Chiefs' defense can't stop Barber
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- While the New York Giants were in their raucous locker room celebrating the continuing wonder of Tiki Barber on Saturday evening, Dick Vermeil was about several hundred yards away, venting in the bowels of Giants Stadium.
"We weren't worth a damn," the Kansas City Chiefs head coach said, shaking his head. "I'm not worth a damn. No one's worth a damn. This was the first time I've seen this team play like that. I didn't recognize them."
What disappointed Vermeil most in this debilitating 27-17 loss to the Giants?
"Run defense," he snarled. "We didn't have a run defense. I never would have guessed. I told them all week, 'You're going to have to tackle that son of a gun,' and we didn't do that."
Indeed, while Barber was spectacular, running the football 29 times for a career-high 220 yards and two touchdowns, the Chiefs aided and abetted him at every turn. On his 41-yard first-half touchdown, five Kansas City defenders whiffed on Barber -- strong safety Sammy Knight missed him twice.
The game's final score, a 20-yard Barber touchdown, essentially went through free safety Greg Wesley. Coming into the game, the Chiefs had not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 20 consecutive games -- the NFL's longest streak.
"We had him stopped on the sidelines, we had him stopped at the line of scrimmage and we missed tackles," defensive end Jared Allen said.
Every game won or lost, in the heat of the playoff race, really amounts to two games. The Giants now lead the NFC East with a 10-4 record, 1½ better than the Dallas Cowboys. The 8-6 Chiefs may have suffered the lethal blow to their postseason chances. They are now a half-game behind San Diego and Pittsburgh, 8-5 teams battling for the final AFC wild-card berth.
"We've got two games left to play," Vermeil said when someone suggested that everything had been on the line for his Chiefs. "Other things happen in this league besides us."
The Chiefs had better hope so. They play their final two regular-season games at Arrowhead Stadium but must win both -- against the Chargers and Bengals.
The shelf life for running backs in the NFL is, at best, brief. The longevity of a runner listed at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds is, well, shorter. So how is it that Barber, in his ninth season at the age of 30, is getting better and better?
Those 220 yards were a single-season franchise record, which is saying something when the team has been in business since 1925. Barber's previous career high, 206 yards, came back on Oct. 30 against Washington. It was Barber's fifth consecutive 100-yard game, another team mark.
"Man," said Giants center Shaun O'Hara, "that's a question I can't answer. Tiki's playing out of his mind. You worry about having him carry it too much, but you just have to keep giving him the ball."
Barber gained all of 13 yards on his first 10 carries. But then, midway through the second quarter, things changed. He gained 9 yards off left tackle and then followed it with a 7-yard gain. After an incomplete pass, he bolted around left end, through the Chiefs' would-be tacklers, and scored from 41 yards out.
With the score 10-all in the third quarter, Barber shook loose again. His 55-yard run led to Jay Feely's 35-yard field goal, which gave the Giants a 13-10 lead. He ripped off a 20-yarder early in the fourth quarter, which set up the key play in the game:
Eli Manning, operating at the Chiefs' 31-yard-line, hit Amani Toomer with a modest pass across the middle, where he was met by Knight and linebacker Kendrell Bell. Toomer shucked Bell, but Knight muscled him, very nearly to the ground. Replays later showed that Toomer's right shin was touching the turf, but his knee -- perhaps by the thickness of a sheet of paper -- was not. Toomer spun out of Knight's grasp and eased into the end zone
That made it 20-10 and, for the first time, you sensed a degree of separation. Even when the Chiefs got their second touchdown from Larry Johnson (31 carries, 167 yards), you wondered if Kansas City's defense could possibly stop Barber. The answer, obviously, was no.
Barber's sixth run in the 10-play drive was that muscular 20-yard score that confirmed things with 2:42 left in the game.
The cheers of "MVP! MVP!" that cascaded out of the stands are not so horribly misplaced. Peyton Manning is the quarterback of an undefeated team, but he has a lot of help on both sides of the ball. Shaun Alexander leads the league in rushing, but his left tackle and left guard are repeat Pro Bowl players.
Barber? On Saturday, both of his starting offensive tackles -- Luke Petitgout (back) and Kareem McKenzie (hamstring) -- were out with injuries. Backup tackle Bob Whitfield replaced McKenzie at right tackle and left guard Dave Diehl moved over into Petitgout's spot. Rich Seubert, who hasn't played in a game since Oct. 19, 2003, filled in at Diehl's spot.
"You kind of forget what it is like out there until you start playing again," Seubert said. "Tiki is a great back. He could have had more yards if I blocked a few more guys. He probably could have run for 250-260 yards."
Eli Manning, in his 20th start, is still very much a work in progress. He was a middling 17-for-32 for 186 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Barber has now rushed for 1,577 yards -- breaking his single-season club record of 1,518 set last year -- and with his 421 yards receiving has a total of 1,998 yards in 14 games.
Advice to Eli down the stretch: Keep handing the ball to Barber.
"Keep your eye on the prize," Barber said, "and you'll eventually get there."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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