From Arrowhead Stadium
Walking out of the stadium a week ago, I ran into Roger, a big Chiefs fan I know who had watched the debacle against Denver. He had drowned his sorrows in a suite after the game and was stumbling his way out of the building.
“Hey Gretz,” he yelled over his shoulder, as his long suffering wife Anne was dragging him to the parking lot. “There’s nothing as bad as losing to the Donkeys. It can’t get any worse than this.”
Oh yes it can Roger. It did. It’s one thing losing to a Denver team that’s in the hunt for a wildcard spot in the playoffs. It’s another to go down to the Buffalo Bills, a 4-8 team with an interim head coach and a starting quarterback who might have a degree from Harvard but should not be starting for an NFL team.
Make that the 5-8 Bills, and now the 3-10 Chiefs. Yes, this was a stop on the schedule for the Chiefs to win a game and yet they never really held the opportunity in their hands for more than a few moments.
It disappeared when head coach Todd Haley made another one of those decisions that will be second guessed for many, many days, weeks, even months. Fourth-and-goal at the Bills one-yard line, there’s n o score and there are four minutes to play in the first quarter. The coaching handbook says you put the first points on the board with a field goal.¬†
A coach should especially take the field goal against this opponent; Buffalo was no threat to come in and light up the Arrowhead scoreboard. Only twice this season have the Bills topped 30 points in a game. That’s OK, because the Chiefs have not topped 27 points.
Points were going to be at a premium in this contest, as the final score indicates. Take the easy three points.
In a season where the head coach is trying to convince his team to play the Haley Way, taking the easy points just isn’t going to happen. Haley decided to go for the touchdown and called a bootleg run by QB Matt Cassel that was snuffed for a seven-yard loss by Bills DE Aaron Schobel.
Buffalo took over at their eight-yard line and marched to a touchdown, as Ivy League QB Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for nine yards to WR Terrell Owens.
That was a 10-point swing, and that was the ballgame. Oh, there was plenty that happened afterwards, with Cassel throwing four interceptions, Buffalo running for 200 yards as a team, Jamaal Charles running for 143 yards including a 76-yard TD run and the Chiefs defense forcing three turnovers. All of that was important.
However, it was Haley’s decision to go for the end zone instead of taking three points that set the tone for the afternoon.
“It was a great opportunity for us to make a statement,” said Haley. “We didn’t get it done.”
The question is: who was Haley trying to make a statement too? Was he trying to grab the attention of the Bills? Or was he trying to speak to his own team?
In the end it doesn’t matter who Haley was speaking to or trying to communicate with. Games are won with points, not statements. That three points he walked away from ‚Ä¶ make that 10 points with the Bills touchdown on the other side ‚Ä¶ were invaluable for a team that has trouble putting scores on the books.
I understand Haley’s thinking. Going into the game 3-9, he really doesn’t have much to lose by rolling the dice on this play. The Chiefs have been such slow starters in the first quarter that this was an attempt to jump start his team. He wanted to show confidence in his offensive line, which had played better in recent weeks. There was the rest of the game to make up for the three points if there was failure.
The problem is that three points became 10 points and that’s a swing that the ’09 Chiefs cannot overcome. They do not have enough talent, they do not have enough confidence and they do not have enough coaching to make up a double-digit deficit. It’s just not going to happen, even against a team as mediocre as the Buffalo Bills.
Nobody should know that more than Todd Haley. In recent weeks the head coach has been driving home the point with his players that every play in the game was important, because nobody knew what play would decide the game. If Haley had taken the field goal, it probably would not have been the play that decided the game, not in the first quarter.
But walking away from that situation without three points and giving up seven on the other end just killed the Chiefs chances. I was the moment of decision and it was all downhill for the Chiefs after that.
Todd Haley is a good man and a good coach. He’s built his principles of football on solid foundations that he’s learned from some of the best in the business. Right now, he’s going through the process of how to be a game-day NFL head coach. It’s on the job training and it’s not going very well.
If Haley can survive these bad decisions, he can be a pretty good NFL head coach some day. If he can survive long enough.
I just hope my buddy Roger can survive this season. I didn’t see him after the game this week, but I would have told him this: it can still get worse.
See you next Sunday, when the Browns come to town.