Monday, October 10, 2011

the curse is broken

“Tonight I gotta cut loose, footloose.
Kick off your Sunday shoes.
Please, Louise, pull me off of my knees.
Jack, get back, come on before we crack.
Lose your blues,
Everybody cut footloose!”

“Footloose”, remade by Blake Shelton. You have NO idea how fired up I am to see this movie on Friday. I love the original. I can’t wait to see how they take an American classic and turn it into an utterly horrific remake …

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I am sure that many of you still do not share my belief that the Chiefs can rally and win this division. And if you are one of those people, fine, so be it. But can we agree on one thing? And that one thing would be this -- I don't care how cynical you are, how jaded your thoughts of this team are, admit it: yesterday was fun. Yesterday was a freaking blast, something you can look back on ten years from now and smile about.

This team could have quit. God knows most teams would have in that spot, trailing 24-7 with 1:09 to play in the first half. At that point, the Chiefs odds of winning this game were deader than al davis*. A little over a minute later, the Chiefs had cut the lead to ten, and were sprinting to the locker room with a renewed sense of purpose, one that led to a 14-0 second half and handed them the victory.

(*: as someone who will someday whiz on john elway's tombstone, I absolutely think it's acceptable to mock your rival's demise.)

I didn't catch the first hour of this game. I had a family function, and had no access to a television or a cell phone signal until a little after 1pm. When I emerged and got in the car, and checked the text messages piling up, the most recent one said it all:

"7 24 indy"

My response: "holy god".

I never dreamed yesterday would be as tough of a game as it was. I honestly believed the Chiefs were going to deliver an epic, no doubt about it victory performance yesterday, the type of game we haven't seen since the division clinching victory over the Titans last December. So to say I was surprised at learning we trailed by 17 with a little over a minute to play in the first half, is an understatement. It is at this point that I choose to pick up my reactions and recap of the day ...

* Let's start with the obvious -- was yesterday a great weather day or what? The only way it could have been finer, is if I'd been baking in the metal bleachers at the Speedway. (Well, ok, if that had happened ... and if Kasey Kahne had won, THEN it would have been better.) Again, if the price I have to pay for mid 80s and sunny weather in October is popping a couple Sudafed's every hour to seek relief from my allergies, I am willing to make that sacrifice.

* Chiefs take over, down 17, 1:09 to play, at their own 20. They had two timeouts left. In the Dick Vermeil years, we all knew what the first down play call would be -- a draw up the middle to Priest or LJ, and if you get positive yardage, then you go into "try for it" mode, and if it's stuffed, you take a knee and go to the half. (A strategory I usually agree with, for what its worth.) The Todd Haley Chiefs? Come out firing. And for as much as we've all (deservedly) ripped the offensive game plan at times this season, give whoever called the plays on this series a boat ton of credit -- EVERY passing play was run TO the sidelines. First down, Cassel play action, hits Pope for a short gain. Second down, a beautiful catch by Breaston for a first down. Then a bomb to D Bowe, who tacks on another ten yards after the catch. All of a sudden, the Chiefs have moved 44 yards on three plays, and have used only :18 off the clock. And still have both timeouts.

On the 101 the FOX broadcast, Mitch and Len were into it. You got the feeling listening to them (as I did for a lot of the second quarter yesterday), that they believed this comeback was possible. I did too, for two reasons. First, there is no way Curtis Painter was going to play that well for four quarters, or that our secondary would play that poorly for four quarters. And the Chiefs had been able to move the ball. They just hadn't managed to find the end zone, save for once, up until then. I thought if we could get at least three before the half, knowing we'd have the ball with a shot to cut the game to a one-possession game after the half, we had a chance.

Thankfully, Coach Asshat and his offensive gurus had other plans. Settle for three? Dream on. On 1st and 10 at the Colts 36, a beautiful delayed draw to Battle for 15. After using a timeout, Cassel had to scramble as the protection broke down. Smartly (and there's a term I don't often use when describing Matt Cassel), smartly, Cassel didn't waste the final timeout, instead getting his team to the line, then hitting Steve Breaston on a perfect pass that he got over the pile-on for six. At 24-14, this game was definitely on.

* Apparently this was a fired up squad leaving the field at halftime, at least if you believe Len and Mitch. Also apparently, and man, if there's one person I would NEVER wager on giving an emotioned, impassioned halftime speech, this is the person ... apparently Romeo Crennel UNLOADED on his defense at halftime.

Which, to be fair, they deserved. When I'm getting text messages that say "When did we resign Eric Warfield?", you know things are going poorly*. Kudos to the defense for a second half for the ages -- only allowing 64 yards of Colts offense, never allowing the Colts inside our 40, and only allowing two first downs in the entire half, one of which came via penalty. I have rarely been prouder of the Red and Gold defensive personnel than I was yesterday.

(*: for years, I sat next to someone who HATED Eric Warfield. Me? I never minded the guy, he was a serviceable NFL corner. But man, Nancy HATED Eric Warfield.)

* Chiefs get the ball to open the half, and after an impressive start ... wind up punting. Yes, it was a frustrating finish to what appeared to be a solid drive, but give Cassel credit -- he didn't do anything stupid. He took the sack on second down, and then smartly avoided the rush and managed to get something on third down (a 12 yard completion to Battle). And yes, I am absolutely baffled too by the fact that I'm defending Matt Cassel today.

* Also baffling? Oh yes, Matt Cassel started for team tito version 1.0 yesterday. Let's just say I had serious bye and injury issues. Somehow, a team starting Matt Cassel, Victor Cruz, Ike Redman, and the Chiefs defense, that entered its matchup as a 27 point underdog (according to Hector and Victor's projections), is leading by 11 headed into tonight's game (my opponent still has Jahvid Best). Throw it early and throw it often, Detroit!

* After stopping the Colts with a three and out, I realize that there's a reason why the Chiefs are losing -- there's 5 minutes to go in the third quarter, and I haven't had a drop of booze yet. I went and grabbed a bottle of wine out of the fridge, and noticed that there were still a lot of jello shots left over from the Hermann winery tour the day before. Feeling confident, I grabbed a boatload of shots and headed back outside.

Wouldn't you know it? No sooner do I pour a glass of wine and set the jello shots on the table, than Dwayne Bowe caps off a 93 yard drive with the most amazing touchdown catch I have seen in a long, long time. I mean, what an effort! If Dan Dierdorf had been on the broadcast yesterday, he would have keeled over dead in his dead from the excitement. (Since it's been a while since Dan was a regular staple in our lives, in case you've forgotten, Dierdorf OPENLY ROOTS for the Chiefs in the broadcast booth. And yes, I noticed Kevin Harlan had zero objectivity yesterday. It's a good thing, national broadcasters openly rooting for the Chiefs while broadcasting a Chiefs game.)

* Jello shots are a fantastic way to celebrate a Chiefs touchdown. I'm just saying.

* What was not fantastic, was the lime tequila shots. Normally, I'm all over the lime tequila shots, they're amongst my favorites. (Quick unofficial Stevo Ranking of Jello Shots: Blueberry Vodka, Lime Tequila, Grape Vodka, Orange Tequila, Lemon Rum, Watermelon Vodka. Dead last: Black Cherry anything.) Anyways, everyone kept urging me to try one, and well, you don't have to ask me twice.

I picked the shot up, sniffed it ... and holy God, you could smell the tequila. My face cracked a gigantic smile as I stuck my finger in to loosen up the shot. Then inhaled it. And damned near puked on the spot. It took awhile to get that thing down. Everyone is laughing, of course. Turns out, someone had used Montezuma Tequila as the liquor in those shots. Let's just say, me and Montezuma, do NOT go well together.

(In case you've never heard the story before, and because we can all use a good laugh ... it's summer 2005. Me, my brother, and a few other friends are tailgating before the Royals and Cardinals game. It's about noon, it's 95 degrees outside, not a cloud in the sky, and we are hammered. (Shocking). This random dude comes up lugging a handle of tequila and asks me and Drew if we want to do a shot. Come on, one of us turning down liquor? Will NEVER happen.

So we grab a couple glasses, he pours the shot, and we inhale it. I immediately puked on the spot, it was that awful. Drew threw up a couple moments later. Room temperature tequila. Even worse ... it was Montezuma tequila. The guy laughs and goes "everyone's been having that reaction. I think its good stuff. And the handle was only $7.99!" My brother's deadpan response: "you overpaid pal". Anyways, yesterday was the first time since that game in 2005 that I've even sniffed Montezuma tequila, let alone consumed it. Here's to hoping I go at least another six years between meeting my "good friend" Montezuma again.)

* Now we've got a ballgame at 24-21. The Colts manage to grind out a first down on a nice third down conversion ... and then the defense stops them again to force the punt. The Chiefs next possession ... was a total catastrophe. On second down, Cassel was pressured, and threw the ball away. Unfortunately, he was still inside the pocket, failed to get the ball back to the line of scrimmage, and there wasn't a credible receiving option with 50 feet of where the ball landed. On the deck, I let out a "I cannot believe they didn't flag Cassel for grounding there" before pouring another glass of wine. Stupid Stevo -- no sooner did I turn back towards the television than the flag was tossed. Then, adding incompetence to insult, the officiating crew had no clue where to spot the ball.

* After a Chiefs punt, the Colts go three and out, as rookie Justin Houston nearly decapitated Curtis Painter on his third down passing attempt. Houston definitely rattled Painter -- he rushed the throw to a wide open Reggie Wayne, a harmless incomplete pass. A tremendous stand there by the Chiefs, to get the ball back with about 8 minutes to play. On the punt, Javier Arenas appeared to have a seam ... only to be horse collar tackled by a Colts defender. Admit it -- when Javier went down, you immediately thought "oh no, ANOTHER knee injury!" I know I did. Thankfully, Arenas got up and walked off the field under his own power. But man, that was a scary fifteen, twenty seconds.

* Thanks to the penalty, the Chiefs open the drive at the 46. After a second down pass to D Bowe that resulted in a first down, the Chiefs are flagged for delay of game, due to Bowe spiking the football. I have no issues with the penalty -- he earned it. What I cannot for the life of me figure out is why it remained 1st and 10? Shouldn't it have been 1st and 15? Why do you mark off the penalty yards (as Carl Cheffers crew did), yet not add on the penalty yards to the yard-to-gain marker? Cheffers and his crew had some baffling calls yesterday. This was one of them.

* Now with 1st down at the Colts 49, the Chiefs take a crack downfield, and draw the interference flag on the Colts. Then came the biggest play of the game on offense -- its 3rd and 8 at the Colts 34. A field goal attempt here would be a dicey proposition. The Chiefs go four wide, Cassel in the gun (with Pope kept in for blocking purposes). Cassel calmly lets the play develop, and fires a dart to a wide open Keary Colbert for a fifteen yard gain. Three plays later, Cassel again fires a perfect pass, to Steve Breaston to give the Chiefs the lead. Comeback complete! The deck is going crazy. Jello shots of celebration. But as someone noted, "we left too much time". Yup. Also, due to some more shaky officiating, the Chiefs had to burn their final timeout on the prior drive (Cheffers didn't reset the playclock after an injury timeout. Haley's reaction to that screw-up was hysterical. Let's just say, Coach likes the words "f*cking bullsh*t". A lot. My kind of guy!)

* So the Colts take over with a little over five minutes to play, and drive into Chiefs territory, where they are held on a great Brandon Carr pass breakup on 3rd down. Facing 4th and 11 with all three timeouts left, the Colts opt to punt. The Lucas Oil Stadium crowd boos heartily, but in that spot, with three minutes to play, I thought it was the right decision. And it is at this moment, that all the positive momentum of the previous 90 minutes nearly came unraveled.

Because some moron named Jalil Brown lined up in the neutral zone during the punt. Now, on 4th and 6? It's makeable. It certainly makes more sense than gaining 19 yards on the punt. Indy corpse ... excuse me, coach, Jim Caldwell has the offense trot back out. Admit it -- there was only one thing floating through your mind at this point, and I'm guessing it's something similar to what was floating through mine. "God f*cking dammit, we just blew this game".

And on this fourth down, there was no denying the resolve of the Red and Gold, as Jon McGraw made an outstanding knockdown to give the Chiefs the ball. Give the secondary credit -- they got lit like a joint for most of the first half ... and completely shut down the Colts in the second half. Outstanding job on the final two plays guys. Outstanding.

* Chiefs take over, and here's what I LOVED about what we did. Flash back to last Sunday, when we were in the exact same situation, needing to gain a first down and secure the win. Recall what the Chiefs did? They pounded it (ineffectively) on first down. On second down? In came Jackie Battle, and we ran a simple offtackle play behind Asomoah for ten yards. On third down, we pounded it straight ahead with Battle and got the first down.

Sunday? The Chiefs, on 2nd and long after gaining nothing on first down, RAN THE EXACT SAME PLAY THEY CALLED IN THE EXACT SAME SPOT EXACTLY ONE WEEK EARLIER! I ask this in all seriousness: does ANYONE on Indy's coaching staff watch game film? I knew what was coming on that play. EVERYONE knew what was coming! And Jackie Battle charges through the line, deep into the Colts secondary, and gives the Chiefs a first down. What I loved about this play, other than that for once, my analysis skills paid off handsomely, is that the Chiefs KNEW they had a play that worked, and they ran it. Didn't care what the other team did, the coaching staff KNEW we'd run that play to success, because NOBODY has stopped it yet. We gouged San Diego with it, we beat the Vikings with it, and we put ourselves in tremendous position to win against the Colts with it.

* However, because we got the first down so fast, we had to get one more. So what do the Chiefs do? (stevo grinning proudly) We run the SAME DAMNED PLAY WE JUST RAN! Jackie Battle, offtackle, for an eleven yard gain. After initially giving the Chiefs a first down, replay shows Battle was short. So on 3rd and 1, what do the Chiefs do? Well, let's see. What do I ALWAYS argue teams should do on 3rd (or 4th) and inches? Quick snap, and have the quarterback fall forward. Don't deal with the risks a handoff involves, don't voluntarily yield seven yards on said handoff, just fall forward. If you can't get an inch in that spot, you probably aren't winning anyways. The Chiefs? In that spot? Quick snap, Cassel leaps forward, and is given a first down. After surviving a replay challenge, it's over. Cue up my favorite formation, the Victory Formation, and two kneel downs later, the Chiefs have completed the epic, almost unprecedented comeback in franchise history comeback.

Yeah, I was fist pumping pretty good.

* So now, the question is, where do we go from here? There will be those who will argue (possibly correctly) that beating two (at the time) winless teams means nothing. That it's just one small bright spot in a dark lost season. Those folks tend to be the "Suck for Luck" crowd. I know a chunk of my readers are squarely in that camp.

And to those of you who are? I simply say this. Go outside. Grab a gigantic stick. Make sure it’s a big boy, preferably pretty thick and ideally covered with prickly leaves or thorns. And then, if you are someone who believed for even 2/1000ths of a second of tanking this season in week three for a quarterback who might be a total flop? If you believed that, take that stick and go f*ck yourself with it. Ram it in there. Repeatedly. You’re the WORST kind of fan, a pathetic person who jumps overboard at the first sign of trouble. You’re the Bruce Ismay of the fanbase.

I said two weeks ago that the Chiefs would be 6-3 going to New England. I was laughed out of the room for that belief. Now, two weeks later, we've seen a rock-solid home win over a better-than-their-record Vikings team, and an epic comeback, on the road, in a place we have NEVER won before, against a team whose season was on the line. You can call that a fluke if you like. I call it reality.

If I'd told you three weeks ago, immediately after the Lions debacle, that three weeks later, the Chiefs would be in the heart of the wildcard race, back in the divisional race, and have a better record than the Philadelphia Eagles and St. Louis Rams, would have the same record as the New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, and Seattle Seahawks, you'd have laughed me out of the room. Well, look at the standings, Chiefs fans. We are squarely in the thick of the playoff race entering the bye week. That's not hyperbole, that's not pie in the sky thinking, it's reality. We're one game behind the Steelers and raiders for the second wildcard ... and we still have three games left against those teams. We're tied with the Jets -- we'll see them in mid December at the Fake Meadowlands.

And yes, while the Chargers (sadly) escaped fake mile high with a victory yesterday, we get them at home to close out the month. And with a little help from our good friends, the New York Football Jets, in two weeks? That game at Arrowhead will be for first place entering midseason.

Chiefs fans, enjoy Victory Monday. The 2011 season is very much alive! Enjoy the bye week, enjoy the weather, enjoy OU rolling into Lawrence Saturday night and setting modern records for both total points and margin of victory. (Only six more games in the Turner Gill error, fellow Hawk fans. Only six more humiliating defeats to endure …) Put on the news and have a good laugh at these Occupy people. Kick back, relax, and enjoy the next couple weeks.

Because while things started poorly, they’ve definitely righted the ship. And I can’t wait to see what this season still has to show us …

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