KC an imperfect 7-0
The Chiefs improved to 7-0 on Monday night, but there are plenty concerns over an offense that sputtered.
Visions of Dick Vermeil's last trip to the Super Bowl didn't flash through his mind until he was reminded after Monday night's almost unnerving 17-10 Chiefs victory over the Raiders. Everyone else in Network Associates Coliseum remembered, however, as Tim Brown was stopped at the Chiefs 1-yard line with no time left.
When mentioned, it all came back to Vermeil: Steve McNair scrambled. He fired the ball to Kevin Dyson, who headed to the Rams 1 but was stopped short by linebacker Mike Jones. That play allowed Vermeil to retire as a Super Bowl champion.
Back from retirement, Monday night's finish against the Raiders tested the third-year Chiefs coach's nerves almost too much.
The Raiders had blundered enough to give the Chiefs a 10-3 lead with less than seven minutes remaining. Trent Green couldn't ignite the Chiefs passing offense. Priest Holmes could only do so much against a stacked Raiders defense, so Vermeil was forced to make his sixth of seven punts.
Raiders punt-returner Phillip Buchanon pulled a Bill Buckner by either losing the ball in the lights or just simply muffing the punt. The Chiefs recovered at the Raiders 11 and Holmes extended his right arm to put the ball over the goal line for a two-yard touchdown with 4:57 left in the fourth quarter.
Suddenly, Raiders backup Marques Tuiasosopo got into a rhythm that had eluded elder statesmen Green or Rich Gannon all night. Tuiasosopo drove the Raiders 65 yards in seven plays to trim the Chiefs lead to 17-10.
Given only 107 seconds after the Chiefs' final punt, Tuiasosopo picked apart the defense to get a last-chance play from the Kansas City 14. Brown caught the ball but he didn't guage the goal line. Safeties Greg Wesley and Jerome Woods stopped him at the 1, preserving the Chiefs' 7-0 record and leaving the Raiders five games behind them.
"At one point, Tim was in the end zone," Woods said. "He broke his route off. I guess he still thought he was in the end zone. But when he broke it off, he left it about a yard short. I just made the play. If they would have gotten that, it would have put the game in overtime, and in overtime, they would have had the momentum. We're just glad to be getting out of here with a victory. It was an ugly win, but all of them count."
Woods admits the Chiefs are getting all the breaks. Buchanon muffs a crucial punt. Brown misjudges the goal line. Gannon suffers a shoulder injury at the end of the first half that ends his evening and leaves the struggling Oakland offense in the hands of an unproven quarterback.
"Now that you think about it, it does remind you of the Super Bowl game against Tennessee," Vermeil said minutes after Brown was stopped with no time left on the clock. "I didn't know if Tim was in the end zone or not."
What is scary to Vermeil is that the Chiefs are running out of dramatic ways to win close games. Here was a game that should have been a blowout. The Chiefs jumped to a 10-0 first-half lead and weren't even threatened by the Raiders. Once again, a missing persons report could have been filed for the Raiders offense. Gannon generated only 75 yards of first-half offense on 32 plays before being sidelined following a Shawn Barber sack before the half.
For a while, the Chiefs were winning games on the return ability of Dante Hall. But teams are on to the Chiefs. Raiders punter Shane Lechler punted two balls out of bounds and boomed one 71 yards into the end zone. Hall was held to two punt returns for 15 yards and two kickoff returns for 28. Lechler was Hall's teammate at Texas A&M.
"Shane was telling me before the game, 'You ain't getting it,' " Hall said. "I kept telling him give me something I can work with. But he was right. I didn't get it tonight. After the game, he let me have it. He told me I wasn't getting it. He got the better part of me today."
But that's okay. Great teams don't have to rely on special teams players every week. To beat the Raiders, the Chiefs relied on their defense. Vermeil is growing more and more concerned about his offense. While the numbers looked good -- 55 plays, 319 yards -- the execution wasn't. Only three balls reached the hands of wide receivers -- two to Johnnie Morton and one to Eddie Kennison.
Green was able to hit Tony Gonzalez three times for 87 yards, but the Pro Bowl tight end was flagged twice for pushing off or holding. That stunned him. Gonzalez says he's held by defenders on every other play and doesn't get calls from officials to the Chiefs benefit. Overall, the Chiefs were flagged seven times for 67 yards.
"We had five penalties in the first half," Vermeil said. "We usually don't get five penalties in a game. We're not getting things done that we need to get done. Kennison catches a ball in the first half, and then we didn't get him the ball after that."
To win, the Chiefs centered everything around Priest Holmes. Holmes, for whatever reason, had great success running to his left against weaknesses in the Raiders defense. He finished the game with 27 carries for 123 yards and four catches for 50. Holmes was responsible for 173 of the Chiefs 319 yards, a scary imbalance for a team that has Gonzalez, Morton, Kennison and Marc Boerigter.
"Definitely the running game was there," Holmes said. "We moved the ball up and down the field. We were a little inconsistent in the red zone, not putting up points early enough in order to (put the Raiders away). We need to be more consistent on offense."
Green knows a lot of the work falls upon his shoulders. He completed only 11 of 22 passes, was intercepted once and was sacked twice. Three sets of plays were working: some routes to Gonzalez, Holmes running left and into the middle, and Holmes matching catches on check-down plays.
"There are a lot of areas for improvement," Green said. "We are a hungry team that hasn't been there in a while. I'm sure everybody is happy with the win, but we understand there is a lot of work to do. Our passing game wasn't as effective as we've been. We just didn't have the consistency. We had some nice runs, but there were other plays where we were getting knocked back and were losing yards."
Green is upset with himself for not getting Boerigter more involved. Boerigter is the tall, deep threat who was once against shut out. His big play came when he recovered Buchanon's muffed punt at the Raiders 11 in the fourth quarter.
"We've got to find ways of getting Marc the ball," Green said. "Dante is playing well as anybody, and we've got to find ways of getting him the ball. There are a lot of weapons. We were frustrated. We were on the sidelines trying to get it figured out. We had some success in the first half, but we didn't in the second half."
Every Chiefs offensive player thought the offensive concerns were solved in a 40-point game against the Packers. They weren't. Vermeil wasn't happy with a four-for-13 success rate on third downs.
"I'd like to believe we are better than we are offensively," Vermeil said. "We're not getting things done we need to get done."
Of course, Vermeil could look across the field and feel a little relieved. The Raiders are a mess. They are 2-5. Gannon has a shoulder injury and Bill Callahan doesn't know the severity. Their offensive line is banged up. Their veteran receivers are making critical game-deciding mistakes. Buchanon cost them a game with a muffed punt.
"We're not a bunch of quitters," Raiders defensive tackle Rod Coleman said. "We're going to go until the clock runs out. We lost."
At 2-5, the clock is running out on the Raiders. Vermeil's just glad midnight struck when the Raiders were on the 1 with no time left.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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