are not a real playoff team.
For the record, I don’t like Croyle’s footwork. He doesn’t step into his throws, and the ball sails on him. He threw an interception on Sunday for this exact reason. It’s an error that’s fixable, but it’s also an error that can cost you games and ruin a career.
It’s also clear that offensive coordinator Mike Solari is an outstanding offensive-line coach. He’s not a play-caller. He’s been elevated to his point of incompetence. Next year Solari should be reinstated as line coach and work on re-establishing that unit as a force. The center, right guard and right tackle all must be replaced.
On Sunday, Solari blew the game. The Broncos own the league’s worst run defense. Priest Holmes, to my surprise and probably the surprise of the coaching staff, looked damn good. He looked fresh. He looked shifty. He looked ready to carry the load and help the Chiefs win an ugly game.
Solari failed to take advantage. He chose odd times to throw the ball, especially opening the second half of a tight game with four straight passing plays, which resulted in a Huard interception and fumble.
When the game was over, I wanted to blame Holmes. I erroneously thought the Chiefs built a more aggressive game plan because Solari and Herm Edwards were unsure what Holmes could do in live action over an extended period. It’s hard for a coach to build a game plan around a guy who joined the team in late July, skipped the preseason and talks in circles.
I was wrong. After talking with several offensive players, I was assured the Chiefs built a Holmes-heavy game plan, and Solari failed to execute it. Holmes bounced outside for 11 yards in the first quarter, and Solari seemed to run Holmes inside too often the rest of the game.
I don’t remember any screen plays for Holmes. Solari didn’t make a concerted effort to get Holmes in space, let him use his vision and quicker-than-expected feet. Holmes’ numbers weren’t overwhelming (65 yards in 20 carries), but had Solari called the right plays at the right time, Holmes should’ve had about 24 carries for 85 yards and three or four receptions for an additional 40 yards.
There were moments in Sunday’s game when I had to remind myself to temper my outlook on Holmes’ play because Denver’s front seven is atrocious. But I am positive about one thing: even at age 34, Holmes is 10 times the back Johnson is in the passing game.
Holmes had little trouble and enthusiastically picked up Denver’s blitzes.
“I talked with Priest for about an hour this week, just about what the offensive line was seeing and trying to do,” guard Brian Waters told me. “He’s done a really good job of trying to understand what we’re doing.”
Ah, I’m off on a tangent talking about an old running back when the Chiefs’ entire focus needs to be on getting younger.