Romeo Crennel was faced with digging his team out of a mess numerous times as a head coach. He was asked to do a fast clean-up on several occasions as defensive coordinator.
But he’s never had to do it while handling both jobs. So it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Crennel’s current task of getting the Chiefs turned in the right direction after Sunday’s 40-24 loss to Atlanta at Arrowhead Stadium is the biggest challenge of his 30-year NFL career.
The problems were so widespread against the Falcons that it seems unreasonable the Chiefs can fix them all in time for next Sunday’s game against the Bills in Buffalo. Atlanta scored on its first eight possessions against a defense that put up little resistance.
The Chiefs were able to keep up for most of the first half but eventually caved in to the pressure of continuously having to play from behind. Quarterback Matt Cassel threw two interceptions and lost a fumble in the second half as the Falcons pulled away.
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The season opener was remarkably similar to last year’s, when the Chiefs were routed by the Bills at Arrowhead. Then the Chiefs lost their next two games, and their inability to win just one of those first three eventually kept them out of the playoffs.
“I told them the season is a marathon,’’ Crennel said. “It’s not a sprint. We have at least 15 more left to play, and so we cannot let this game negatively affect the next 15. We have to learn from our mistakes, get back to work and get better. If your team will work to get better, you’ve got a chance to get better.
“Hopefully, it will take a week. If it doesn’t take a week, it will take two weeks. We’re going to work to get them to get better no matter how long it takes.’’
Crennel lost all of his four season-openers as head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 2005 through 2008. Only one of those teams was able to recover and have a winning season.
Another trend continued Sunday, because the margin of defeat in three of those four Cleveland openers was at least 14 points. But never had a team with Crennel as head coach allowed 40 points in a season opener.
The Chiefs were hurt by offensive turnovers and sloppy kickoff coverage. The Falcons had three scoring drives of less than 10 yards.
The Chiefs also played without four defensive starters, including suspended linebacker Tamba Hali and injured cornerback Brandon Flowers. Hali, his suspension now over, will play in Buffalo. Crennel wouldn’t commit to Flowers one way or the other.
“The fact they weren’t there today, really, no one cares,’’ Crennel said.
Indeed, the Chiefs were for most of the afternoon so far from catching up with Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and the rest of the Atlanta receivers that they could have played some of the franchise’s all-time great defensive players and it wouldn’t have mattered.
The offense was closer to being competitive, but the Falcons were able to come after Cassel once their lead hit double-digits for the first time in the third quarter.
“We started pressing a little bit,’’ Crennel said. “We were trying to make plays instead of trying to take what they were giving us at that time.’’
Crennel called it pressing. Running back Jamaal Charles called it getting rattled. Charles said the Chiefs lost their focus once they fell behind by more than a touchdown.
“We lost the momentum when we missed the field goal,’’ Charles said, referring to a 40-yard Ryan Succop field goal attempt that hit an upright in the third quarter. “We’ve just got to believe that no matter if people keep scoring, we’ve got to keep scoring, too.’’
The Chiefs, really, aren’t built that way. They have Charles, Peyton Hillis and a rebuilt offensive line and would appear to be better suited to protecting a lead than overcoming a deficit.
“We were going punch-for-punch with them,’’ said tight end Kevin Boss. “But (always playing from behind) is hard. It limits the playbook. We weren’t able to continue to establish the running game like we wanted to because we were behind. We had to keep throwing the ball. It’s a lot easier on everybody if we can get ahead and try to hold that lead instead of playing catch-up.’’
But, from the looks of things against Atlanta, the Chiefs had better get used to it.