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Old 09-12-2005, 12:07 AM  
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Chiefs overwhelm Jets in opener By ELIZABETH MERRILL

Didn't see this anywhere. Sorry if repost.

Chiefs overwhelm Jets in opener
Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - He pumped his fist to the crowd as he walked into the tunnel, cracked a quick smile and showered. Then Gunther Cunningham slipped out of the stadium, his game ball tucked away somewhere, saying nothing.

Could the fiery man who spits more four-letter words than George Carlin have been left speechless?

"He doesn't need to talk," Kansas City Chiefs safety Sammy Knight said. "We want to talk on the field."

Maybe there were no proper words after Sunday's 27-7 win over the Jets. Shocking might be a start. Eight months after Kansas City limped out of the 2004 season with the NFL's 31st-ranked defense, Cunningham's boys had a shutout going in the final minute of the game, their first goose egg since the 2002 season.

About 10,000 people stuck around to watch it, the Chiefs' final defensive stand. And the fact that 68,000 others had faith in the defense to hold on said something. Backup quarterback Jay Fiedler found Chris Baker in the end zone with 29 seconds left, spoiling a near-perfect day for a defense that gave up 27.2 points a game in 2004.

They forced three turnovers, including two fumbles, and sacked Chad Pennington three times. They held Curtis Martin, the NFL's leading rusher last season, to 57 yards in 20 carries. When they gathered in the locker room, coach Dick Vermeil distributed two game balls - one to Cunningham and the other to president/general manager Carl Peterson, who did some offseason wheeling and dealing and added four new starters on defense.

"I thought there were a lot of visions of an old defense that we have all seen here in Kansas City before," said Peterson, who was still clutching the ball at least 30 minutes after the game. "It's great to have Gun back doing what he does so well. He had those guys flying."

The Chiefs' offense, by the way, was OK, too. They scored on their first three possessions, and Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes combined for 195 yards and three touchdowns. And they did it with 10-time Pro Bowl tackle Willie Roaf on the sideline for about three quarters because of a hamstring strain.

But for much of the Vermeil era in Kansas City, the offense has been expected to put up big numbers. Problem was, the defense did, too.

So Cunningham was brought back to Kansas City as defensive coordinator last year to fix it, but scheme alone couldn't solve the Chiefs' defensive problems. They needed a talent upgrade. Peterson got it, and when Vermeil spoke to the team Saturday, he surveyed the room and told them they had more collective talent than any other team he's had in Kansas City.

"I could just see, from watching practice against our offense, it was going to be a much better defense," Vermeil said. "Did I anticipate shutting out the Jets? No, but I thought we could slow them down a bit because we can all run. They can all run. I think the blitzing packages kept them off-balance a little bit."

The Jets' opening drive brought back shades of '04, when Pennington hit Jerald Sowell for a 28-yard pass. Cunningham lined the Chiefs up in a 3-4 defense on the next play, and linebackers Derrick Johnson and Kawika Mitchell stuffed Martin for a 2-yard loss.

Last year, the Chiefs didn't have the linebacker depth to toy with a 3-4. On Sunday, they had Derrick Johnson, the rookie from Texas who sacked Pennington in the second quarter and forced a fumble. Johnson had nine tackles for the day, tying Knight for the team high.

The newcomers combined for 22 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. The pick had a price. Cornerback Patrick Surtain intercepted Pennington and returned it for 53 yards, but he suffered a mild head trauma on the play. As he lay on the field for about five minutes, at least seven Chiefs stood over him.

They know how important Surtain, a veteran corner acquired from Miami, has become.

"You have to take your hat off to the front office," defensive end Eric Hicks said, "for going out, shelling out the money, to provide guys to come in and not only be a stopgap but help us win games.

"I haven't had this feeling in quite a while. I don't know if we've ever played this well on defense in several years here. I'm just excited as hell."

Hicks, who has seen his share of low points in eight seasons in Kansas City, said Cunningham's pregame speech was typical "Gun." He said he had confidence in them. He told them to "hit 'em in the mouth."

In the final minutes of the game, Cunningham was uncharacteristically quiet. He paced near the 30-yard line with his hands on his hips. There was nothing else to say.

"I think he seems happy," defensive end Jared Allen said. "All we can do is get better."

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