Vahe Gregorian

In a night to honor Eric Berry, Chiefs are surprisingly flat

Denver’s Omar Bolden celebrated after he recovered a muffed punt by the Chiefs in the third quarter of Sunday night’s game at Arrowhead Stadium.
Denver’s Omar Bolden celebrated after he recovered a muffed punt by the Chiefs in the third quarter of Sunday night’s game at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City Star

On Monday, the Chiefs heard the jolting news of safety Eric Berry’s malady, a mass in his chest suspected of being lymphoma.

Practically no sooner had it become known than the presumed next phase of the narrative lurked — in the form of questions about the meaning of missing Berry and that miserable possibility.

“When you lose a brother like that for something like this ... you’ve got to rise up for him,” defensive end Kevin Vickerson said Wednesday, later adding, “So we’ve just got to play for E.B. man, and dedicate this — not just game — just this whole season to him.”

It was an honorable, heart-felt and touching sentiment, one likely embraced in some way or another by many in the locker room.

That’s at least in part why a number of Chiefs during warm-ups Sunday evening before their game against Denver wore T-shirts that bore a message across the front that read: “Be bold. Be brave. Be Berry.”

It helps explain why several of Berry’s fellow defensive backs taped their fingers the way he likes to and why other teammates wore red sock sleeves like Berry does.

For that matter, it also speaks to why some surmised that Berry’s partiality for wearing red jerseys with red pants accounted for the style the Chiefs wore against the Broncos.

None of which, of course, adds up to the look the Chiefs had in the game, a misleadingly close-sounding 29-16 loss to Denver at Arrowhead Stadium.

Contrary to the T-shirts, the Chiefs didn’t so much as start the game boldly.

Instead, they came out listlessly and tumbled into a 17-0 chasm before they even managed a first down.

Beyond a few blips, they largely were incompetent, even after fans chanted Berry’s name during a scoreboard video tribute.

And that’s just the problem with the notion of dedicating a season, or even a game, to a cause:

The other team plays, too, and sometimes it’s the team with Peyton Manning, who now is 13-1 against the Chiefs.

Now, sometimes the motivational undercurrent falls into place, and with that comes an inspiring and emotional tale to be told.

Other times, though, it just … doesn’t … work … out.

At all, like Sunday night.

That’s no reflection of the sincere intentions or the true passion felt for the would-be honoree. Nor does it mean it backfired.

In fact, it’s conceivable that emotions for Berry boomeranged against the Chiefs: Maybe players and coaches had been distracted or drained by the news earlier in the week, and perhaps that made a fundamental difference in preparation.

The oddity of this one, though, is that the Berry factor was just one of many reasons the Chiefs would figure to have wanted to be impeccably ready and at least emotionally charged by Sunday.

Think about all this.

When last they played 10 days before, they had suffered the indignity of losing 24-20 to Oakland.

The Raiders then were 0-10, and on Sunday they served up an emphatic reminder of just why they had been winless with a 52-0 loss to the St. Louis Rams.

So that game figured to be in the Chiefs’ craw.

Then the Chiefs had a week-and-a-half, verging on the time frame of a bye week, to get ready for a Denver team that this season has shown itself to be more vulnerable than invincible.

The Broncos were 8-3 entering the game, but they’d lost two of their last four games — each by double-digits to teams (New England and St. Louis) that the Chiefs had clobbered by 27 points apiece.

Let’s assume, then, that motivation wasn’t lacking against Denver, 9-3, which the Chiefs, 7-5, could have tied for the AFC West lead if they hadn’t dropped their sixth straight to their tormentor.

Then again, it’s almost more disconcerting to think the Chiefs played this one with maximum intensity.

Because this was something like a collapse in every phase of the game, from an offense that mustered 66 yards in the first three quarters and allowed six sacks, to a defense that offered little more resistance than a turnstile to open the game.

Then there were the startling special teams gaffes that included breakdowns such as allowing a fake Denver punt to be converted, to Marcus Cooper carelessly letting a bouncing Broncos punt go off him for a turnover.

This was, in many ways, a debacle, and if nothing else it sure indicates an abrupt change in trajectory for the Chiefs.

They’ve gone from contending for a division title to groping for a wild-card spot.

Remember way back to … two weeks ago, when they’d beaten Seattle, the defending Super Bowl champion, for their seventh victory in eight games?

The only question then was how in the world had the Chiefs been blasted 26-10 in the opener by Tennessee, which on Sunday fell to 2-10.

Even after the loss to Oakland, you could make a case, albeit maybe a flimsy one, that the losses to the Titans and Raiders suggested the Chiefs tend to play down to the competition.

But after Sunday night, the Chiefs are back on a rudderless route, a mystery to be doubted until proven otherwise.

“We didn’t play hard enough,” running back Jamaal Charles said.

With so much to play for, how and why is unfathomable.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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