KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs were already left wondering about the results of a most disappointing season last week when they were hit with some news that tied them even further in knots.
Five of their players were chosen to play in this season’s Pro Bowl. Usually, it’s only playoff teams that are so honored. The 12-3 Broncos, who long ago clinched the AFC West championship, also have five players going to Hawaii.
Teams with a 2-13 record like the Chiefs are normally lucky to have one player picked for the Pro Bowl. Having five just further highlights how inadequate the results of their season have been.
“I think we have talent on this team,” coach Romeo Crennel said. “We haven’t won but we have talent on this team.”
The Chiefs’ long season comes to an end Sunday against the Broncos in Denver. The Chiefs were extinguished from realistic playoff contention almost from the season’s start. For most of the year public attention has been focused on the job security of Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli, and whether the Chiefs will get the top pick in next year’s draft, which they will if they lose Sunday.
This from a team that began the season on Sept. 9 against Atlanta at Arrowhead Stadium thinking it would be a contender for the AFC West championship. Instead, they’re a mere 10 games behind the Broncos.
The signs it would be this way started in the preseason. With the starters in the lineup, the Chiefs were drilled in back-to-back games against the Rams and Seahawks, a fact that should have been taken as an indication of widespread problems.
“We did have trouble late in the preseason,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “That carried over to the season. The ball started rolling and we couldn’t stop it from rolling. That’s kind of how we’ve played this season. We haven’t played a full 60 minutes. We’ve played a half or a quarter really good.
“I think we’ve gotten better through the season. We were giving up a lot of points defensively early in the season and we’ve cut that down.”
But it didn’t happen quickly enough, perhaps because Crennel, who removed himself as defensive coordinator later in the season, didn’t act quickly enough. He said recently he wasn’t alarmed by repeated defensive breakdowns during the preseason.
“Not so much in the preseason because in the preseason you’re playing so many different players, you’re looking at so many different guys,” he said. “I think once the regular season starts, you begin to see some things unfold, and you say, ‘Well, we need to do better at this or we need to do this better.’ You try to improve every week if you can.”
The Chiefs allowed at least 31 points in five of their first eight games. They needed their offense to help, but after a 17-point first half against the Falcons, scoring dropped off sharply and the Chiefs are last in the league in points. Incredibly, the Chiefs didn’t take their first lead of the season during a game until their ninth game.
But after signing tight end Kevin Boss and running back Peyton Hillis as free agents, the Chiefs thought they had their best group of offensive skill players in several seasons.
Indeed, it looked good on paper.
“Everyone that’s seen us play this year (knows) we’ve got a good team,” running back Jamaal Charles said. “It’s not like we’re a bad team. I know our record doesn’t show we’re a good team.”
The record shows the Chiefs to be more than that. Boss played only two games before his season ended with a concussion. Hillis, tight end Tony Moeaki and wide receiver Jon Baldwin have been perhaps the most disappointing players on the team.
Charles is having another big season and the Chiefs are fifth in the league in rushing. But they are next to last in the league in passing yardage,
“To be a good offense requires you to be good in both the run and the pass,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. “We’ve been struggling with the pass. That’s no secret. We’ve kept on working at it and that’s all you can do.”
The Chiefs had no quarterback capable of stabilizing the situation once it went bad. Matt Cassel, who began the season as the starter, is the NFL’s 34th and lowest-rated passer among those who have thrown enough passes to qualify for the rankings.
Cassel was replaced by Brady Quinn, whose passer rating is lower than Cassel’s. The two combined to throw a league-high 20 interceptions and just eight touchdowns. They have completed just 58 percent of their passes, well below the league average.
The Chiefs turned the ball over 29 times in their first eight games, a pace that would cripple even an otherwise strong offensive team.
“What was it, about midway through the season when we started talking about all the turnovers that we had, and then we felt like we had to begin to do some things to try to improve it?” Crennel said. “That was probably the point when (the offense) wasn’t what I anticipated it was going to be.”
Funny thing, but the Chiefs have cut down on their turnovers since, with eight in the last seven games. But their scoring has dropped as well. The Chiefs had 133 points in those first eight games, just 75 in the seven games since.
That’s just another crazy fact season filled with them. Quinn made his first start in place of Cassel in a mid-October game against Tampa Bay. The Chiefs scored just one touchdown, that coming on special teams, in part because of Quinn’s two interceptions.
Both were deflected by Chiefs receivers. One bounced off Dexter McCluster but rested on his body while he was on the ground. There it was grabbed by Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber, who returned it for a touchdown.
Plays like that told Quinn it wasn’t going to be the Chiefs’ season.
“We had some unfortunate luck,” Quinn said. “I still remember a pick, the Ronde Barber pick. That play just kind of eptomizes our season, just having things that are unfortunate, feeling snakebit in some ways.”