KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Todd Haley looked relieved. His arms were crossed late in Sunday's game at Washington, and he didn't let a smile break through until the Chiefs had their first victory — and Haley's first as a head coach — clinched.
"It just felt like what we should have been doing anyway," Haley said this week.
On the opposite side of the country, Denver coach Josh McDaniels looked like it was nothing new. Eight days after his first-pumping outburst following the Broncos' win against New England, another first-time head coach had the look Monday night of a coach who now expected to win. Not that Denver is slowing.
"We've got a lot of improvements to make," McDaniels said after his team's 34-23 win against the Chargers.
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Two teams that began this season with pressing questions and mounting concerns have since gone in far different directions. Both endured an offseason packed with change, turmoil and tested fan bases. Both have new general managers, head coaches, starting quarterbacks and defensive systems.
After that, the similarities are lost. The Broncos are 6-0, and the Chiefs are 1-5. One team started fast and hasn't stopped, and the other was one loss from its worst start in franchise history.
As both teams move forward, there is one pressing question: How did one team get tangled in all that change, and how did the other win in spite of it?
Rich Gannon is a former NFL quarterback who spent four seasons in Kansas City. He's now a CBS analyst and has watched Kansas City and Denver multiple times this season. Gannon admitted Tuesday that he was like many observers: He wouldn't have predicted Denver could overcome a messy offseason, which included a spat between McDaniels and former quarterback Jay Cutler, and the continued issues with wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
Somehow, Gannon said, the Broncos have done it.
"I just thought it was going to be a disastrous year. I didn't see it coming either," Gannon said. "It speaks volumes of the job that Josh McDaniels has done."
As similar as both teams appeared to be entering the 2009 season, Gannon said there was a key difference in the level of personnel that each team inherited. The Chiefs have made it clear that their roster remains — and will remain — a work in progress until Kansas City finds what it calls the "right 53" players. General manager Scott Pioli made three in-season trades — the NFL's trade deadline passed Tuesday at 3 p.m. —and has auditioned numerous players in an effort to get it right.
Gannon said the Broncos didn't require such an overhaul. Instead, Gannon said, Denver could focus on fine-tuning a talented group. The Chiefs have a handful of reliable receivers and a patchwork offensive line. Denver possesses neither of those problems. The Chiefs have started three combinations at offensive line in six games, and such inconsistency remains among Kansas City's wide receivers that Haley demoted receivers coach Dedric Ward last week. Denver remained consistent on its line from last year, and it possesses several reliable receivers, all of whom have helped ease quarterback Kyle Orton's transition.
"You give Matt Cassel those three guys they have in Denver," Gannon said, referring to the wide receivers, "and it'd be a lot different."
Gannon said that McDaniels had less work to do when he took over, and because of that, the Broncos didn't have to spend time reworking the roster, as the Chiefs are doing. Gannon said that Herm Edwards, the Chiefs' former coach, left Haley a far worse mess than McDaniels inherited from Mike Shanahan.
"I don't think it's even close," Gannon said. "Todd Haley's situation is a lot different. Let's just be honest: They have made some big mistakes, in my opinion, in what they did, what Herm did with that football team.
"I knew they were going to get off to a slow start."
Haley spent part of Monday discussing how he'll work this week to identify the things the Chiefs did right against Washington, and how he'll try to get the Chiefs to repeat them. He said he didn't know how players would respond to this new phenomenon of success, and that this week would be, as much as anything, about learning about his team from a new perspective.
Further up the AFC West standings, Denver began this week with a firm grip on the division lead. As similar as the Broncos' path once was to the Chiefs', things appear much different now.
"I think everybody would admit," McDaniels said, "that we're not the same team we were last year."
Or even two months ago. Gannon said the Chiefs are doing good things, but he added that little doubt remains that it'll just take Kansas City much longer than Denver to clean its mess.
"There's a lot of work to be done there, and (Haley) knows that," Gannon said. "He doesn't have all the players he needs to get it done. There are some gut-wrenching decisions that he's had to make, and he has stood tall, and he has made them.
"They're certainly heading in the right direction, but it's sure painful getting there."