Cornerback Marcus Peters is an emotional fellow, for better and worse, and most of his time with the Chiefs it’s been better.
He is consumed by football in the purest sense, obsessed with the game both physically and mentally, the kind of commitment to the cause that made the Chiefs accept what others viewed as character flaws in the draft.
You cannot separate the good and the bad. It is part of the same package. Whatever it’s worth, over the past 14 months or so, I’ve come to enjoy even the bad parts. If it’s a character flaw, it’s an admirable one: he loves football so much that it sometimes gets in the way.
I am talking specifically about football here. Peters made national news on Sunday by raising his right fist during the national anthem, and if you haven’t already, you should read Vahe’s excellent column (he even talked to John Carlos).
But, again, these words from me are about football.
Knowing Marcus and where he comes from a little — a little — I think there’s a connection between raising the fist and an uneven performance on the field. Peters was penalized for a facemask infraction during the Chiefs’ 33-27 overtime win over the Chargers on Sunday. He also was called for pass interference in the end zone, and should’ve been penalized for a second facemask violation.
He got beat by San Diego’s Keenan Allen at the line of scrimmage, repeatedly and in different ways — sometimes Allen broke press coverage by pushing Peters back, and sometimes he simply beat him with quick feet.
It wasn’t all bad, of course. Peters had a nice deflection in the second half, and played better in coverage after Allen’s injury. But by the standards Peters has set for himself, it was a pretty bad game.
It reminded me of the game in Oakland last year. If there’s anything Peters loves as much as football, it’s Oakland, his hometown, and he was as fired up for that game as any human has ever been for a football game. In the beginning, it was too much, and he was flagged and gave up some plays, missed some tackles, even threw up on the sideline.
By the end, though, he helped seal the Chiefs’ win with a 58-yard interception return —and then he gave the ball to his mother. It was the full Marcus Peters Experience.
We never saw that big play from Peters on Sunday, but he did get better as the game went on (Allen’s injury undoubtedly helped). I’m curious to see his Pro Football Focus grade, and how many catches he gave up. But there is little doubt his early problems were rooted in what had to be one of the most emotional days he’s had in an emotional football life.
At one point, after the no-call on the facemask, Peters got away with a shove of Philip Rivers. If that gets called, the story of Peters’ day, and the game, may have been much different.
Peters will have to be better as the season goes along. His production should be one of the Chiefs’ bankable strengths, something they can depend on. I’m expecting that to come as his emotions settle.
▪ Alex Smith made three, maybe four throws you have rarely seen him make, if ever. The best may have been a back-shoulder pass to Jeremy Maclin, which went for a touchdown against terrific coverage by All-Pro cornerback Jason Verrett. There was another fantastic and gutsy pass to Maclin in the fourth quarter — it was the play on which he got hurt — in which Smith dropped the ball perfectly between three Chargers defenders in zone coverage, and what was essentially a jump ball to Travis Kelce down the left sideline on the overtime drive.
Some of this was simply what the moment demanded. The Chiefs were down and had to take chances. But there were also some more subtle decisions — a few trust throws to Chris Conley, for instance — that Smith hasn’t done much of in the past.
It’ll be interesting to see if this is an evolution of a guy in the fourth year of a system and surrounded by more talent than he’s ever had, or the mere creation of a desperate moment.
▪ Smith also missed a few throws he needed to hit, in particular going wide on Conley downfield toward the end of the first half. Would’ve set up a field goal. But, still. A great game by the quarterback.
▪ Tamba Hali is clearly less than 100 percent. There were times when he was engaged with the blocker that you could see his strong and fast hands at work, but he just didn’t have enough explosion in those legs.
▪ The play by the offensive line was uneven. Smith faced a lot of pressure early, but at least some of that is on the quarterback. He had to get the ball out quicker on several plays. Parker Ehinger had a few rough moments, by my eye both physical and schematic. At least once he whiffed on a stunt, and there was another time or three when he simply got beat by the man in front of him.
▪ To be fair, Ehinger was in on picking up a stunt on a fourth-and-2 in the second half, the first down converted on a pass to Charcandrick West.
▪ Also, Spencer Ware’s touchdown run was essentially made possible by good push from the right side of the line.
▪ Speaking of Ware, he was even better when I watched him the second time. Even when the Chiefs were terrible, Ware was playing well, and playing hard. He’s an enormous problem for defenses, so good out of the backfield but also dangerous on handoffs. He made tacklers miss, and he also bulled them over. This is probably stupid to say out loud, but if Jamaal Charles doesn’t fully recover — 100 percent, not 97 — there is a case for Ware to be the featured back.
▪ Keenan Allen’s injury really changed a lot, for both teams. He was open, basically every snap. The Chiefs had nothing for him. That injury changed so much.
▪ I did like how quickly Dontari Poe, Jaye Howard and others had Peters’ back toward the end of that skirmish. This is a tight team.
▪ Dee Ford! That was a genuinely good play he made in the fourth quarter, essentially sending the game to overtime in a moment the Chargers had a real chance to set up a walk-off field goal. He got into right tackle Joe Barksdale, disengaged the block by pushing the bigger man back on his heels, and then chased down the quarterback. Standing ovation.
▪ Oh, one more terrific throw by Smith: in the overtime drive, rolling out to his right, buying enough time to let Ware beat the linebacker by turning his shoulders. The ball dropped right into Ware’s hands for a big gain.
▪ Also on that drive — the very next play after the rollout pass, actually — the Chiefs ran what was basically the exact same play as the eventual winner. It was an option run to the right, Ware on the flank, and when the linebacker took a step toward Smith the quarterback pitched to Ware for a 12-yard gain. After the game, talking about the winning touchdown, Smith said he was expecting to pitch the ball. I wonder if he felt that way because of what happened on the previous call.
▪ The front seven got whipped most of the afternoon. By my count, the Chargers gained 135 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries up the middle. That’s a 4.8-yard average. There was an adjustment in the second half — I’m not smart enough to figure out exactly what it was — and the Chargers had just 26 yards on their last eight tries up the middle.
▪ I want to watch the Texans’ comeback win over the Bears before I say for sure, but I think the Chiefs are going to lose this weekend. A lot of that is the simple thought that it’s really hard to beat a team three times on the road in a span of 12 months. But some of it, too, is that the Texans are better than the Chargers in virtually every way but quarterback — better running the ball, better rushing the passer, and DeAndre Hopkins is every bit as good as Keenan Allen.
The Chiefs have a lot to clean up. As terrific as the comeback was — in strategy, execution, focus and emotion — the first 2 1/2 quarters showed a lot of flaws. The Chiefs will have to improve the interior run defense, figure out a better way to generate a pass rush and be able to mix coverages to help a young secondary.
Offensively, I think they’ll be fine. They have good players, lots of potential mismatches, and if the offensive-line mistakes can be limited, they’re going to score a lot of points. But right now, it feels like the Texans win 31-28 or so.