From Arrowhead Stadium
From about the second quarter through midway through the fourth period, the Chiefs kept stepping on their gas pedal, trying to get their engine up and moving.
But every time they did, they just sputtered, coughed and sometimes came to a complete stop. That’s when the Miami Dolphins would roar past, their engines churning at full speed as they headed to the finish line of their first victory of the season.
In the end, the Chiefs were chocking on fumes and dust as their four-game winning streak and share of first place in the AFC West went out the window with a 31-3 drubbing from the previously winless Dolphins.
Let’s settle point No. 1 right here â€“ although they came into the game as one of two teams in the league without a victory, the Dolphins were not the worst of the NFL’s 32 teams. They weren’t even on the medal stand. Miami struggled to win even though they had some talented players on both sides of the football. What they lacked was consistent play from their quarterback and big plays from their defense and special teams.
They arrived at Arrowhead with a 0-7 record and a 10-game losing streak that stretched back into last season. The Dolphins were built by Bill Parcells, and one of his more famous sayings was “you are what your record says you are.” At 0-7, Miami wasn’t the NFL dregs, but they also weren’t a very good team. The idea as put forth famously by former Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil as one of the keys to winning a spot in the NFL tournament was “keep losing teams losing.”
Playing at home and with the momentum of a four-game winning streak, the Chiefs were riding high. They were again on the NFL radar screens around the country, especially after that prime-time victory in OT over the Chargers. Lost in the aftermath of that celebration was this simple fact â€“ the Chiefs are still not a massively talented NFL team. They are a club that reaches the winner’s podium by doing things right, with brains and effort that overcome what they lack in physical gifts.
But after dumping it all on the line to beat the Chargers, the Chiefs did not have enough left to play with the Dolphins. They were out of gas and out of luck. While they did not turn the ball over, they played poorly on the mental side of the game. They let frustrations get away from them several times and picked up personal foul penalties. They simply did not execute at a winning level, no matter who their opponent might have been.
Todd Haley was blaming himself after the loss. Despite the fact Haley cut back quite a bit on the physical workload that was asked of the players between beating San Diego and Sunday, they looked like a very tired team.
“It was clear to me as the game went on that we had a bunch of guys that didn’t have much in the tank it didn’t appear,” Haley said. “We really tried to work hard to make sure we were handling the week correctly, physically and mentally. We probably did try to do too much during the week, which they just weren’t physically capable of handling.”
In any given week during a season, Haley does ask for a lot from his players. He cut back last week, and if the team couldn’t handle that pace and work load then the Chiefs have a big problem. That’s an excuse that may be part of the losing equation, but it’s not the entire reason the Chiefs finished 4-4 at mid-season.
It may have had far more to do with the 0-7 record the Dolphins carried into Arrowhead. From the first moment of preparation, Haley and his staff pounded into the players the statistics and tape of a Miami team they said was not that bad. “I really believe our guys understood how good this team was,” Haley said. “That’s not blowing hot air. I really believe our guys understood that this was a dangerous team.”
Maybe they did, but human nature tells us very clearly that there’s no way the four-game winning streak Chiefs entered the game against the Dolphins with the same type of intensity as the winless Miami players. That’s bad news when the team coming in to play is built like the Dolphins, with a big, mean and nasty front on both the offense and defense. On their best day, the Chiefs are going to have a hard time matching up with the Dolphins.
But the game really showed very clearly how much the Chiefs struggle not having their missing big three: TE Tony Moeaki, RB Jamaal Charles and S Eric Berry. Every time Reggie Bush had the ball in his hands, it provided a vivid example of what the Chiefs were missing without Charles. Every time Matt Cassel went back to throw and had nobody to drop off a throw too, it was a reminder that Moeaki was gone. Every one of those Bush touches that broke free for big yardage was a reminder that the speed of Berry was not around to help shut those down.
It takes a championship mentality to win a game in the conditions the Chiefs played the Dolphins on Sunday.
Quite obviously, the Chiefs are not there yet.