A man in a business suit waits for his flight. He’s on his phone, sipping coffee, doing businessman things. He sees a woman in a red t-shirt, with a Chiefs logo on the front.
“Sorry about last night,” he says with a smile.
“Oh, I thought they played really good,” she responds. “I’m happy.”
This is a bit of a strange place for Chiefs fans. Their team made the playoffs last year, and yet there are legitimate reasons to be encouraged after an 0-2 start. We went over these in the column, the Insta-reaction, and the Rewatch, but one thing I didn’t touch on too much is the emotional part of this.
After the first game, the Chiefs had every symptom of a smoldering dumpster fire. The coaching was bad, the offensive line was horrendous, and the injuries overwhelming.
But that’s different now, even with a loss. The Chiefs came within two yards of going for the win at Denver — more on this below — with the kind of injuries that would make you hit the reset button on a video game.
The Chiefs will not make the playoffs, of course. That’s a near lock. But there are things to watch now, things the team can do to make sure that a losing season does not become a lost season. Knile Davis can grow. Eric Fisher can improve. Travis Kelce can emerge. James-Michael Johnson can become a better player. On and on it goes.
It’s not as good as watching a team you think can make the playoffs, obviously. But it sure beats what we all thought we had a week ago.
This week’s reading recommendation is Nate Silver pointing out that Roger Goodell probably isn’t making the owners as much money as they think, and the eating recommendation is the burger at the Local Pig.
As always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.
I have no idea, neither do you, and that’s the best part.
Last night was incredible, and not just because it’s a Royals win so crazy George Brett said he’s never seen anything like it. The Royals looked lifeless for six innings. Limp. They looked like a team letting an opportunity slip through their hands, and with apathy. Backed up by Ned Yost’s misuse of Aaron Crow^ in the loss on Sunday, it was infuriating.
^ Ned takes a lot of criticism for how he runs a game, and deservedly so. But it was nice to see him say he’ll be willing to stretch Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis for longer stints down the stretch.
But then the Royals did the 2014 Royals-ist thing possible, which is put together a winning rally right when you thought it was all lost. They even did it by scoring the tying run from second base on a wild pitch, and the winning run from second on a ball that didn’t get out of the infield. I mean, c’mon. They’re just showing off now.
There is no telling where this will go, and the smartest among us will stop trying to predict. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. Maybe you know exactly how this will end. All I know is that every time I think they’re cooked, they come back to life. Every time I think they have it figured out, they go in a slump. Every time I think the pressure of a playoff race is starting to crack them, they turn in an absolutely incredible win like last night.
Let’s just enjoy it.
Just like we always thought. These things are so precarious, especially this time of year, and maybe the best example of that is that Liam Hendriks is pitching tonight. He could be great, like he was in his first start against the Twins, when in the paper the next day John Sleezer had the great picture of him kissing his wife. Or, he could last 2 1/3 innings like he did in his last start, which I assume would end up being Ned’s fault somehow.
Whatever happens, I do hope you’re enjoying it. If you’re a Royals fan, you’ve waited too long not to.
I know you’re making a joke here, and I want you know I appreciate it, but we really are at the point in the season where every game is the most important game. The Royals could really use a sweep of the dog White Sox, and then the Tigers come in for what could be a season-defining weekend series.
Maybe we saw it last night, but if this thing goes into the playoffs, there’s going to be something in the last two weeks that we’re all going to connect with. Someone is going to have a big hit, or a big play, that forever connects them to what would be a historical return to the playoffs.
Like, last year, can you imagine if the Royals had made the playoffs, how Justin Maxwell would be viewed with that walk-off grand slam? He’d be at every old timers event, thousands of people lying and saying they saw it in person. He’d never buy another beer or burnt end in this city again.
That’s part of the fun of a pennant race like this. You never quite know when (or if) that moment will come.
Eh, I don’t know about that.
As it stands right now, the Royals are, officially, 1 ½ games behind the Tigers in the division and two games up on the Mariners in the wild card with 13 to play. That does not include the suspended game against the Indians, which will be made up next Monday and is an almost certain loss, so let’s go ahead and call it two games behind the Tigers and 1 ½ up on the Mariners with 12 to play.
It’s hard to come up with a scenario where the Royals win the division without winning at least eight of those 12, with at least two of them coming in this weekend’s series. That would put the Royals at 90 wins for the year, and they’d need the Tigers to finish 6-6. Winning nine of the last 12 would be the safer bet.
Beating the Mariners requires less, obviously, but the Royals are without the “control” of having any head-to-head games left. You probably want to figure on winning at least seven of the last 12. Doing that would mean the Mariners would have to finish 9-4 to tie, or 10-3 to win.
Now, as I understand it, there would be a one-game playoff in the event of a tie, whether that’s for the division or the wild card. As it happens, that one-game playoff would be played on Sept. 29 — the same day as the Monday Night game at Arrowhead between the Chiefs and Patriots.
I’m not sure where that would rank in the greatest days in Kansas City sports history, but I’m fairly certain it would the most exciting in my adult life.
I like their chances at the wild card. Short of a sweep this weekend, I don’t like their chances at the division.
But I do think this: if the Royals can get into the playoffs, they’ll have done it with confidence, and will have tackled at least most of the problems I think often surface with pressure. And if they get in, I’m with the scouts I’ve referenced a few times in columns or blog posts — I think they’d be a (b-word) of a playoff opponent.
Especially if Duffy comes back healthy and what he’s been this season, the Royals could potentially put Yordano Ventura in the bullpen (yes, I realize this would mean Jeremy Guthrie starts a playoff game) and require at most five innings from their starting pitchers before going Ventura-Herrera-Davis-Holland across the last four innings.
So you guys know where I stand on this: I find it arrogant and insulting to tell people how they should spend their time and money. So you know I’m not going to do that here.
But, sure, it would be disappointing if the Royals didn’t have three big crowds this weekend. More than that, I’d be very, very surprised. And I’d probably give a pass if someone with the Royals wanted to whine about it.
I don’t have a good answer for you on this, obviously. Kelce, especially the way he played on Sunday, could’ve been a weapon in a situation like that. The answer is probably that he just isn’t in the package they used for that play, and for what it’s worth, it looked like Fasano was open for a split-second on that play.
Whenever a play doesn’t work close to the end zone, the play call is usually criticized. That’s how it works. Two e-mailers wondered why the Chiefs don’t run fade routes for Demetrius Harris. But, actually, they tried that. It didn’t work. After the game, in the locker room, Dwayne Bowe said Denver’s defense was the perfect call for what the Chiefs were trying to run.
If anything, the problem I had with the play calling — and I want to stress here that I thought Andy Reid did a really, really good job on Sunday — was the timeout before third down. The timeout is fine, but calling it immediately after second down, with about a minute left, sort of forced the Chiefs to run the ball on third down to get the clock moving again. It took away some of their options, or at least some of the element of surprise, and right now there are Eagles fans reading this and thinking, “Oh, right, I remember talking about Andy Reid’s clock management, too.”
There are places the Chiefs can improve, obviously. I want to watch the game one more time, in part because Eric Fisher took a -4.9 grade from the awesome Pro Football Focus. I thought Fisher played pretty well, so I want to see what I missed, among other things.
But in the bigger picture, and I know this is silly saying after a loss, I thought the Chiefs took a step forward on Sunday. They can’t say it, not publicly, but they have to have more confidence now than a week ago.
Well, it’s not just the Chiefs, either. That’s the way the NFL wants its games being played, and it’s up to the Chiefs to either improve their personnel or figure out better ways to legally disrupt the timing of the receivers.
That’s going to be harder if Eric Berry is out for any length of time, because he provides so much support. But for basically jumping in naked, I thought Ron Parker played fairly well in relief of Berry.
But the answer to your question is that the way the Chiefs are built and the way they play defense, they absolutely have to pressure the quarterback for any of it to work. When they pressure the quarterback, it means the cornerbacks have to cover for shorter bursts, and their press coverage can be more impactful.
I’m working under the assumption that Jamaal Charles will miss each of the next four games, and possibly more. High ankle sprains are rough, usually taking at least a month to recover.
But the good news is that Knile Davis played pretty well. There are things the Chiefs just can’t do with Davis that they count on with Charles, but the show must move on, and if we take Sunday as any indication, they can still move the ball with the right play calls and Alex Smith being on top of his game.
But the next four games are pretty brutal. At Miami, New England at home (on Monday night), at San Francisco and at San Diego. The NFL, of course, is crazy enough that nothing is a lock. But if the Chiefs play the same way they did on Sunday, I believe they’d win at Miami and beat the Patriots at home, then lose the next two.
One more thing about Charles: you can’t help but wonder if he was hurt this whole time. Maybe that’s why he didn’t get the ball much in the season opener. If that’s the case, if Charles was still not 100 percent from the freak foot injury he suffered during training camp, then maybe the time off isn’t the worst thing. Maybe instead of scuffling through the next month, he can come back 100 percent, the player he was last year.
I’m on Team Bill, and I don’t mean any disrespect to Gus Malzahn, who’s done a great job at Auburn. But especially with a returning quarterback, I’ll ride with Bill Snyder if we’re just talking about head coaches and not raw talent on the field.
And false. You have to say false, right? Chase Daniel had a spectacular career at Missouri. The Tigers won 30 games in his three years as a starter, and finished fourth in 2007. Daniel was the conference offensive player of the year, and a Heisman finalist.
You’re wanting me to take the over on that with Mauk? Can’t do it.
A calzone is like the Texas football of foods. It looks great, and on paper, it has a lot of advantages. Should be a world beater. But the thing’s just not put together right, somehow, and the result ends up being less than the sum of the parts.
There are calzones I’d take over something like DiGiorno, but that’s barely pizza. I’m on Team Pizza here, and if I find out you’re on Team Calzone I will judge you forever.
I’m pretty sure we’d have the cheapest tickets and cheapest concession prices in major league baseball. I would fire Aramark, and invite the best of Kansas City barbecue places to open shop at the stadium. I would work hard to improve the in-stadium experience, particularly incorporating technology. I would probably ask the guys at Sporting for advice on this.
I would encourage the broadcasters to point out flaws in the team when warranted, the way Harry Caray and Steve Stone did on the Cubs telecasts I grew up watching. I would lean hard on MLB to let me use that gorgeous video board to show any damn replay I wanted, and in the meantime, would push every limit to do it on my own. I would work hard to identify the best ushers, vendors and other stadium workers, and think of ways to reward them for making fans happy.
I suspect your question here is more about baseball, about whether I would fire the manager or trade a certain player or whatever. But I think that above all else, I would hire the best baseball people I could find and empower them to do their jobs.
Which, really, is a large part of what David Glass has done in the last eight years.
Achilles injuries are rare. Very rare. According to research, there are about five ruptured Achilles’ tendons each season in the NFL. For two to happen on the same defense in the same season opener, sure, absolutely, it raises some suspicions. Depending on how far you want to go with it, Google can help you find any number of causes other than bad luck. Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles going down with ankle injuries in Denver adds to the suspicion.
I get all of that.
But I’m not ready to go there. This is mostly junk science, and speculation, but I called a few doctors unaffiliated with the Chiefs about the Achilles injuries. Asked specifically about some of the causes. Both stressed that it’s unfair to jump to any conclusions, not just because we don’t have medical records, but because a lot of those side effects you can read about online need more research about dosages and many other factors.
It’s natural to wonder about common causes, in other words, but unfair and irresponsible to make any declarations.
The Chiefs were — until the playoff game, obviously — remarkably healthy last season. Unsustainably healthy, really. Usually, when that happens, teams get more than their share of injuries the next year. It’s the same group of players and the same training staff from a year ago.
I don’t know about the “right” way, but I do know there are fewer people believing Weis can be anything other than a $12 million waste of time than a week ago. When Weis was hired at Kansas, I wrote that it was a desperate move. There hasn’t been anything to make me think any differently.
I understand that Weis inherited a mess, but three years in, where’s the progress? He’s a man who was supposed to attract talent and in particular quarterback talent, and his hand-picked quarterbacks have missed.
He’s not even the offensive coordinator anymore, which he was quick to remind people about after a 41-3 crush-job at Duke on Saturday:
“Remember now, I’m not calling the plays. So on every play, I don’t know exactly who they would want the ball to go to.”
Well, he’s not the offensive coordinator anymore because he wasn’t doing a good enough job with it, and intentional or not, it’s an awful look to then put it on someone else.
Weis has improved the talent since taking over, but that’s both a low bar and irrelevant if the wins don’t come, too. The KU football program is paying for past sins, even still, like the firing of Mark Mangino and enough mistakes to keep fans from buying in.
When KU replaces Weis, for the school’s sake, I hope they find someone who really wants the job, who respects the challenge, will approach it with humility and hard work, and who thinks they’ll be there for a long time.
This week’s Knoda: