As he considered the cosmic relevance of preseason games earlier this week, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson summed it up with a good hedging.
“You have to take what you can out of it,” he said. “All I’m saying is you are not as good as you think you are … and it’s also not as bad as it seems at times.”
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Especially with the Chiefs in the embryonic phases of rehabilitating a once-proud institution that went 2-14 the last time the games counted.
And Johnson’s thoughts spoke aptly to the events of Friday night at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs lost 15-13 to the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers after leading until the final moments of the game.
Sounds like some good, but not as good as it seems:
The Chiefs provided more to fret over than they had in losing 17-13 last week to a New Orleans team recovering from a historically woeful defensive season, which sounded bad but not as bad as it seemed considering the way the Chiefs’ first-team offensive and defensive units played in cameo appearances.
Friday, with the exception of the lightning flash of a 104-yard kickoff return by Quintin Demps that came so early that thousands snarled in traffic missed it, the game largely was defined by the sluggishness of the first-team offense.
A group that had been virtually flawless in its lone series at New Orleans, going 80 yards on 14 plays with quarterback Alex Smith completing seven of eight passes, needed seven first-half series to muster 92 yards.
Smith, playing against the team that traded him after last season, completed seven passes again, but this time it took 16 attempts mostly against reserves as the 49ers went to the bench early.
“Not very efficient,” said Smith, adding that the Chiefs “left a lot out there” and had some communication issues to go with the obvious protection troubles.
Asked if he thought his team might have fared better with the 49ers using so many backups, coach Andy Reid said: “Did I expect more? Yeah.”
Smith wasn’t remotely sharp, but the moral of the story wasn’t so much that as this:
Ultimately, Smith can only be as good as his supporting cast, which dropped three passes and allowed him to be sacked three times and hasn’t really included Dwayne Bowe, who has 415 NFL receptions but whose lone targeting by Smith in two games was deflected Friday night.
That’s not a lot of return for the five-year, $56 million deal he signed in the offseason, even if it’s just preseason and Reid is practicing the art of gamesmanship by holding back some of the playbook.
It’s not by design, Reid said, simply, that Bowe isn’t getting the ball.
What that means later, we’ll come to see.
But you saw all you needed to see to learn at least one thing about this offense.
The game was a vivid statement about the vital role running back Jamaal Charles must play if the Chiefs are going to succeed or even improve.
Charles didn’t dress Friday because of a foot injury, which at this point seems merely like a wise precaution, and Reid insisted this week that Charles would have played if it were a real game and reiterated after the game that he’s simply day-to-day.
Best hope so, because rookie reserve Knile Davis managed just 37 yards in 10 carries, and that was inflated somewhat by two runs for 17 yards late in the half with the 49ers looking only to shut down the deep ball.
As with Smith, Davis didn’t have much help or room at times, but he also did little to distinguish himself beyond also pulling in three receptions for 31 yards.
Davis could well have a bright future, but it’s hard to say he’s capable of what Charles is right now.
Charles, even in last season’s tumult, rushed for 1,509 yards and had 35 receptions and is averaging 5.8 yards a carry in his career — the highest rushing average in NFL history.
His versatile skills seem well-suited to Reid’s West Coast offense, as even he noted during the offseason.
“This offense might be the best thing that ever happened to me,” Charles told The Star. “I think I’ll continue to stack Pro Bowls on Pro Bowls if I stay healthy.”
A week ago when he was healthy, Charles got the ball on eight of the Chiefs’ 14 first-team plays, including a 13-yard reception to set up his 1-yard TD run a play later.
As unclear as so much might be in the preseason, as hard as it is to process what really was good or what really was bad, there’s no hedging on how much he’ll mean to this team.