Don't Kill The Mellinger

Watching the Chiefs and Broncos again, and finding more encouragement

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Anthony Fasano (80) caught a bobbling 22-yard catch for a first down in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos in NFL action on September 14, 2014 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Co. The Chiefs lost 24-17.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Anthony Fasano (80) caught a bobbling 22-yard catch for a first down in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos in NFL action on September 14, 2014 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Co. The Chiefs lost 24-17. The Kansas City Star

You don’t get many encouraging losses in the NFL. This was one. Let’s get to it.

▪ I’m now convinced that the OMAHA thing — you hear Peyton Manning scream it before basically every snap — is a complete creation of the NFL having cameras and microphones every-damn-where. Obviously, it’s not something you hear when you’re at the game.

▪ Be honest. After Emmanuel Sanders beat Marcus Cooper on that deep pass on the first play of the game, and Julius Thomas beat Eric Berr on that fade route for a touchdown on the first drive, you thought this was going to be 41-6. I know I did.

▪ Alex Smith was terrific. Even better than watching it live. There were a few times he probably broke the pocket before he had to against Tennessee — a high-level critique, especially considering how bad the offensive line was — but I thought he was as good as could be expected against Denver.

▪ He broke the pocket when he needed to, but made a lot of fabulous throws, particularly to Travis Kelce and Dwayne Bowe on the last drive of the game. He got "fortunate" — his word — on that non-fumble but had zero turnovers a week after throwing three interceptions.

▪ That’s especially impressive going on the road, against a good defense, using a gameplan built with Jamaal Charles in mind that you’re forced to use without Jamaal Charles.

▪ Speaking of Charles’ injury, I know they’re calling it an ankle, and you can never be really sure how these things happen, but Broncos safety T.J. Ward looked like he was doing some snaky things on that play.

▪ Knile Davis was very good in relief of Charles. He’s a big, strong guy with speed and that’s always a good place to start with a running back. But there are obviously things you miss, and not just Charles’ explosiveness, toughness between the tackles and pass blocking. There are things the Chiefs scheme for Charles that they’re going to have to trash if he’s out for a while. Like, in the second quarter, they split Davis out to the left and had him run a quick slant. They’ve done that with Charles a lot, and it’s a good play for them. Davis got open with it, but couldn’t make the catch.

▪ Eric Fisher was very good. Got beat on the sack where Smith almost fumbled, but had many more great blocks, particularly down the field in the run game, and did it in a tough situation. The first touchdown, for instance, was behind his block. Give the guy credit.

▪ Wasn’t just Fisher. The entire offensive line was so, so, SO much better than a week ago. It’s like they were an entirely different group. Quibble if you want about how bad it was against Tennessee, but they pay Andy Reid and his coaches a lot of money to make adjustments like that.

▪ That said, Smith did a lot of running around in the pocket. Some of that, and this is just me speculating, might be a lack of confidence in the guys they’re playing at the moment (same thing applied last week). Smith is fairly athletic, even by NFL quarterback standards, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

▪ I like Von Miller’s approach to sack dances. Mixes it up, with an emphasis on showy-funny. I think that was an Elvis he did late in the second quarter.

▪ The thing about that play where Smith threw beyond the line of scrimmage … watching it happen, he was SO far beyond the line of scrimmage my first reaction was that maybe I had the wrong line of scrimmage, and it was a big play. Never seen a quarterback go that far and still throw it.

▪ All last season, I heard from people close to Alex both in and outside of the organization that we’d really see his best once he had tight ends to mix in. For whatever reason, I never fully bought into that because, of course he likes to throw to tight ends — he had Vernon Davis in San Francisco. But this game was a strong point in Smith’s favor there, and especially if Charles is out for any length of time, Anthony Fasano and Travis Kelce may be the keys to the offense.

▪ That 10-minute drive in the third quarter was good for keeping Manning off the field, obviously, but that has to be an emotional killer to not get any points there. Reid took some blame, but to me that’s a coach covering for his players. Cairo Santos is not long for this roster.

▪ James-Michael Johnson was very, very good. He’s not going to replace Derrick Johnson, but he was terrific. All over the field making plays. I also thought he showed exactly the attitude you’d want to see after the game, whatever that’s worth. Here he is, playing individually very good in an important spot for his career, playing middle linebacker on a team that held Peyton Manning to 24 points in Denver, and he was legitimately pissed off about the loss.

▪ We can nitpick about timeouts and specific play-calls, but a week after apologizing for his part in the embarrassing loss to the Titans, I thought Andy Reid coached a great game. Lots of creativity on offense, adjusting on the fly with the injuries, and — we talked about this a few times in the last few weeks — he sort of play-called some guys open in some key spots.

▪ So many pick plays. Good gracious, so, so many pick plays.

▪ The tempting thing is to whine about the officials after those things, but they call it both ways. The Chiefs could run those things, too.

▪ Yes, absolutely you go for two there. Have to. A chance to beat Peyton Manning in Denver on one play? My goodness, that’s what you work all week for.

▪ And, speaking of going for two, I was curious if they would after the touchdown with about 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Probably reading too much into this, but I wonder if part of kicking the extra-point there is a lack of confidence in Santos to kick the potential game-tying field goal.

▪ I say that obviously knowing that the way it worked out, the Chiefs would’ve needed a touchdown at the end anyway.

▪ I know this is a lot of positives after a loss and, as they say, there are no moral victories but I’m just not sure how a Chiefs fan wouldn’t be encouraged from this after what we saw a week ago. A lot of times, what you think watching live doesn’t hold up when you watch again later, but in this spot, I’m even more encouraged after watching again.

▪ They’re not going to make the playoffs, that’s a virtual lock. But they’re too good (even with the injuries) and especially too well-coached to let this season spiral out of control like we’ve seen in recent years.

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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