KANSAS CITY, Mo. —If the Chiefs could dream it, they were willing to try it Sunday. And at least on offense, few of those things — creativity, surprise, waiting on miracles and old-fashioned power — seemed to have a chance.
Kansas City coach Todd Haley took an aggressive turn against one of the NFL's elite teams, an attempt to lift a funk that has lasted two years and doesn't seem to be easing any time soon. The Chiefs lost again Sunday, this time a 27-16 beating to the New York Giants, and even in a locker room defined with newness and fresh personalities, the familiar frustration has crept back in.
"We're probably worst-case scenario right now," coach Todd Haley said.
Who would have expected this? A tough season seemed unavoidable, with as much change that was promised and delivered. But when Haley took over the offense five weeks ago after firing coordinator Chan Gailey, things were supposed to at least be different. The ways of the past were to dissolve. The futility of last year was to lift. The frustration in the locker room would ease.
Instead, the Chiefs are riding an offense that seems as lost as ever.
"I don't know what you'd say we're hanging our hat on right now," quarterback Matt Cassel said.
"We just start late," running back Larry Johnson said. "That seems to be our thing."
"It seems like we're just putting plays together," linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "It doesn't look like we're a team."
He should know. Vrabel was in on one of the Chiefs' attempts Sunday to reintroduce freshness to a stale offense. He lined up as an eligible receiver in the fourth quarter, and Cassel targeted him and let the ball go — even though two defenders were blanketing Vrabel in the end zone.
It was an educational day for the Chiefs and Cassel, who faced an opponent that represented all that Kansas City would like to someday be. The Giants possess a terrific quarterback, an intimidating pass defense and a polished offense. The Chiefs' talent didn't match up Sunday, so what was Haley to do but get creative?
He called for an onside kick, which failed, to start the second half. He tried the Wildcat offense, which also failed, in the first half. And he tried passing in a goal-line situation, which finally worked after several tries, to try to stir up some kind of progress.
"We're trying to win these games," Haley said, "and we'll do anything to try to do it."
The problem is that the Chiefs' offense seemed lost, disorganized and desperate at times Sunday. Cassel looked rattled and erratic, and it wasn't easy to tell whether it was him or his situation that was causing the mess. The Chiefs again revamped their offensive line, starting Ryan O'Callaghan at right tackle, the fourth player to start a preseason or regular-season game at the position. This part didn't change: Cassel kept having to avoid defenders, sometimes an impossible task.
He was sacked five times, but even when he wasn't pressured, Cassel's passes were consistently behind his wide receivers or overthrown or squeezed into impossible windows.
Cassel appeared to have an easy chance at a touchdown pass in the first quarter, when Bobby Engram broke away from linebacker Michael Boley near the end zone. Cassel's pass instead fell far short, bouncing off Boley's helmet. The Chiefs settled for a field goal.
"You can't be inconsistent against a good team like the New York Giants," Cassel said.
But it was Haley's approach that drew the questions afterward. A week after Haley emphasized the Chiefs' need to establish an identity as a tough, hard-rushing team that could overpower defenses in critical situations, Kansas City instead reversed course and relied on a pass offense that hasn't yet proved itself trustworthy. Cassel attempted 32 passes, completing 15 of them and didn't surpass 50 yards passing until late in the fourth quarter.
"I don't think we'll be able to live throwing 40 passes a game," Haley said, "or survive doing that."
That became clear when the Chiefs faced first and goal from the Giants' 1. Haley called passing plays on three of the four attempts the Chiefs needed to reach the end zone. Cassel misfired twice before finally connecting with Bobby Wade.
"Sometimes we get caught up in one play to the next," Vrabel said, "as opposed to the big picture of how we've got to play each week to win."
"We've got to figure out our identity pretty quickly," Cassel said.
"I'm not the coach," Johnson said.
When it was over, Haley instead seemed to have a clearer picture of what the Chiefs are not instead of what they are. What they are is a team whose patience is being tested and whose optimism seems to be fading.
What they are not is a team like the one that thrashed Kansas City on Sunday, a group that Haley couldn't help but admire as he stood on the sideline, plotted the Chiefs' next maneuver and watched as one tactic after another sputtered and crashed.
"That team right there is a great example of a team that, over the last handful of a years here," Haley said, "has become a team. They work together; they're on the same page. You can see that. It's evident.... That's our goal. That's where we're trying to go.
"We've just got to continue to work together."
As the losses keep piling and the frustration grows, the need to work together could test the Chiefs like nothing else.
Total Net Yards429193
Interceptions Ret. 0-01-5
Time of Possession30:4729:13
N.Y. Giants71037—27 Kansas City3 0013—16
NYG—Smith 3 pass from Manning (Tynes kick), 12:44.
KC—FG Succop 34, 4:58.
NYG—Smith 25 pass from Manning (Tynes kick), 13:33.
NYG—FG Tynes 25, :00.
NYG—FG Tynes 40, 10:22.
NYG—Nicks 54 pass from Manning (Tynes kick), 13:17.
KC—Ryan 1 pass from Cassel (run failed), 9:26.
KC—Wade 2 pass from Cassel (Succop kick), 4:54.
Rushing—N.Y. Giants, Jacobs 21-92, Bradshaw 12-64. Kansas City, L.Johnson 18-53, Cassel 4-25, Charles 2-24, Battle 1-3.
Passing—N.Y. Giants, Manning 20-34-1-292, Carr 0-2-0-0. Kansas City, Cassel 15-32-0-127.
Receiving—N.Y. Giants, Smith 11-134, Boss 4-41, Nicks 1-54, Manningham 1-43, Beckum 1-15, Hedgecock 1-9, Jacobs 1-(minus 4). Kansas City, Ryan 5-58, L.Johnson 3-1, Engram 2-30, Bradley 2-19, Wade 2-8, Bowe 1-11.
Missed Field Goals—N.Y. Giants, Tynes 38 (WR).