TAMPA, Fla. —It could be this kind of year. The Chiefs' offense will give them a chance, and the defense will give the other team a chance.
Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium might have been the first look at how the 2010 season could be defined for the Chiefs: promising offense and frustrating defense. The Chiefs gave the longest look yet to their starters, keeping the first-team units in throughout the first half of their 20-15 preseason loss to Tampa Bay.
When the Chiefs had possession, anything seemed possible. Wide receiver Jeremy Horne could become that surprise playmaker that every other team seems to find, but never the Chiefs. Dwayne Bowe could emerge as the No. 1 receiver that the Chiefs have been waiting years to mature. And Matt Cassel could become the reliable quarterback the front office envisioned when it acquired him last year and signed him to a long-term contract.
Those possibilities looked something like reality Saturday night, especially on a touchdown drive in the first quarter. The Chiefs stole momentum with Javier Arenas' 54-yard kickoff return, and seven plays later, Cassel found Horne in the end zone.
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Then the Chiefs had to play defense, and the optimism started evaporating. The defensive front was porous for a second consecutive week, and the pass rush failed to sack an opposing quarterback.
The old steadies even struggled, cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr making mistakes this team simply cannot afford. Flowers whiffed on an open-field tackle attempt, and Buccaneers wide receiver Michael Spurlock didn't stop running until he reached the end zone on a 53-yard touchdown. And credit Carr with the dubious distinction of being flagged for illegal contact in the first half but without preventing a catch.
Yes, it was that kind of night for the Chiefs, and this is what the team's fans might be watching all season.
Chiefs coach Todd Haley said this past week that he was disappointed in how the first-team defense began last week's preseason loss at Atlanta. Defenders looked uninterested and lethargic, and while they cleared the cobwebs, Falcons rushers Michael Turner and Jason Snelling gave the Chiefs a kind of wake-up call they preferred to avoid.
Something similar happened Saturday, when Carnell Williams and former Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman had few problems as they moved the Bucs into field-goal range.
The Chiefs' defense wasn't supposed to be an intimidating force, but reality isn't easy to digest. The Chiefs' draft class was, again, made with an emphasis on defense; taking defenders with two of its top three picks. The Chiefs' top two picks last year were ends Tyson Jackson and Alex Magee — neither of whom causes sleepless nights for opposing quarterbacks — and the year before that, lineman Glenn Dorsey was the team's top selection.
Add that Haley hired coordinator Romeo Crennel, and really, the Chiefs should have a formidable unit that at least appears to be improving. But the inside linebackers are continually in flux, the line rarely overachieves, and that leaves a young and talented secondary that doesn't have much support when it has a long night.
And Saturday was a long night. It got worse after defensive back Maurice Leggett suffered a neck injury and was carted from the field late in the third quarter. Leggett was hurt while trying to tackle Bucs running back Kareem Huggins, and trainers tended to Leggett, a third-year defender, for about 10 minutes before placing him on a backboard and lifting him onto the cart. Players from both teams gathered on the field as Leggett was being looked at, and the Chiefs formed a semicircle and appeared to pray.
The team didn't divulge specifics of Leggett's injury, saying only that he had hurt his neck and that he wouldn't return.
The Chiefs looked deflated after the injury, allowing Tampa Bay to score 10 points in less than nine minutes. The Chiefs still have time to make adjustments, but after two games, it appears that their biggest hope this season might be one that was a concern all along: that the offense scores plenty of points - and that the defense isn't often called upon to save the day.