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USA Today: A Season to Forget in KC
Nothing new in this article, although it does put a national spotlight on SOC. Also Bill Polian is quoted giving his thoughts:
Season to forget for the Kansas City Chiefs
Steve Wieberg, Special to USA TODAY
KANSAS CITY He has known good times and bad a fair share of bad in eight years in a Kansas City Chiefs uniform, but Derrick Johnson has seen nothing like this.
Has anybody in the 93 seasons of the NFL?
Johnson and the Chiefs play Sunday at the Denver Broncos, the final game of a season that might be bearable if it were merely forgettable. Can't throw. Can't protect the ball. Can't score. They've been beaten eight times by more than two touchdowns and, at 2-13 overall, are a loss to the Broncos away from equaling the worst record in the franchise's 53-year existence.
Gloom turned to horror Dec. 1. Linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend to death at their home, drove to the Chiefs' practice complex and, in front of general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel, pointed a .40-caliber handgun at his temple and pulled the trigger. He was laid to rest three weeks ago today.
"Definitely one of the toughest seasons in history for anybody," says Johnson, the team's leading tackler for the third consecutive year and one of its two longest-tenured players.
Adds defensive end Shaun Smith: "There are times when you get free time, when you're in the hotel room or just sitting around, and a thought will come across your mind like, 'Wow, I'm really going through this.'"
There will be more tumult during the offseason. Crennel has had little more than a year as Kansas City's head coach, and his record over tenures with the Cleveland Browns and Chiefs is 28-53. Firing him would mean a third change for the Chiefs in four years, but do they have a choice?
And who will make that call?
Owner Clark Hunt, the son of Chiefs founder and pro football pioneer Lamar Hunt, must evaluate Pioli and a four-year rιsumι that includes apparent whiffs on two coaching hires (Todd Haley before Crennel), a gaping hole at quarterback and scarce returns on four drafts: two touchdowns rushing, nine more receiving, 29½ sacks, 14 interceptions and five fumble recoveries in 63 games. The lone quarterback taken in those drafts, Ricky Stanzi in the fifth round in 2011, has yet to take a game-day snap even as Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn floundered this season.
Pioli joined the Chiefs in 2009 after winning three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots from 2000 to 2008.
"I think everybody knows going into the NFL that you have a lot of turnover and if you're not doing well the ship gets blown up," says punter Dustin Colquitt, like Johnson nearing the end of his eighth season with Kansas City. "Everybody's on the hot seat. Everybody is. I may not be here. I know that."
Crennel has been deflecting speculation about his future for weeks. Pioli and Hunt have been quiet on the subject and declined interview requests from USA TODAY Sports.
"Every franchise, they evaluate themselves in the offseason and figure out what they need to do to improve," Crennel says. "And I think we'll do the same thing."
Fans growing impatient
The Chiefs have one consolation, accorded annually to the worst of the NFL's worst: They're positioned to get the first overall pick in the April draft if they lose Sunday. But their cursed season extends even to the draft.
Were this a year ago, the Chiefs could select a franchise-saving quarterback in Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. The incoming class holds no such guarantees at the sport's most critical position, whether the choice is Southern California's Matt Barkley, West Virginia's Geno Smith or some sleeper further down the menu of prospects.
Luck, last year's top overall pick, walked into Arrowhead Stadium last weekend and beat the Chiefs 20-13, lifting the Indianapolis Colts from a 2-14 record in 2011 to 10 wins and the playoffs.
"What you have to do in the Chiefs' situation is you can't force what's not there," says former Redskins and Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly, a television analyst for CBS Sports. "If you have to come back and play with Brady Quinn next year it appears he's ahead of Cassel right now you build your team up around him. Maybe you get fortunate enough to draft a quarterback in the third round, fourth round, who's better than you think. And you just go on."
If so, then shakily. A long-loyal fan base in Kansas City appears to have hit the wall.
Paid attendance at Arrowhead Stadium, once upward of 79,000 a game, averaged less than 66,000 for the last four games of this season. Actual attendance was noticeably lower. A couple of fans started a grass-roots movement, Save Our Chiefs, that has called for the firing of Pioli and other changes and spelled out its frustrations on banners flown over the stadium on game days.
Controversy erupted in October over whether there were cheers for Cassel's forced exit from a loss to the Baltimore Ravens with a fourth-quarter concussion. He had drawn boos before the season even started when fans let him have it at the start of a celebrity softball game that was part of baseball's All-Star Game festivities in Kansas City in July.
Come September and opening day, the Chiefs were blitzed in the second half by the Atlanta Falcons and fell 40-24. They didn't even have a lead in a game until Week 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the longest such streak in NFL history.
The latest loss, to Indianapolis, laid another layer of frustration. Jamaal Charles ran for 226 yards and Peyton Hills for 101, and the Chiefs outgained the Colts 507-288 overall.
"Just another way, unfortunately, to lose a game," veteran offensive tackle Eric Winston said.
"When you're not able to win, you always wonder about yourself, about, 'What do I need to do more? What haven't I done?'" Crennel said a few days earlier. "When you try different things and you still don't win, it kind of wears on you a little bit."
The Chiefs were seen as contenders in a weak AFC West as the season kicked off, largely because of their defense and the returns of Charles and several other key players from injuries. But they spit out 29 turnovers in their first eight games.
Cassel, the four-year incumbent, and Quinn, the former Browns and Denver Broncos quarterback who has started the last five games, have thrown for a combined eight TDs with 20 interceptions. Kansas City has scored two touchdowns in its last three games, on 80- and 86-yard runs by Charles. And its 13.9-point scoring average is the NFL's lowest.
Gantlet of affliction
All of that paled, of course, when Belcher took the life of his girlfriend, 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins, and then ended his own. Police have closed the case of a shocking but straightforward murder-suicide. Belcher's mother, who had moved in with the troubled couple and was in their three-bedroom home when Perkins was killed, continues to care for their 3-month-old daughter, Zoey.
Countless other teams have seen the bottom drop out on the field. Several have dealt with untimely death, including the Dallas Cowboys, who lost linebacker Jerry Brown when teammate Josh Brent wrecked the car they were in a week after the Belcher incident. But perhaps none has played out a more tortured season, running a similar gantlet of affliction.
"I'm a strong believer in, 'Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger,'" Johnson says. "If this doesn't make us stronger right here, I mean, what will?"
Says Smith: "You have to have a good support system to deal with everything. No matter what all is going on, I get to go home and see my kids and it's, like, release. All my problems are out the window. I don't care about anything else."
Smith is in his second tour with the Chiefs after starting 10 games in 2010 as they finished first in a weak AFC West and went one-and-done in the playoffs. A franchise that played in two of the first four Super Bowls in the 1960s hasn't won in the postseason since 1993, a stretch of futility matched only by the Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions.
Resigned to change
Bad as its record is, this team has assets. Linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston have combined for 19 sacks, anchoring the defense with Johnson. Charles turned in his third 1,000-yard rushing season in four years.
Dwayne Bowe, whose season ended with a rib injury vs. Cleveland three weeks ago, remains a top receiving target though he'll be a free agent after spending this year as team's franchise player.
"I don't know that there's a fundamental problem there," says Bill Polian, a former NFL team executive who is now an analyst for ESPN, "other than the quarterback position."
Polian, who helped build Indianapolis into a powerhouse before being fired after last season, could be a successor to Pioli. Hunt has given no indication where the team will go from here and said little publicly beyond a few remarks after the Belcher incident.
Both Pioli and Crennel drew sympathy as eyewitnesses to Belcher's suicide he thanked them for everything they had done while ignoring their attempts to calm him and admiration for their handling of the aftermath.
The Chiefs rallied briefly, beating the Carolina Panthers 27-21 as Quinn played the best game of his six-year NFL career. Critics backed off for maybe a week.
"They did a great job in that situation, and they're to be commended for it," Casserly says of Pioli and Crennel. "But if you're thinking, 'Should that be a reason I keep him in the job?' absolutely not.
"You're human. Yeah, it would make it harder because of what they did and how they made you proud that they were in your organization when handling that crisis. My feeling is that the change shouldn't be made."
Crennel concedes, "This team has not met expectations, me included." And with 60 minutes of football left in the season, many of his players seem resigned to change.
"When you're having a losing season, everybody's job is in jeopardy. Players and coaches," Johnson says. "You never want to be in this situation, but these are the cards dealt for us."