Kansas City Chiefs

Bob Lutz: Chiefs putting futility in the past

For all of the Kansas City Chiefs fans who wanted to ship Matt Cassel overseas last season, you have your wish. Cassel is in London today, where he’ll start at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings against Pittsburgh.

Closer to home, things are peachy keen for the Chiefs. They’re 3-0 with a new quarterback (Alex Smith) and a new coach (Andy Reid). The Cassel/Haley/Crennel/2-14 days are long behind.

OK, less than nine months behind, but who’s counting? There hasn’t been excitement like this around Arrowhead Stadium since . . . since . . . the Dick Vermeil era, when the Chiefs went 13-3 and earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The year was 2003 and the Chiefs had Trent Green, Priest Holmes, Dante Hall and Tony Gonzalez going bonkers on offense. They also won a division title in 2010, but were blown out by the Ravens in the playoffs.

But from the looks of things (and three games doesn’t provide the deepest of examinations) the Chiefs have gone from 2-14 in 2012 to a well-rounded, well-oiled, well-stocked machine just a season later.

Does Reid get the credit? Does Smith get the credit? Or have the stars simply aligned?

Kansas City takes on the 0-3 New York Giants today at Arrowhead and Chiefs fans are nervous. Because if this 3-0 start is a stars alignment thing, we all know how quickly those things can dart around.

Fans generally need time to wrap their heads around a start like this, especially when it is coming on the heels of just an awful season filled with awful offense, awful defense, awful special teams and awful coaching. There was so much awfulness, in fact, that fans stopped going to games because when they did they felt just awful.

Today, the gates to Arrowhead will open bright and early and there will be a line of cars with their motors humming. Those cars will carry the necessary equipment necessary for tailgating and there will be hearty souls gathering around their grills and ice chests in anticipation of the noon kickoff.

The frivolity and full stomachs indicate that these fans believe the Chiefs might be up to something really good. But they can’t quite be sure, not even with a favorable schedule and and AFC that outside of Denver looks up for grabs.

The term “worst to first” became a part of the American sports lexicon because teams frequently go from worst to first. It’s not a mirage.

In the NFL, teams have gone from last in their division to first for 10 straight years. Washington did it last year in the NFC East.

Look at the Boston Red Sox this season. In the last 24 years of major league baseball, there have been 11 cases of a team going from worst in the standings to first.

The Chiefs, though, have gone from awful to what looks to be pretty darn good in the blink of an eye. This defense is a stalking, fire-breathing group led by Justin Houston that gets after quarterbacks. It has held Jacksonville, Dallas and Philadelphia to 34 points and forced seven turnovers.

Philly did run for 264 yards against the Chiefs’ D. But the Giants don’t run the football and are coming off a 38-0 loss last week at Carolina.

Yet there is a discernible feeling of apprehension this week amongst Chiefs fans. It’s a combination, I think, of hope and doubt, two emotions that have been at odds in the hearts and souls of sports fans for decades.

The Chiefs look like a good team. Fans rub their eyes to make sure their focus is clear, but this is a team that passes every eyeball test.

Smith hasn’t been great, but he hasn’t needed to be. What he has been is steady, smart and solid. He doesn’t take risks because that’s not the kind of offense the Chiefs have. I’m still not sure Smith has enough receiving weapons, though I’m impressed with newcomer Donnie Avery. I would like to know the whereabouts of Dwayne Bowe, however. Anybody seen him?

Defense has been the key for Kansas City. The Chiefs are getting a lot of push up front and their athleticism at linebacker and in the secondary stands out. This looks like a football team, people.

After today, the Chiefs go to Tennessee before three straight at home against Oakland, Houston and Cleveland. They play at Buffalo before their bye week, after which they go to Denver to take on the Peyton Mannings.

When you toss everything — the team, the coach, the front office, Arrowhead, the schedule — into that big crock pot of NFL life, a nice aroma ensues.

Fans are fickle. One minute they’re cheering as Cassel lies injured on the Arrowhead turf, the next they’re filling the place to the gills, lining up in the wee hours to get in and telling whoever will listen that Denver can be had.

Chiefs fans are once again holding their heads high, filled with confidence. They don’t turn them to see what trouble might lurk. At least they don’t admit to it.

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