DENVER | In times like these, sometimes the best thing to do is laugh. What else is there to do?
The Chiefs were crushed Sunday in Denver. Nothing worked. Kansas City’s defenders, play after play, did terrific impersonations of matadors — one big whiff after another, and an angry bull running past. The Chiefs’ rush offense, this team’s one superpower, ran into a wall of kryptonite Sunday at Invesco Field.
Tim Tebow was a superstar. A linebacker named Mario Haggan looked like Lawrence Taylor. And the official replay machine suffered an unidentified malfunction, preventing the Chiefs from challenging a Denver touchdown pass and leaving coach Todd Haley with an expression that said little more than: This is not Kansas City’s day.
Depending on how you look at it, the Chiefs’ 49-29 loss was either depressing or comical. Comical is more fun.
“There are plenty of positives,” Haley said. “We need to find those.”
A magnifying glass might not be powerful enough.
Seemingly in a flash Sunday, the Broncos built a 35-0 lead in the first half. This coming from a team that entered the weekend with two victories? Against a Kansas City team that, until the past eight days, looked like the NFL’s best example of a turnaround?
Now, the Chiefs are a mess. They’re a group without answers, and their hold on the AFC West has dissolved and blown away.
Haley has said after most games this season that his team improved, even if marginally, each time. Even losses were promising, because they exposed weaknesses and showed the Chiefs where they needed improvement.
But with the past three games in mind, it’s becoming more and more difficult to suggest — with a straight face, anyway — that Kansas City has done anything other than deteriorate. The overtime win against Buffalo was a win, sure, but the Chiefs almost blew that one, too. They did blow it last week at Oakland, and that was the team’s worst performance of the season. Until Sunday’s loss, anyway.
“They really dominated us,” quarterback Matt Cassel said. “Not much else to say.”
Haggan can add the Chiefs to his holiday-card list now, too. He’s the latest player — anybody ever heard of Miles Austin, Jerome Harrison or Todd Bouman before they played the Chiefs? — to move from obscurity into stardom, temporary as it might be, because he played Kansas City. Know how many sacks Haggan had in seven-plus seasons before Sunday? Four. He had three Sunday and a forced fumble, and that’s the one that poured acid on the Chiefs’ open sore, as Jason Hunter scooped up Cassel’s fumble and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown. That gave the Broncos a five-touchdown lead, halftime was still almost six minutes away.
“A career day for me,” Haggan said. “It’s an awesome feeling.”
Tebow, the legend of college football and humanity in general, passed for his first touchdown as a pro and rushed for another.
Almost nothing was as bizarre as the replay system going on the fritz in the first half. Broncos receiver Jabar Gaffney caught a dart from Kyle Orton in the end zone, but replays indicated that he might have bobbled the ball as he fell to the turf. Haley reached back and slung that red challenge flag, and a few minutes later, referee Mike Carey emerged and said that, believe it or not, the thing wasn’t working. Haley just stood there and stared. It worked fine on Denver’s two challenges later.
“I don’t know,” Haley said later, and it was clear that this was not a day for satisfactory answers.
Then, bizarre was redefined when Haley approached Broncos coach Josh McDaniels after the final whistle and, instead of shaking hands, Haley pointed at the Denver coach, said something and then turned his back. Haley wouldn’t say after the game why he was upset at McDaniels, the 34-year-old who’s known more for sour relationships than victories. Haley said it was a “private” conversation.
“I’ll probably keep it at that,” he said.
It was clear, though, that the Chiefs were displeased that, even with a big lead, the Broncos still had their starters in late in the contest. They were still throwing deep. They were still in max-protect. Kansas City had a chance last season to embarrass the Broncos and let Jamaal Charles pursue the all-time record for rushing yards in a game. Instead, the Chiefs removed Charles last January with 259 yards, 37 shy of Adrian Peterson’s record, and Kansas City won by 20. The Chiefs thought that was the professional thing to do, and it appeared Sunday that the Broncos didn’t afford Kansas City the same courtesy.
Anyway, that’s what happened. The Chiefs weren’t in much of a mood to laugh Sunday evening in Denver, but perhaps in time, Kansas City will look back on this chilly night and chuckle about just how unusual it really was.
“In a game like that,” Haley said, “there was a lot to be learned for us. A lot to be learned.” Maybe it’ll make the Chiefs better. If they can’t yet laugh, they can at least hope.