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Big Win May Unite Chiefs
|Todd Haley's been preaching it since he arrived. “It's a process,” he's said. “We're making progress.”|
He's reiterated it time and time again. After Kansas City's jaw dropping 27-24 win over the defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, Haley’s message is starting to sound more like truth instead of rhetoric.
The first time the Chiefs played the Raiders this season, they let a surefire win escape them. The second time, they ground out a win. Progress? It appears that way.
Four times this season, in games against the Ravens, Giants, Cowboys and Jaguars, the Chiefs have squandered a turnover-margin advantage in a loss. Against the Steelers, they capitalized on two Ben Roethlisberger interceptions, turning both into points. More progress.
The Chiefs faced the almighty NFC East earlier this season, losing to every team who boasts a winning record. Prior to Sunday, all their wins came against terrible teams with coaching issues and budding quarterback controversies. By beating the Steelers, they finally proved something.
“I felt like going into this game, this would be a great opportunity to measure where we were as a team,” said Haley. “That team we played today is as well a coached team in the league as there is. They're the model for what we're striving to get to and that's something that's been going on for a long time since I've been a young kid in Pittsburgh.”
There's no doubt Sunday's victory was wonderful. Matt Cassel finally led his team downfield in a clutch situation for a score, the defense made stops when it mattered, special teams played a huge role and Steelers fans were sent home with heads down. However, this win does not make the Chiefs a better team.
“We're still what we are, but we're 2-0 in the third quarter of the season,” acknowledged Haley. “We hadn't won a home game, and that's a pretty big thing when the message all season was we've got to win our home games and steal a couple on the road.”
The Chiefs aren't going to make a playoff run. They're not going to garner enough attention from the talking heads to make attracting free agents easier next year. This win, in black and white terms, is rather meaningless. In the locker room, it’s different.
This win earns Todd Haley credibility with his players, and right now that's a good thing. Believe it or not, like it or not, KC’s locker room is not a solidified unit. There are pockets of players who aren't thrilled about the way Todd Haley addresses them ala Mark Mangino. Bernard Pollard may have been bitter when he talked about Haley on Sports Radio 810 earlier this year, but he wasn't necessarily lying. There are also probably a number of players who weren't thrilled on how the Larry Johnson drama shook down.
Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh may unify the Chiefs’ locker room. Winning is a cure all, and beating the defending champions carries more weight than a win over the hapless Raiders.
Another one of Haley's mantras has been quartering the season. The Chiefs were 0-4 in the first quarter, 1-3 in the second and now 2-0 in the third. That statistic will be crammed into the players’ heads so hard this week it may result in a few concussions.
It also helps Haley's cause that the main hero from Sunday's win was one of his hardest, most modest workers - Andy Studebaker, whose two interceptions made the victory possible. His success means Haley can use him as an example of what happens when you work hard, and that the coaching staff can continue to push as hard as ever.
“I said all offseason there was nobody that was better (than Studebaker),” said Haley. “To see it translate into some of the things that kid did out there today, I'm happy that some of that is starting to show because you need some positive reinforcement for as hard as these guys work. We push him hard and my philosophy is I'm not going to accept average or below. This job is not for the faint of heart and not a lot of games have been won around here. It's nice to get a little reward against a team like that. I thought the guys really showed heart and guts.”
This is win is big for the fan base, too. With thousands of towel-toting Benedict Arnolds moaning after every Heath Miller reception, Roethlisberger's eye poke and the final score could not have come any sooner. This win, along with the Chiefs’ quarterly records, will unify fans, too. You’ll even read something positive in tomorrow's Kansas City Star from a certain columnist.
This win is a positive for every single member of Chiefs nation. Though largely irrelevant in every other NFL circle, this game could prove to be momentous for Kansas City. For Cassel, Studebaker, Haley, Scott Pioli and even Clark Hunt, it's the biggest of their Chiefs careers.