It’s been a charmed season for the Chiefs. They’ve taken advantage of a soft schedule and have made their own breaks in fashioning an unexpected 6-0 record.
And the road to a much-anticipated Nov. 17 showdown at Denver, home of the NFL’s only other unbeaten team, has taken some favorable turns for the Chiefs.
Each of their next three opponents — Houston, Cleveland and Buffalo — appears to be in some turmoil, especially the Texans, who will limp into Arrowhead Stadium on a four-game losing streak.
The biggest issue with each team involves the most important position on the field: quarterback.
Houston quarterback Matt Schaub has been under fire for most of the season, especially while throwing nine interceptions in the first five games, including a pick-six in a league-record four straight games. Schaub suffered a leg injury in the third quarter of the Texans’ loss to St. Louis on Sunday, and his status for the Chiefs game is uncertain.
Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden, who began the season as the Browns’ starter, lost his job to Brian Hoyer and regained it after Hoyer suffered a season-ending knee injury that needed surgery, had a miserable game on Sunday, throwing two interceptions in a 31-17 home loss to Detroit.
Buffalo, which expected veteran Kevin Kolb to be their starting quarterback, began the season with first-round pick E.J. Manuel, only to see him sidelined because of a knee injury against Cleveland on Oct. 3. That thrust journeyman Thad Lewis into the starting lineup last Sunday against Cincinnati, and he suffered a sprained foot, prompting the Bills to sign former Raiders/Seahawks/Packers backup Matt Flynn as insurance.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said his team won’t be lulled into a false sense of security during this stretch of games against Houston, 2-4, Cleveland, 3-3 and at Buffalo, 2-4. The Chiefs have done a good job of keeping their focus while playing opponents who have a combined record of 11-25.
“You’re playing the No. 1 defense in football,” Reid said of the Texans. “They have a bunch of tough players. (Defensive coordinator) Wade Phillips is tremendous … their head coach (Gary Kubiak) is an established head coach and offensive mind. Teams go through (spells) … but in this league, the margin between winning and losing (is slight).
“You’ve got to prepare yourself every week and get yourself right. Study them and respect them. You go beyond that, you’ve got problems.”
When Schaub left Sunday’s game, some in the crowd in Houston cheered, prompting angry reactions from several Texans players, including Schaub’s replacement, T.J. Yates.
It was reminiscent of former Chiefs tackle Eric Winston’s chastising fans at Arrowhead last year when they cheered an injury to then-quarterback Matt Cassel.
“That is disrespectful,” Yates told reporters after the game. “The guy is laying there on the ground holding his ankle, and the fans are cheering. For all that guy has done for this city and this team, for the fans to be booing him when he is hurt on the ground, straight up disrespectful.”
Schaub completed 15 of 21 passes for 186 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions against St. Louis before giving way to Yates, a third-year player from North Carolina.
Yates merely contributed the trend of throwing costly interceptions. The Rams intercepted two of his passes, including a 98-yard return for a touchdown by St. Louis rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree.
Houston, a trendy pick to reach the Super Bowl after winning the AFC South in each of the last two years, is at a crossroads, and Kubiak is on the hot seat. That could determine whether he sticks with Schaub or looks to a future he may not have with Yates or third-teamer and University of Houston product Case Keenum.
In addition to the woes at quarterback, the Texans could be losing starting strong safety Danieal Manning for several weeks after he suffered a hairline fracture in his fibula against the Rams.
Meanwhile, Cleveland’s Weeden has been sacked 18 times in four games this season and was under pressure from the Lions when he tried a backhanded pass toward running back Chris Ogbonnaya that turned into the second of two interceptions he threw, both to Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy.
“I didn’t want to take a sack there. Just tried to flip it as far as I could over Ogbonnaya’s head,” Weeden said after the game. “It’s almost better to take the sack there and move on to the next play. I was just trying to avoid taking the sack and throw it over his head.”
Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski said Monday that Weeden will remain the team’s starting quarterback for this week’s game at Green Bay, saying Weeden “played well in spurts.”
In Buffalo’s 27-24 overtime loss to Cincinnati, Lewis completed 19 of 32 passes for 216 yards with two touchdowns. But he left the stadium with his foot in a boot, though the Bills said X-rays and an MRI on Lewis’ foot were negative, and he’s listed as “day-to-day” by Bills coach Doug Marrone.
“I feel good about (Lewis) being able to play Sunday,” said Marrone, whose team plays at Miami and at New Orleans before playing host to the Chiefs.
“When you look around the league, it’s difficult when you’re down to your third and fourth quarterback. But he’s been around. He can run, he can extend plays, can run the read option, and he can throw the ball extremely well. Having him with us from (the last preseason game) until now, he’s made some great gains because he knows the system.”