Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: How bad are the Chiefs, and is there ANYTHING positive from the NFL’s massive mishandling of Ray Rice?

Kansas City Royals Mike Moustakas (front) ran toward home plate with teammate Lorenzo Cain on his heels as both scored off a third-inning single by Nori Aoki against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park in Detroit on Monday.
Kansas City Royals Mike Moustakas (front) ran toward home plate with teammate Lorenzo Cain on his heels as both scored off a third-inning single by Nori Aoki against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park in Detroit on Monday. The Associated Press

So here the Royals are, Sept. 9 and a real pennant race. Tonight, sole possession of first place is on the line against the reigning Cy Young winner. This is the kind of baseball that Royals fans have been begging to see for years, decades.

Are you confident?

Are you thrilled?

Are you scared?

Take an honest inventory, if you can, because a moment like this can tell you who you are as a fan. There are no right answers, and no wrong answers. This is your team, and you are entitled to root and watch and think and fret about your team however you want.

This morning, the Royals wake up with a 72.9 percent chance of making the playoffs according to ESPN, 73.6 percent (and 52.1 percent for the division) according to MLB.com, and 65.9 percent (42.8 for the division) according to Baseball Prospectus.

You root for a team with the best defense in baseball, particularly the outfield, and one of the better pitching staffs in baseball, particularly the bullpen. You root for a team with a homegrown star in left field and another one catching. You root for a team that is an absurd 62-10 when scoring at least four runs, including 11-4 when scoring exactly four runs.

Does that make you smile, at the run prevention?

Or worry, about the offense?

Again, there are no right answers and no wrong answers here. Just statements about what we are as fans. Your level of optimism or pessimism will not impact the number of Royals’ wins or losses, but it will go a long way in saying how you’re going to enjoy (or not) the last few weeks of this season.

Including yesterday’s loss, which was a reminder about how close this team operates to the edge, the Royals play six of their last 20 games against the Tigers. Win at least three of those, and the Royals should be in good shape.

That part of it starts tonight. Remember how you feel right now, not just to see what you are as a fan, but also because you can’t be sure when this will happen again.

This week’s reading recommendation^ is Alan Feuer on the rise and fall of the biggest pot dealer in New York City history, which reads an awful lot like a movie^. The eating recommendation is the chicken soup at La Fonda.

^ A bonus reading recommendation: a children’s book called Rudy Toot Toots by Paul Scholz, father of frequent Twitter Tuesday contributor Brent Scholz.

So, yeah. This is weird.

Derrick Johnson’s injury, in football terms, is devastatingfor team and player. And lost in the justified attention on Johnson is that Mike DeVito is out with the same injury, a horrible coincidence that’s torpedoed the Chiefs’ season as it starts.

The Chiefs had enough go wrong on Sunday that it’s hard to know exactly where to start. Andy Reid called himself out in the postgame, saying he called a terrible game, and it’s true that there’s enough blame to go around and also probably true that Reid is being a stand-up guy and covering for his players and coaches.

A week ago, I got some emails ripping me for picking the Chiefs to win just six games. And it’s true that I had the Titans at home as one of the wins, but I imagine some of you will rip me again for saying the Chiefs won’t — can’t? — be as bad for the next 15 games as they looked in the first.

Some of that — a small bit — should come with the health of Marcus Cooper and D’Anthony Thomas, and the return of Dwayne Bowe and Donald Stephenson. I made that 10-loss pick based on a lot of reasons, including that they were due for some bad luck after a run of great fortune last year, and I know this sounds strange, but I’d have gone even lower if not for the quarterback and the coach.

I believe those are the two most important spots on a football team, and that Alex Smith is, probably, one of the best 12 or so quarterbacks^ in the league and that Andy Reid is, probably, one of the best 10 or coaches^^ in the league.

^ We can do this any number of ways, but I’ve got Smith behind Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Eli Manning for sure. I’ve got him in a group with Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, and Colin Kaepernick for spots 11 through 16 in the prestigious DKTM QB rankings.

^^ Again, we can do this any number of ways, but I’ve got Reid behind Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, brothers Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, Mike McCarthy and Tom Coughlin for sure. And I’ve got him in a group with Mike Tomlin, John Fox and Jeff Fisher for spots eight through 11 in the prestigious DKTM coach rankings.

It cannot be overstated how craptastic the Chiefs were on Sunday … against a team they should expect to beat … at home … with the Broncos, Dolphins, Patriots, 49ers and Chargers waiting between now and the end of next month. But just like you’re never as good as your highest high, you’re also not as bad as your lowest low.

And as ugly as Sunday was, and as important as Johnson and DeVito are, I’ll still be surprised if a team with Smith at quarterback and Reid as the coach loses more than 10 or 11 games.

The key will be if Eric Hosmer starts hitting and the Chiefs get their offense going.

I might be doing this wrong.

This is all anecdotal, of course, and the people you hear from may be very different than the people I hear from — but I think this is a fairly common sentiment.

If I’m right about that, I think there are a few things at work here. The first four months or so of the Royals season was an ink blot test, where you could have your assumptions and opinions and, no matter what, watch the Royals and feel vindicated. Context matters here, too, and not just the playoff drought but that this is the eighth full season of Dayton Moore’s time in Kansas City. If last year’s 86 wins came in Dayton’s, say, third year, I think fans would’ve been much more predisposed to believing early and strong.

But shouldn’t all of that be gone by now? I loved Frank White’s line here — "Don’t look at what used to happen, look at what’s actually happening now." I mean, agree with him or not, but nobody in the world has a more intimate understanding of both the 1985 team and this 2014 than George Brett, and he says this team is better.

Believing means being willing to be let down, but if you can’t believe when your team is in first place approaching the middle of September, I’m not sure why you waste your time following baseball.

No.

I mean … no.

Brandon Finnegan looked great in New York over the weekend. He retired all six batters he faced, including back-to-back strikeouts of Jacoby Ellsbury and Derek Jeter. I’m as fascinated by the possibilities here as anyone. Chris Sale and David Price each made differences for their teams in pennant races the same year they were drafted.

But, let’s calm down a bit.

Finnegan is on an innings limit. He’s pitched two innings in the big leagues. He’s pitched 29 innings above the Big 12. Four months ago, he was pitching against Kansas.

I think Finnegan can make a difference as a relief pitcher, particularly against lefties, but against righties, too. Especially in the playoffs, he could help turn what is now a six inning game for the Royals (if Herrera, Davis and Holland are rested and, um, healthy) into five. That’s no small thing.

But giving young players way more than they’re capable of doing based on tiny sample sizes is the kind of thing the Royals were known for in the pre-2006 years. You don’t to see them go back there.

So, this is about the point in our program where the pleasant surprise and intrigue of a Royals pennant race is overtaken by the shock and horror of the Chiefs being emasculated in their season opener.

Let’s get something straight here. Losing to the Titans is not a surprise. Before the game, I figured the Chiefs for a 60 percent chance of winning the game, partly because they were at home. But I never would’ve imagined them being blown out, even if you’d told me they had to play the entire game without Johnson and DeVito.

Coincidence or not, the Chiefs have told us what they were in each of the last few season openers.

Last year, they pounded the sorry Jaguars on their way to 11-5 and the playoffs. The year before that, they were shamed by the Falcons, 40-24, at home on the way to a 2-14 civic embarrassment. The year before that they lost 41-7 to the Bills at home, and then 48-3 at Detroit (losing Jamaal Charles to an ACL tear) on the way to 7-9. In 2010, they opened "new" Arrowhead with a 21-14 last-second win over the Chargers on Monday night.

You get the idea.

We’ve essentially known everything we needed to know about the Chiefs after the season opener.

Again, I don’t think the Chiefs are quite as bad as they looked against the Titans.

But I do think they’ve got a shot at one of the best five or 10 prospects in the draft next year.

We probably should have done this, but how would you have ranked the five players the Chiefs could least afford to lose?

Spit-balling here, but I think I’d have gone like this:

1. Jamaal Charles

2. Alex Smith

3. Derrick Johnson

4. Eric Berry

5. Justin Houston

That’s pretty close to the list, right? Jamaal, because duh. Smith, because he’s the quarterback. Johnson, because he’s an All-Pro and something like the defense’s heart and brain. I have Berry ahead of Houston because the secondary is already wobbly, and if there’s anywhere the Chiefs have depth, it’s with pass rushers. But you could make an argument for Johnson to be anywhere from second to fourth or fifth on that list.

Whatever, it’s a brutal loss to a team that was already operating without much margin for error.

I don’t understand the question. I don’t think you can be a fair weather fan of the Chiefs. This is the franchise that’s given us Lin Elliott and Scott Pioli and a blown 28-point playoff lead and the Elvis Grbac face. Can you be a fair weather fan of that?

There are a lot of things you can be a fair weather fan of. Sporting KC, for instance. They’ve got some fair weather fans, and we’ll find out who they are if four-game losing streaks turn into bottom-of-the-table seasons. You can be a fair weather fan of the Kauffman Performing Arts Center. You can be a fair weather fan of the Z-Man, or First Fridays, or the cannelloni at Il Centro.

But the Chiefs?

You were going home, away from a lost cause. I assume you’ll be watching this Sunday, and back at Arrowhead whenever you have tickets again.

A fair weather fan? I think 2012 drove all of those away.

I’ll have more on this later, probably on the blog tomorrow, but I watched the game again and it was even worse than it looked the first time. Especially the offensive line.

Andy Reid should welcome every question about only getting Charles 11 touches, because that means fewer questions about an offensive line that played worse than even the strongest pessimist would’ve expeted.

Mike McGlynn, especially, oof. Great googly moogly he was awful, but I’m afraid that pointing out his particular stink will detract from the stink of the other four linemen. Just wretched. If you’re a Chiefs fan, honestly, if the line is really that bad you should hope that Charles never sees the ball even 11 times in a game again. Save him for next year, when it might matter.

I do think it’s true that the Chiefs are in a specific sort of bind here. Their best offensive player, by far, is their running back, and it becomes difficult to feature the running back when you get behind.

Reid has jumped on this grenade a few times already, including Monday, saying he was negligent in not featuring Charles more. But it would’ve taken Tecmo Bo to do anything behind that offensive line on Sunday.

It’s a tough situation with Charles. You want to use him, but not too much. You need the lead to best use your running back, but Charles is also the team’s best big-play threat.

There are a thousand things the Chiefs did wrong on Sunday, and not utilizing Charles more is certainly among them. But, really, in the big picture, what really happened is Charles saved himself a little combat in a lost cause.

That’s just a fantastic line.

It is hard to imagine how Goodell — and the Ravens^ — could have screwed this up worse. If TMZ is right and the NFL never asked for the elevator video, this is an inexcusable and offensive.

^ If you’re up for being flabbergastingly infuriated, to make up a term, that link will do it. I first saw it in Deadspin’s always great Why Your Team Sucks, and it is absolutely incredible in its idiocy.

There have been calls for Goodell’s job, and certainly the NFL would have a clearer path in the immediate if resigned. But, realistically, Goodell makes the 32 ownership groups he works for a LOT of money and as long as that continues, he’s going to have his job. If the owners become worried that Goodell and his enormous failure — and it’s worth noting that by positioning himself as the law and order commissioner, Goodell does not have a fall guy here — hurt the NFL’s quest for world domination then this is a very different story. But I’d be surprised if that happens.

The more likely scenario, I think, is that Goodell does a media tour talking about everything he’s learned through this process, the mistakes that led to The Mistakes, and how he and the league will correct this going forward.

I have to tell you something, too. I know this will sound strange, but I do think that the way this whole thing has gone down has done more to stop domestic violence than if the league had given Rice, say, a four- or six-game suspension in the beginning.

If that happened, there wouldn’t have been the kind of outrage about a light punishment, wouldn’t have been as many respected and powerful voices using big platforms to talk about how wrong it is for a man to hit a woman, and wouldn’t be as many impressionable minds hearing those messages. Sports is a way to react millions of people who are otherwise very difficult to reach. The NFL, other sports leagues and other organizations would not be as in tune with the awfulness of a man beating a woman. Sometimes you don’t get better until you see how bad it really is.

Don’t get me wrong. There is still so much to do, as Chris Berman and Trent Dilfer unwittingly showed millions on last night’s broadcast. The Ray Rice rallies around Baltimore are disturbing, and I think we all need to recognize how different this story would have played out had there been no video. Domestic violence is an awful problem, in the NFL and in the real world. That Rice avoided jail time by entering a program of probation and anger management, with the charges eventually dropped, is an awful message. So is the fact that Slate found "Beats by Ray" to be the second-most popular fantasy football team name for 2014.

But I can’t think of a story in the last few years that’s done a better job illustrating how despicable domestic violence is, or how far we all have to go.

I hope this can generate some attention and motivation to close that gap, so that, at the very least, it doesn’t take a video being sold to TMZ to get people outraged about a man knocking a woman unconscious.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just searching for something good out of a disgusting ordeal for Rice, his team and his league.

I was surprised they didn’t draft a wide receiver, especially in the first round, and especially as they clearly knew by then that they were going to sign Alex Smith long-term. I thought Kelvin Benjamin or Marqise Lee might’ve been good fits.

But I also understand the argument — if indeed this was the argument — that realistically you’re probably going to take a step back in 2014, and why being so high on Dee Ford with the understanding that Tamba Hali is probably not going to be on the roster in 2015 you might see a good fit.

It’s also worth noting, if we’re talking about receivers and free agent signings, that the Chiefs thought they had a deal with Emmanuel Sanders.

Now, I don’t mean any of that as an excuse. There are no excuses in the NFL. You either win, or you take criticism.

And at the moment, Chiefs fans are still waiting for a draft pick from the last two years to make a big impact.

The short answer, and you’re not going to like it, is to get to the stadium earlier. I was running a little later than I usually like on Sunday, and got to the stadium around 10:25. I was parked around 10:55, a half-hour of moving a few hundred yards, because the lot I usually use was apparently full (I’ve since found out it was not actually full) and I had to go to a lot on the other side of the complex.

If I’d have gotten there earlier, I’m fairly sure it would’ve been a smoother experience, and I’m certainly sympathetic to the idea that squeezing 80,000 people into a parking lot in a short period of time is difficult.

But I also have heard from enough fans to know there were thousands of experiences worse than mine^ and that it’s strange and frustrating for fans that this isn’t better.

^ I want to be clear here: I’m completely fine if it takes me a half hour or even longer to park once inside the stadium. I’m there for my job, I’m not paying, and if I want to get in quicker I can get to the stadium earlier. This is about paying customers being frustrated with an important part of their experience.

The stadium has been where it’s been for decades, you’d think they’d have figured something out by now. I thought the idea of using some gates as pass-only, and keeping the traffic flow around the perimeter in one direction sounded good. But at least for one Sunday, it seemed to cause more problems than it solved.

Maybe that was just the first real test of a new plan, and they’ll have the kinks out next time. But I’ve also heard people inside the Chiefs claim they have the parking thing figured out. That was either one or two plans ago, I’ve lost track.

We had the Suck For Luck thing a few years ago, what about Lose A Lotta For Mariota?

You guys can do better than that, I’m betting.

This week’s Knoda:

 

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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