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Tribal Warfare
01-09-2011, 10:52 PM
Third quarter mistakes doom the Chiefs (http://www.kansascity.com/2011/01/09/2572655/third-quarter-mistakes-doom-the.html)
By KENT BABB
The Kansas City Star

By the time the third quarter ended on Sunday, the Chiefs’ season wasn’t far behind.

It happened quickly. At halftime, they seemed to be in prime position to hang with the Baltimore Ravens and maybe even pull off an upset at Arrowhead Stadium. The Ravens had a 10-7 lead when the third quarter began; by the time it was over, the Chiefs were disoriented after a storm of mistakes, and Baltimore had a three-possession lead.

The Chiefs couldn’t regain control, and their playoff run was finished after the Ravens’ 30-7 victory.

“It started to unravel, and things just started to go south for us,” quarterback Matt Cassel said. “It was one bad thing after another. Somehow, you just have to try to stop the bleeding, and we weren’t able to do that.”

In that forgettable quarter, the Chiefs ran four plays that went for a loss, had one fumble and three penalties, and Cassel threw two interceptions. Those 15 miserable minutes won’t define the season but helped end it on a sour note.

Maybe it was belated anxiety over the team’s first playoff game in four seasons. Or a national television audience.

Regardless, instead of remembering how the Chiefs’ discipline led to a 10-win season and the first division title in seven years, discipline will again be a priority as coach Todd Haley and general manager Scott Pioli begin another offseason.

And instead of Cassel ending his second season as the Chiefs’ starter in a cloud of goodwill, his 20.4 passer rating Sunday — his rating was 19.1 a week earlier in a loss to Oakland — will instead raise questions about his viability as the team’s long-term starter. The defeat won’t do much to quiet concerns that coordinator Charlie Weis made this season’s offense effective, and his departure for the University of Florida broke it, too.

Errors kept stacking on top of each other Sunday, and the Chiefs proved during the regular season that, when it makes mistakes, it loses.

“You have to try to calm it down,” rookie receiver Dexter McCluster said. “We just have to focus and know that, you know what, no matter what happens, we can still win this game. Just keep your cool, because once you start to lose your cool, it gets chaotic and bad things happen.”

Bad things happened against the Ravens, and they began when Haley elected to try another of the fourth-and-short attempts that became a hallmark of the 2010 season. Keeping things familiar, the Chiefs failed to convert. Momentum shifted, and the Ravens scored on their next three possessions.

“Probably what started to turn the game,” Haley said, “into the situation that we ended up in.”

Haley said he didn’t like the idea of Ryan Succop attempting a 50-yard field goal, so the Chiefs tried to be bold. Facing fourth and 1, running back Jamaal Charles ran to his right and was stuffed for a 4-yard loss. Haley maintained that he was comfortable with his decision but that the team’s execution failed.

“We understand it’s important to go down the field offensively,” he said, “and get something positive to happen. Sometimes those plays can really jump-start you, and it appeared that was happening.

“Thought we were doing a good job with tempo and moving the football, and we get into a fourth-and-inches and, again — probably would like to have that one over.”

Cassel probably would like to have Sunday’s performance as a do-over as well. Facing the 12-4 Ravens, a popular pick during the preseason to reach the Super Bowl, the Chiefs entered the playoffs needing perhaps their best game of the season from Cassel. Instead, the team probably got its worst. He threw a season-high three interceptions, completed half of his passes and threw for 70 yards.

“I don’t feel like feel like they are such a superior team to us that we didn’t have an opportunity in this game,” Cassel said. “We got into the second half, and it was just a lot of bad football on our part.”