|10-09-2011, 12:33 AM|
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Babb: Chiefs, Colts both struggle to accept that their best players are injured
Chiefs, Colts both struggle to accept that their best players are injured
By KENT BABB
The Kansas City Star
The lockers are still packed with equipment, clothing and mail. It’s not as if the Chiefs’ injured players will walk back in, their knee injuries mysteriously healed, but in here, the surroundings have been kept as if they had never left.
There’s been an interlude since the Chiefs experienced a rash of season-ending injuries — tight end Tony Moeaki, safety Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles suffered ACL tears over three consecutive weeks — but the effects remain. The Chiefs aren’t the same, and their 1-3 record at least in part demonstrates that. But players and coaches know that the season must continue — and that success must remain the objective.
“You have to have guys that are able to get into the lineup and that you’re able to continue to push forward and make progress with,” coach Todd Haley said last week. “That’s really all we’re worried about.”
It is a hopeful and resolute message, and it’s one shared by today’s opponent, Indianapolis. The Colts, at 0-4, are agonizing through the season because of the absence of All-Pro quarterback Peyton Manning, who hasn’t played this season and might not because of a neck injury.
Other than the Chiefs’ three injured players, this is much the same team that won the AFC West last year. And other than Manning, and a handful of injuries to offensive linemen, the Colts aren’t much different than the group that reached the Super Bowl in 2009. It’s proof, though, that in today’s NFL, losing the wrong player can put a team into a deep hole — one that’s not easy to emerge from.
“There’s a lot of guys on that roster, and it’s no excuse for everything to crumble,” Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said.
The Chiefs have tried to fill their holes, but the lack of depth that worried the franchise during the preseason has caught up with them.
They have not found a suitable replacement for Charles, and they’re the NFL’s only team without a rushing touchdown. It’s a stark contrast from last season, when the Chiefs led the league in rushing, primarily using Charles and veteran Thomas Jones. But Jones’ age, 33, appears to have begun slowing him — he’s averaging 2.8 yards per carry — and Dexter McCluster hasn’t found many open rushing lanes, despite possessing quickness similar to Charles’.
Berry’s absence forced veteran safety Jon McGraw into the starting lineup, and the Chiefs have played with a patchwork group of tight ends to try to fill the void left by Moeaki.
“You’re working constantly to try to develop players so that you are able to create some depth,” Haley said, “and when things occur — which, generally you’re going to lose some guys during the year — you have to have guys that are able to get into the lineup and that you’re able to continue to push forward.”
There’s also the psychological damage done to a team when players are forced to walk past those uninhabited lockers, knowing that, in many cases, the nerve center of their teams — and perhaps the fate of the season — have been lost.
Freeney said the Colts have tried to will themselves past losing Manning, whose career could be in jeopardy. He has stayed involved in team activities, but belief hasn’t yet been enough to overcome the loss of an 11-time Pro Bowler and four-time NFL Most Valuable Player.
“In the building, we’re not saying woe is me, woe is me — 18 (Manning’s jersey number) is not in the building, woe is me,” Freeney said. “We understand he’s not there, but everybody else around here needs to make plays and continue to make plays.
“It’s going to be tough to replace a guy like that or even do half of what he did. But guess what? You’ve got to do it, and you’ve got to find a way to get it done. … There’s a formula to it, and you have to try to find what it is for success.”
Both teams keep on seeking that formula, hoping to avoid the trap that injuries can take a knife to a team’s chances at success.
At least the Chiefs seem to have an advantage.
Three years ago, Matt Cassel heard the whispers. He was New England’s quarterback then, shoved into the starting lineup when Tom Brady — like Manning, a transcendent passer likely destined for the Hall of Fame — suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the Patriots’ first game, against the Chiefs.
Brady hadn’t played throughout the preseason — an effort to keep him healthy — and Cassel had taken many of the snaps. New England scored zero touchdowns in four preseason games.
Now, a matter of months removed from an unbeaten season and a Super Bowl appearance, the Patriots’ hopes rested on the unproven shoulders of Cassel, who hadn’t started a game since high school.
“You could hear the grumbling,” Cassel said last week. “There was nothing but skepticism about what was going to go on.”
On his first drive as Brady’s replacement, Cassel found Randy Moss for a deep pass, and the Patriots avoided early-season calamity with a 17-10 victory. Still, Cassel’s former teammates didn’t embrace him.
He said acceptance came in the season’s seventh week, when Cassel led the Patriots to a 41-7 victory against Denver on Monday night. Cassel threw three touchdown passes, and by the time the players returned to the locker room, Cassel was no longer seen as Brady’s understudy. He was, until Brady’s return, seen as New England’s quarterback.
“I felt a little bit different,” said Cassel, who led the Patriots to an 11-5 record in 2008. “I felt like I was growing into the role a little bit more. … Slowly but surely, we started to play better — I started to play better — and the team rallied around me.”
Cassel said he sometimes tells his Chiefs teammates about that season, when hope seemed lost and something happened to save the season. He said he’s confident something similar will happen this season in Kansas City, where the Chiefs are aware of what’s missing in those empty lockers — but hoping to find success hiding somewhere.
“You have to continue to remind this team and remind even yourself sometimes that no matter how you started, it’s how you finish,” he said. “You get some momentum going, and you never know what can happen, because teams with momentum do unbelievable things.”
|10-09-2011, 12:54 AM||#2|
ask for it by name
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The only NFL team without a rushing td? Holy Shat... between all of the nice looking runs i've watched, i've failed to notice that incredible head scratcher.
That is ****ed, what. in. the. hell happened this year? KC, if you dont cram into the endzone 3 times tomorrow... you are flat out pussies.
DO IT OR SUFFER MY WRATH!
|10-09-2011, 07:04 AM||#4|
Pritay Pritay Pritay Good
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|10-09-2011, 10:18 AM||#6|
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