Appetizers For Prime-Time Tailgaters

In the never ending chase to simplify difficult things, the media horde has been trying to distinguish that moment in the 2011 season where the Chiefs season changed from losing to winning.

Was it the second half of the game in San Diego, when the Chiefs got themselves back into the game and had a chance on the final possession to win or tie? Or, was it that first half moment in Game No. 4 against Minnesota when Todd Haley and Matt Cassel had their “discussion” on the sidelines?

Chances are it was not a single moment in time that turned the fortunes of the team in a new direction. It’s far more likely that it was hundreds of very small and seemingly insignificant moments that stopped the bleeding and allowed the Chiefs to dig out of the hole they created for themselves.

“It was a combination of so many different things that finally came together for us,” QB Matt Cassel said. “There’s no doubt also that the guys have been working hard. We all have, and we’ve been putting in extra time. This is a dedicated team and a group of guys that want to be successful, want to win and want to have great success. With that, add adjusting and doing a number of different things from a fundamental standpoint.”

Without an off-season because of the owners’ lockout of the players, there was not time for the newest members of the Chiefs to adjust to the culture that permeates the locker room. It’s taken some time to educate the arrivals on the ways of this team.

“If you come here and if you’re part of this group, then you have to buy into environment that we’ve created,” Cassel said. “From the coaches to the front office guys to the players here, we all want to be successful and I think anybody that’s new that comes into this environment understands that and sees that.”

As with anything, it’s always easier to see that type of commitment and demand it, when a team is winning, than when the team is losing.

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The stat sheet for the Chiefs has any number of numbers and after six games there are still plenty of zeros on the page. For instance, the Chiefs have not scored a safety and they have not had a field goal of less than 20 yards. They have not returned punt for a score nor had a punt blocked.

Quite possibly the zero that stands out the most is they have not yet recovered an opponent’s fumble. Other teams have coughed the ball up seven times in six games, but they kept all of those loose balls.

Right now the Chiefs are the only team in the league that has not recovered a fumble.

That was enough to get under Todd Haley’s skin this week. On Friday, when the team held its practice in pads, one of the first things the offense and defense worked on was recovering fumbles.

“I like to go through the stats and in our span here it really started to nag at me; we have not recovered fumbles in general, offense or defense,” Haley said. “We are obviously doing something wrong because we don’t recover very many of them.”

Since Haley has been the Chiefs head coach, opponents have fumbled the ball 56 times in 44 games (including the playoffs). The Chiefs have recovered the ball on defense 24 times, with none this year, 11 last year and 13 in the 2009 season. On offense, in those 44 games the Chiefs lost the ball 53 times and recovered 32.

That’s 109 fumbles, with 56 recoveries. That’s 51.4 percent.

That’s why Haley and the coaching staff had the team hitting the ground, working on the correct fundamentals for collecting a loose ball. The worst thing a player can do is fall directly on the ball. That’s when the ball squirts out and turns into an NFL Films blooper tape.

“We were just trying to work on that, that you don’t jump on the ball, but you wrap your body around the ball and pull it in,” Haley said. “Sometimes you assume that everybody knows that, or understands it and talks about it. But sometimes talking about it isn’t enough. You’ve got to go out and do it.”

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Everybody in the NFL has ideas of the best way to handle road trips; we’ve talked about that here in the past.  When Norv Turner replaced Marty Schottenheimer as head coach of the Chargers, he began taking the team in a day earlier for games east of the Rocky Mountains, i.e. the Eastern and Central time zones.  The idea was to allow the players to acclimate to the change in time that makes a noon start as a 10 a.m. start on the left coast.

In 2007-08-09 coming to Kansas City on Friday rather than Saturday, the Chargers were 3-0. Last year, they opened the season at Arrowhead Stadium with a Monday night game. Turner decided to fly in on Sunday, for just a one night stay.

The Chargers fell in that 2010 game, so you know what happened this year – Turner and his squad arrived on Saturday and will spend two nights in our fair city.

“I think it will help us get acclimated,” Turner told the San Diego media.

Said FB Jacob Hester: “When you’re getting there two days before the game, you get a chance to relax that night and wake up on that time zone. Then you have a whole day to get used to it.”

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It was a surreal moment for WR Keary Colbert last Sunday in Oakland.

As Colbert lined up for the national anthem before the game against the Raiders, he looked across the field and standing directly across from him was Raiders rookie TE David Ausberry.

A year earlier, Ausberry was playing at Southern Cal and his position coach there was . . . Keary Colbert.

“It really made me think last week when I knew he was going to be there,” Colbert said. “It made me think about all the work that went into getting back on the field as a player. It was a long journey, and I was really proud that I was there and so was one of the guys that I coached.”

Ausberry was the Raiders seventh-round draft choice, after four years at USC where he started as a wide receiver and then moved to tight end.

“He’s got some skills that should give him a chance to stay in the league,” said Colbert.

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Chargers QB Philip Rivers watched the Chiefs defense this past week in preparation and one player caught his eye – ILB Derrick Johnson.

“He jumped off the tape,” Rivers said of Johnson. “He has for me for many years, but he’s probably playing the best he has. He’s all over the place, both run and pass.

“They have a bunch of guys playing at a high level right now.”

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