One more absurd comeback by Kansas means all but one Big 12 coach is disappointed today, which is how it’s generally been going on 14 years.
Kansas was a 4 1/2 -point underdog at West Virginia last night, and I’m not going to look this up, but I’m guessing it’s been a very long time since that was the case in a Big 12 game.
KU hadn’t won there since 2013, so long ago that Travis Releford and Jeff Withey led the team in scoring that night, and in erasing a 12-point deficit with 10 minutes left the rest of the league is left with an annoying truth:
If the most flawed KU team in years stands 5-1, including a win in its toughest road game, it is increasingly likely to win at least a share of a 14th straight conference title.
Never miss a local story.
And if the least good KU team in years wins in a season in which its top freshman remains held out, leaving the team vulnerably thin inside, in a league with three other top-10 teams, a national player of the year candidate, and (another) season when the Big 12 is the nation’s toughest league according to RPI, when will any team ever stop this thing?
It should be noted that the league race is far from over, no matter what logic and muscle memory tell us. Texas Tech won at Allen Fieldhouse and beat West Virginia at home and, like Kansas, has just one loss. Oklahoma has Trae Young, two wins over TCU, a win at home over Tech and, like Kansas, just one loss. West Virginia is 4-2 in the league, very much still a factor.
For what it’s worth, KenPom projects KU and Tech to share the league title at 13-5, with Oklahoma at 12-6 and West Virginia 11-7.
Kansas still has games at Oklahoma and Tech, plus TCU, West Virginia and OU at home.
But this was widely considered the least certain Big 12 race in years, and KU is again winning the close ones. They needed 17 threes to beat Texas by six, eight straight free throws in the last 2 minutes to beat TCU by four, a (so far) career game by Malik Newman to beat Iowa State by five at home, a score and a stop on the last two possessions to beat K-State by one at home, and a big comeback to beat West Virginia on the road.
KU could easily be 3-3, and looking up in the standings at K-State and four one-loss teams.
Instead, it is the league’s only 5-1 team, flaws and all, two-thirds of the conference schedule still to come but already nine other coaches lamenting missed chances.
This week’s eating recommendation is the calamari at Brown and Loe, and the reading recommendation is Dan Wetzel on the miracle that answered the Vikings’ prayers.
I’m not sure who “you guys” are, but hear me: sometimes, in big or small games, when there’s a lot or a little on the line, and one or both or neither teams are giving it all ... officiating matters.
That is an undeniable fact, and if anyone tells you officiating doesn’t matter, I would advise you not to listen to that person.
Now, “officiating matters” is a very different thing than “the refs always screw us, we never had a chance.”
A friend joked to me the other day that I should program a smart key on my computer for “complaining about officials is the ballad of the loser,” and it’s true I’ve probably typed and said those words together more than than any other, including “Royals/Chiefs fans come by their skepticism honestly.”
Because it’s true!
Officiating absolutely matters. It absolutely matters that Mike Stuart gave what sure as heck looked like a weak technical to Cartier Diarra, and it absolutely matters that it looked like the officials missed a trip against Barry Brown the other day.
But to blame the outcome on calls like that is incredibly weak, and the mentality of a loser.
That may come off as mean-spirited, and that’s not the way it’s intended. I just believe this is the truth.
Nate made a good point on the Border Patrol — in last year’s game the miss on Svi’s walk-off was embarrassing, but officials* also gave a weak technical to Josh Jackson. Officials miss calls. They get the vast majority correct, but they will always miss calls.
*It was Stuart, actually, insinuating he’s not so much biased or incompetent as he is insecure and power happy.
This is a crude and incomplete way to judge officiating, but Kansas was called for 16 fouls and K-State 15. K-State was in the bonus early in the second half, and KU didn’t get there until late.
This isn’t complicated. Home teams, particularly those with loud crowds, tend to get more close calls in their favor. We all see that with our eyes, and Jon Wertheim and Tobias Moskowitz did the best work I’ve seen on backing it up in the interesting book, Scorecasting. They miss calls at Allen Fieldhouse, and they miss calls in every gym across the country.
But whining about it doesn’t make you tough, or righteous. It makes you a whiner.
Because I’ve never heard Weber, not even once, win a game and say, “Boy, we probably should’ve lost tonight, the officials really screwed the other side.”
I’m not trying to pick on Weber here. I like Bruce. I really do. I believe he’s a good man, a good coach, and is in coaching for the right reasons. I like his story, and where he came from.
And he’s not alone. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a coach or athlete credit officials for a win. This is probably just top of mind because of what happened the other day in Lawrence, but the closest I can think of is Bill Self saying last year’s game should’ve gone into overtime because Svi clearly traveled on the game-winner.
So, you can complain about a technical or the strike zone or a pass interference call or whatever, but it doesn’t change the outcome, and doesn’t change the fact that you had opportunities to overcome a bad call, or not let the outcome be so heavily influenced by a call, or both.
It’s about personal accountability.
Now, speaking of that, it drives me crazy that officials aren’t more publicly accountable as well. But that’s probably a topic for a different day.
You guys, we took the boys to Monster Jam last weekend and it was spectacular.
When our older son gets really excited about something, he’s not the type to jump around and scream. He sort of shuts down, like he just wants to stay quiet and take it all in. It’s awesome.
He does it on Christmas, he does it when his favorite friends come over, and he does it when there are monster trucks in front of him flipping over and needing tow trucks. For, basically, three hours the other night he shut down and stayed quiet so he could take it all in.
It was perfect. He clapped at appropriate times, got his little side smile when things got REALLY cool, and was so into wearing the protective headphones he wanted them on when we got in the car because, “We’re getting close to the monster trucks and they are very loud.”
I think my favorite part of the night was looking at my wife who, let’s be honest, would not choose to watch monster trucks on a Friday night if it was just about her. There was a moment when she just sort of looked at me, like, “Really? This is our life now?” And at that exact moment, our 3 year old, sitting in my lap, sprung up and started clapping his little hands together because Scooby Doo — his favorite — just did something impressive.
Now, is anything those drivers do with those 12,000-pound machines more impressive than winning a home playoff game?
Hard to say, but I will say this:
The Chiefs’ inability to win home playoff games (zero for their last six) has overshadowed their inability to win road playoff games (one for their last six, and the win was against Brian Hoyer).
You can’t fit their failures into a simple box, is what I’m saying.
Well, you guys aren’t going to like this, but for about three seconds two Saturdays ago, I thought they were exorcised.
This was at the 2-minute warning, after Alex Smith’s fourth-down pass to Albert Wilson was incomplete, and all the Titans had to do was drain clock.
Derrick Henry took the handoff and Marcus Peters made a ridiculous effort — a perfectly timed and juiced up blitz, catching Henry behind the line of scrimmage, ripping the ball from the 240-pound man, Derrick Johnson scooping and running 56 (!) yards, Peters sprinting along and decleating 308-pound tackle Jack Conklin with a block, DJ celebrating the touchdown and the moment of his career, one of the great moments in more than 50 years of the franchise’s history … and, well …
… of COURSE Henry was down before the ball came out.
Straight up, I’m with you on the idea that it will likely take some absurd moment for the Chiefs to stop tripping over themselves.
We’ve seen that locally, over and over again. That’s what it took for the Royals (actually, it took an absurd series of absurd moments) in 2014 and then 2015. Kansas had to survive Steph Curry at the buzzer and then Memphis going all Shaq and the free-throw line and then Chalmers’ shot in 2008.
I’m with you. I think that’s what it will take. The Vikings have their own tortured history, and it’s worth noting that the miracle they got this weekend merely puts them in the same spot they lost in overtime in 2009, lost 41-0 in 2000, and lost in overtime* in 1998.
*When their kicker, one of the most accurate in NFL history and who hadn’t missed a single kick all year, missed a kick with 2 minutes left in regulation.
So, I’m not sure the Vikings are exorcised. Imagine yourself as a Vikings fan, with either their or the Chiefs’ franchise history, and I don’t think you’d consider anything exorcised quite yet either.
But, yes. One hundred percent, I believe it’s going to take some form of Sal Perez pulling a pitch eight feet outside down the third-base line, or Alex Gordon taking Jeurys Familia’s sinker deep to center, or Eric Hosmer running on Lucas Duda* for the Chiefs to advance.
I don’t know. Maybe they’ll win a playoff game in which the other team’s kicker goes broke.
No, I am absolutely not sure Reid will finally win, and I don’t know how anyone could be sure of that.
There isn’t just one way to win. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this at times, but the importance of quarterback play in the NFL is both enormous and overstated. Two years ago, the Broncos won the Super Bowl with a very mediocre quarterback who happened to be named Peyton Manning. Three years before that, the Ravens won the Super Bowl with Joe Flacco.
I happen to believe Eli Manning is vastly overrated, that he’s closer to being a repeat of the Flacco route than an elite quarterback. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Russell Wilson each won Super Bowls as young don’t-screw-it-up guys.
So it’s not as simple as:
Step 1. Get quarterback.
Step 2. ?
Step 3. PROFIT.
I would also advise pumping the brakes on using this last weekend as the template. Banking on the Diggs miracle or Blake Bortles winning a shootout at Heinz Field seems like a flawed plan.
The Chiefs’ best path for 2018 and beyond is to trade Alex Smith and use the $17 million in cap space and draft pick(s) to build the best possible roster around Patrick Mahomes, allowing him to take reasonable bites, and then hoping he can make enough plays to keep everything moving.
Alex Smith Believers will talk a lot about him leading the league in passer rating, and I do believe Patrick Mahomes is starting his career with more pressure than any Kansas City athlete since at least Alex Gordon but I don’t know that there could be a better case for moving on from Smith than the 2017 Chiefs.
He played as well as he possibly could, and — still — six of the Chiefs’ seven losses could’ve been wins with a better outcome on the offense’s final drive.
The team that would surround Smith next year would be inferior to the one that would surround Mahomes. Replacing Smith isn’t about shooting for the moon with An Elite Quarterback® as much as it is strengthening the rest of the roster and playing to the kid’s strengths and away from his weaknesses.
Now, even with all that said, you’re still trusting Andy Reid to be more than the coaching version of a safe game manager, and the indicators on that are not pointing the right way, but at this point I do believe the best path forward is with Reid as Mahomes’ spiritual guide and a shakeup of the defense.
Offense isn’t the problem. Those guys were fifth in points, and fifth in yards, and basically all of the important players are either in their prime or heading toward it. You can’t predict health, because maybe someone even more important is injured, but Spencer Ware’s return in 2017 should only help the run game and Kareem Hunt.
I believe every job opening should be subject to a wide search, because you should always go with the best person for the job, regardless of background, but promoting Bienemy makes a lot of sense. It’s what I and most others I know expected. Bienemy is sharp, respected, dug in.
I’m fine with that, even acknowledging that the offense can be better. I wrote about this last week, but Reid absolutely has to self-scout himself from top to bottom to figure out how to fix end-of-game and pressure situations.
Even in this time suck, I don’t think we need to get into all the details, but the narrative about going conservative and/or not giving the ball to Hunt enough in the second half miss the point. I thought Seth Keysor did a very good job explaining some of this.
But the defense has to get better. Those guys were 28th in yards, and DFL (32nd) in DVOA. They missed Eric Berry, sure, but that can’t be an excuse. They were better late in the season than early, sure, but that can’t be reason enough to go status quo.
I believe defensive coordinator Bob Sutton needs to be replaced. I am skeptical of whether that will happen now, and extremely skeptical about whether he can get the defense where it needs to be, even with some personnel upgrades.
Higher than I thought when I wrote this.
A week ago, I probably thought it was 65 percent likely the Chiefs would make a change at DC. Now, I believe it’s somewhere under 50 percent, because this seems like enough time to make a rational decision, and other teams have fired and hired guys, but nothing’s been announced officially so you never know.
I want to be clear about this: I find it very, very, very, VERY difficult to believe a 67-year-old man can make the necessary adjustments to cover everything that was just exposed with a team that spent more than half its salary cap on defense and was statistically one of the worst in the league at playing defense.
Assuming the Chiefs go with Patrick Mahomes next season — more on that below! — fans and media will spend a mountain of time talking about the quarterback. I will absolutely be part of that.
But beyond a compelling curiosity factor, I don’t know how the Chiefs can sell their chances of success — which are now defined by advancing in the playoffs, not qualifying for the playoffs — without major changes on defense.
I believe Eric Berry has a chance to be in the Hall of Fame someday, so I am not diminishing his importance. But the difference between the worst DVOA unit and a top 10 or even top half is about much more than a safety.
This is a great question, and we’re all just guessing, unless we give the vague, useless, and accurate answer: the realistic trade value is whatever a team is willing to pay.
When your team is in position to be a seller in a trade, sometimes the best way to think about it is, “How would I see this if my team was on the other side?”
And, call me stingy, but I’m not sure I’d give up more than a second-round pick for a 34-year-old quarterback with a $20 million cap hit and just one year left on his deal and a track record that tells me he’ll be good but not great.
I would not be surprised if he brought back more than that. Maybe you can get a second and a third, maybe even two seconds. But market matters, and there will be other quarterbacks available — perhaps Kirk Cousins, Eli Manning, Sam Bradford and others.
The 49ers got Jimmy Garappolo for a (high) second-round pick. Maybe that’s the most useful example, but I’m not sure how relevant it is to Smith. Remember that Garappolo hadn’t played those last five games yet, and the 49ers will have to either sign him to an extension or give him the franchise tag after this year. He’s also seven years younger than Smith.
That’s a lot of variables going both ways, which makes a comparison to Smith hard to make.
But, yeah. A second-round pick sounds about right to me.
The answer is, say it together now, Best Player Available.
But of course it’s not that simple. The Chiefs are close enough to winning that Best Player Available should be altered to Best Player Available Who Best Fits A Need, and whether it’s through free agency or the draft, here is the general priority I would have:
1. Pass rush.
3. Defensive line.
5. Veteran backup quarterback.
6. Interior offensive line.
7. Middle linebacker.
8. Tight end.
I don’t care what comes from the draft and what comes from free agency. If Aqib Talib can be had through free agency, that would be a hell of a get, and a great paring with Marcus Peters. Everyone wants more pass rush, so that will be hard to do, but it’s a need for this roster, no matter what you expect from Dee Ford and Justin Houston next year.
Yes, I believe it has, and it sounds like we agree. Pretty amazing to think there was a time the Chiefs — working on more than 20 years without reaching the AFC Championship, and more than 40 without even reaching the Super Bowl — were the successful half of Truman Sports Complex.
But, well, I suppose that’s where we are.
And, yes, I believe that’s fair. Perhaps more accurately, I believe the Chiefs probably got off easy for years because of the Royals’ lack of success.
Has it changed the media’s coverage and expectations?
I have a terrible answer for you: I don’t know.
What I mean is: I don’t think so, but maybe?
I guess I can only speak for myself. I don’t think the Royals’ success changed how I judge the Chiefs as much as the Chiefs’ own path has changed how I judge the Chiefs. My first year covering the Chiefs was 2010, before Pioli-itis had infected the franchise. They won the AFC West that year. Matt Cassel even made the Pro Bowl. They were 4-12 the year before, and 2-14 the year before that, so even with a predictable home playoff loss to the Ravens that was fairly viewed as a success.
Go two years forward, and I don’t know that I have ever or will ever again be harder on a franchise than I was the 2012 Chiefs. That was, obviously, before the Royals were winners, so it wasn’t like I was using a higher standard.
The next year, 2013, the Chiefs went 11-5 and got back in the playoffs. Even blowing a 38-10 lead in Indianapolis, there is a certain view you can take that the season was a success. They were a credible franchise again. Pioli-itis had been cured.
So if I’ve been harder on them the last two years, with consecutive home playoff losses that already have their own shorthand, I don’t think it’s because of anything the Royals did as much as it is because the Chiefs put themselves in position to be judged on a higher standard.
For two consecutive seasons, the Royals gave Kansas City memories that will last forever. That feeling is impossible to forget, and surely in some ways gives fans more craving for something beyond another playoff loss.
But even if the Wild Card Game never happened, even if Hosmer’s dash home never happened, even if the Royals were dismantled without any playoff success, I think we’d all be justifiably critical that the Chiefs are now five years into a buildup that’s topped out at excruciating playoff losses.
I adore college basketball, flaws and all. I like the passion, I like the intensity, I like watching players grow from year to year. I even like the imperfections.
But it’s such a transient sport it’s hard to fully invest in. I get all of that. Spring training is still a month away, and even then, actual baseball will be a month and a half away*.
*And even THEN, the Royals being good again will probably be years away.
This is a light part of the calendar, for sure, and I would be either a liar or less petty if I told you I didn’t often think of AEG’s con job on Kansas City this time of year.
For what it’s worth, I am firmly on Team NHL rather than Team NBA if we lived in a world in which Kansas City had even a tiny chance at landing either.
For whatever reason, it seems as if Kansas City has decided it is a college basketball place and not the NBA. I also think building a winner here would be more difficult in the NBA, with so-called Super Teams and the ability for players to serve as de facto GMs for themselves. Best-case scenario is lightning in a bottle like Oklahoma City has, or a core like the Timberwolves, which will almost certainly break up through free agency or forced trades before winning a championship.
The door in the NHL would be more open, I think, and the sport so diametrically different than anything we have here that it could sort of start from scratch instead of carry the baggage of preconceived notions with the NBA here.
Let me be clear: the NHL could very well fail here for any number of reasons, most notably that there is essentially no hockey culture here, and the idea of Kansas City landing either when AEG has never helped and the Sprint Center is 10 years old and our local rich people are more involved in the arts and cancer research than sports* and we might as well be talking about whether Kansas City should choose to pursue mountains or the beach**.
*The NERVE of these people!
**Team Beach, but I’d settle for a mountain.
Now, all that said …
… I had never thought of this before, but I think you’re right.
Kansas City has a long and deep relationship with college basketball, and the G-League (formerly known as the D-League) is full of former college stars, many of whom have local-ish connections, from Wayne Selden to Jacob Pullen to Georges Niang and others.
According to the Internet, many G-League tickets can be had for less than $10, though prices go way up from there, and it would be a convenient alternative for fans who want to see good players and professional basketball.
I’d be all-in for this, personally and professionally.
I actually don’t mind the Jags’ uniforms, at least when they’re not in that Grey Poupon/Need To Drink More Water shade of yellow.
I’d also nominate the following as worse than the Jags: when Baylor dresses up like highlighter markers, when Maryland dresses up like a flag, most teams when the NFL does its “color rush” thing on Thursday nights, the White Sox’s uniforms that sent Chris Sale over the edge with scissors, and most of what the Raptors have ever worn.
I also must say I don’t get too into uniforms either way, understanding that I am not the demographic, that the judge on whether uniforms are good or not is whether kids aged 12 to 25 or so want to buy them.
The rest of us can have throwbacks.
Pulled pork. Let me explain.
Mac and cheese is unquestionably delicious, and I get that restaurants are making ungodly profit margins on the stuff, but if you go somewhere like Beer Kitchen that lets you add burnt ends and jalapeños it’s tough to argue with. Also, I have a reluctant respect for places that price gouge you on Kraft mac and cheese knowing that’s what most parents have at home and kids prefer it to the homemade stuff.
A well done wedge is a delicious salad, too, and I suppose I’m thinking mostly of Garozzo’s* here. I may be able to make mac and cheese pretty easily at home, but getting all that bacon cooked perfectly and adding the tomatoes and everything else at least requires a little work.
*House salad there is tough to beat, though.
So the clear answer here is pulled pork, and I’ll tell you why. Just like with mac and cheese, you’re on the wrong end of the restaurant’s profit margin, and you don’t get the advantage of the wedge, either, because if the place’s pulled pork is good it’s a lock that the ribs or brisket or burnt ends are going to be GREAT. You can’t even justify it as a health thing, either, the way you could ordering the chicken. Because you’re still eating pig. So don’t get the pulled pork, ever.
The better meat is only going to be a dollar or two extra. Treat yourself. You’re worth it.
Well, sure. I have numbers for guys who fit each of those categories, and that’s not a brag, that’s just a product of having this weird job.
I can assure you that no athlete has ever asked for my number. Tamba Hali will always have a special place in my heart, because one day last year I approached him in the locker room, and he was happy to talk. A member of the Chiefs PR department came over and said Tamba could not talk, I think because he didn’t practice the day before, even though he was about to practice or was certain to play that week or maybe even both.
I forget that detail, but do remember him sort of rolling his eyes, saying, “Just call me,” and writing his number down. The result was this column, which isn’t the best thing I’ve ever done, but will always be a favorite because of how it came together.
As an aside: I lost his number, because I thought I had everything backed up on my phone, but didn’t, because I’m an idiot.
Most athletes are fine giving their number to reporters they trust, but the most common way it happens is you leave a message through the team, and the coach or executive or athlete calls you back. If it shows up as an unknown number, you know they don’t want you to have it. If the number is on caller ID, you save it.
This week, I’m particularly thankful for coffee. I know, that’s really cliche, but it’s also really true. You probably know I work on this weekly time suck Monday and Tuesday, and these particular words are being typed Monday afternoon. Our 1 year old decided he didn’t need any sleep after about 2:30 in the morning, and even though my wife is a saint and wore the lion’s share of the inconvenience, I’m out of it enough that I drank a cup and a half of decaf at the coffee shop today before I realized my mistake. Caffeine is absolutely a drug, and too much of it makes me shake, but good grief my life wouldn’t be as fun or productive or meaningful without coffee. That sounds overly dramatic, because it is absolutely overly dramatic. But it’s still true.