From Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin
That big puff of wind coming from the north woods Thursday night was not a cold front cooling off the hot summer night down in Kansas City.
It was the sigh of relief generated by the Chiefs, from their owner to their general manager, the head coach and even the roster. After three pre-season games of stumbling and bumbling around, Todd Haley’s team came out and put forth their best effort of the year. They still could not win the game, losing 20-19 to Green Bay Packers and finishing the pre-season with a 0-4 record.
This was not the Packers team that won the Super Bowl back in February. There were five defensive starters who did not suit up. There were a host of others that saw limited snaps, including Super Bowl MVP QB Aaron Rodgers (eight plays).
Throughout the days leading up to the game, Haley said he was not overly concerned with the results of his team’s three games and the he had seen progress in practice and there was no reason to overreact to No. 1 offensive and defensive units that had gotten nothing done.
But Thursday night, Haley showed there was very definitely some concern about where this team was some 10 days ahead of the regular-season opener. The starters played longer than they normally do in the final exhibition affair. Late in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs had Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles, Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and the entire No. 1 defense still on the field.
The coach said that was all part of the master plan.
“We went from the start on this thing pointing towards this game as the one where we would give our regulars more playing time,” Haley said. “For the most part, that all went to plan.”
Starting cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers, playing in the last defensive stand of the final pre-season game was part of a plan? Flowers expected it to be that way and he had no problem still being on the field when defensive backs of his ability were out of the shoulder pads and wearing baseball caps.
And none of it had anything to do with winning the game? “No, we wanted to win the game,” said Haley. “We played that way.”
He sure did. Haley opened up the playbook and the bag of tricks. They ran a fake punt β it worked and helped lead to a touchdown. They tried an onside kick; that didn’t work. The defense threw a bunch of blitzes at the Packers and their backup QB Matt Flynn. The offense had some motion and shifting, something different than in the past three games.
“I thought we did a lot of things to get better tonight,” Haley said. “We were trying to build to this game, knowing that we have limited time, five practices to get ready for the Buffalo Bills and September 11. There were a lot of good things out there.”
All in all, it looked closer to an effort of a defending division champion and certainly set a much nicer table for what’s start next Sunday with the regular season.
“I think it’s a good way for us to get ready to start the first week of the regular season,” said RB Jamaal Charles. “We were able to get some things done.”
They also had a host of mistakes and several were directly responsible for the loss. They turned the ball over five times and that set up 13 of Green Bay’s 20 points. They had eight penalties and they gave up four sacks. It was not a clean effort.
“I’ve said this a bunch, we just are not to the position yet as a team where we can afford to turn over the ball and penalties at inopportune times, we are not going to win many games like that,” Haley said. “Luckily our defense forced some turnovers as well.”
By the time half-time rolled around, Haley and everyone invested in the Chiefs was feeling a lot better about the team’s ability to get things done. The offense was able to move the ball against the Packers second defense and the No. 1 offense put up its first touchdown of the pre-season. The defense was contributing as well, forcing two turnovers and controlling things after the Packers scored on the first possession of the game.
Super Bowl hero Rodgers was directing the offense in that first Green Bay possession and he was accurate and on the money. The drive started with a 23-yard run by RB Ryan Grant, as he gashed the left side of the Chiefs defense (DE Tyson Jackson and OLB Andy Studebaker). The Packers kept the ball on the ground, as Grant ran four straight times for 30 yards before Rodgers threw an incomplete pass. He then connected on his next three throws, hitting former Chiefs-now Packers TE Tom Crabtree for eight yards and a score. Crabtree beat ILB Jovan Belcher in the coverage. The PAT by K Mason Crosby gave Green Bay the 7-0 early lead.
The Chiefs offense got the ball back and finally started to move down the field, moving into Green Bay territory and then Charles made it inside the scoring zone before he coughed up the ball on a late fumble. The Packers recovered at their own 15-yard line. An offensive holding call cost them 10 yards, but backup QB Matt Flynn connected with WR Tori Gurley for what appeared to be a 25-yard gain over Flowers. Haley threw the red challenge flag and the replay review showed that Gurley did not get both feet inbounds. The play was reversed and it was a long incompletion.
Two plays later, facing 3rd-and-17, Packers C Nick McDonald snapped the ball over the head of Flynn and it rolled into the end zone. Flynn fell on the ball and the Chiefs picked up a safety when DE Allen Bailey touched him down. It was the first points they scored in the opening period in the 2011 pre-season.
The Chiefs took the free kick and held on for nearly seven minutes, as the No. 1 offense put its first touchdown of the year on the scoreboard. The field position was hurt when Studebaker was flagged for holding on the return by CB Javier Arenas; that had the Chiefs starting at their 25-yard line. The offense had troubles and ended up on 4th-and-9, but P Dustin Colquitt threw a pass out of punt formation to WR Terrance Copper for 12 yards and a first down.
The clock ticked over into the second quarter and Cassel connected with WR Dwayne Bowe for a 29-yard pass across the middle on third down. Two plays later, he found RB Dexter McCluster at the goal line, where he took a big hit from Green Bay’s CB Josh Gordy, but held onto the ball and fell into the end zone for the score. The PAT kick by Ryan Succop gave the Chiefs a 9-7 lead with 11 minutes, 25 seconds to play in the half.
Later, the defense provided the offense with more opportunities. Flowers picked off a pass by Flynn and the officials tagged another 15 yards on to the end of the play for a horse collar tackle by Green Bay. On that next possession is when Cassel got hurt, as he was sacked by 340-pound DT Howard Green and landed on his right shoulder. He left the game and did not return and the Chiefs said he had the win knocked out of him.
Possession of the ball went back and forth a few times. Green Bay’s offense was in Chiefs territory when CB Brandon Carr came screaming off the right side of the defense on a delayed blitz and sacked Flynn, causing a fumble. OLB Tamba Hali recovered the ball, setting up the offense again at their 47-yard line.
With Tyler Palko leading the way, he moved them 53 yards down the field on 11 plays and found Bowe open in the end zone for a two-yard TD pass where he got his heels down in the end zone on a nice, nice catch. Succop’s PAT kick gave the Chiefs a 16-7 lead as they went to the half-time locker room.
Green Bay was able to add an early third quarter field goal after a fumble by Charles β his second of the game. This time it was recovered by CB Pat Lee who returned the ball 68 yards before a hustling Bowe was able to run him down from behind. The Packers ended up getting a 43-yard FG from Crosby and it was 16-10.
The Chiefs gave the ball right back, when Palko and McCluster messed up a handoff, and the ball was recovered by the Packers. It was the second time in the game that Palko stumbled out of taking the snap and had trouble with the handoff.
The defense held against a Green Bay defense with Graham Harrell at quarterback and Crosby kicked another FG, this one from 32 yards. The Chiefs still led 16-13.
It was only a kickoff and three plays later before the Packers were back in the lead and they held it for good. LB Vic So’oto picked off an ill-advised pass by Palko and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown. Crosby’s PAT kick after the pick six gave the Packers the lead.
The Chiefs got a 31-yard fourth quarter FG from Succop to make the score 20-19 and then with 2:03 to play in the game, Palko moved the offense down the field with his arm and his legs and got the Chiefs to the Green Bay 38-yard line with three seconds to play.
Succop came in and missed a 56-yard field goal wide left as the game ended, and so did the Chiefs pre-season.
Now, it’s onward to the regular season.
“I think we are ready,” said Flowers. “I think we have another week to get ready and then it’s on for real.”