Bitter pill for the Chiefs to swallow

Several Chiefs openly bemoaned their first loss of the season to the traditionally inept Bengals.

Updated: November 17, 2003, 12:02 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

CINCINNATI -- There were, for the record, no tears from coach Dick Vermeil following the Kansas City Chiefs' initial defeat of the season here on Sunday afternoon.

That isn't to suggest, however, the Chiefs locker room was bereft of crybabies after a 24-19 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals that snapped Kansas City's nine-game winning streak.

Jason Baker
Jason Baker, left, and Dante Hall, right, sit on the bench at the end of the Chiefs' loss to the Bengals.
For a team that was adamant about taking one game at a time, which insisted it harbored no designs yet on the perfect record fashioned by the Miami Dolphins in 1972, several of the Chiefs openly bemoaned the first blemish on their formerly pristine record.

And others, most notably star tailback Priest Holmes, just publicly moaned, period. Never noted for his bravado, and long regarded as one of the NFL's most humble and classy stars, Holmes on Sunday evening came off as a man embittered by a defeat to a team he obviously feels is of inferior pedigree.

Holmes barked about the "guarantee" that Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson had made early in the week. Groused about falling shy of expectations both team-oriented and also personal. More than hinted that he was hurt, not so much by losing, but rather by the club to which he and the Chiefs had lost.

"I've never lost to them, so for me to lose to them now, it definitely tears my heart apart," said Holmes, who used to face the Bengals twice annually in division play, when he was with the Baltimore Ravens. "That's why I can say I do respect the players and the coach. But as far as the organization itself, I don't, because they're not used to winning."

Perhaps his words were the result of not being accustomed to losing, given that the Chiefs are an organization steeped in success, with a history of stability and stature that the Bengals can only envy for now. But to criticize an organization for its history, especially on such a historic day here, was out of character for Holmes, and likely reflected his distress at having the Chiefs' championship diesel at least temporarily derailed.

Then again, Holmes was hardly the lone voice of dissent, with other players claiming that the Chiefs lost the game more than the Bengals won it. Never mind that the Chiefs won a few outings this season when opponents played poorly.

With the helium out of their balloon for the first time in 2003, some Chiefs still possessed an air of arrogance that was fairly unbecoming, although most acknowledged the Bengals had outplayed them. But even a few Kansas City players who dealt rationally with defeat still offered thinly-veiled caveats.

Said return specialist Dante Hall: "If they had beaten us at our best, I think it might have been a little easier to swallow."

Chat with Priest Holmes
Priest
Chat with Chiefs RB Priest Holmes on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET. Send your questions now!
That may be the case. But nine games into the season, perhaps the Chiefs should have realized that, the longer you stay unbeaten in the NFL, the tougher it gets to breathe easily every Sunday afternoon. For all their brilliance in this season, for the magnificent things that Vermeil and his staff have accomplished in their third year, the Chiefs have led a relatively golden existence at times.

When the alchemy wears off, as it almost certainly does at some juncture of a season, the favored response is rededication and not recrimination. Maybe when the Chiefs review the celluloid evidence of this game, they will understand that they were the second best team in Paul Brown Stadium, at least for one day.

Part of the reason for that, several players noted, was their own penchant for squandering opportunities, especially early on, when the starry-eyed Bengals still did not have their legs under them.

"We definitely had early opportunities," said quarterback Trent Green, "and we didn't do enough with them. They're a young team. Sometimes when you jump up early on that kind of team they don't react well. But we allowed them to hang in there."

If they had beaten us at our best, I think it might have been a little easier to swallow.
Chiefs KR Dante Hall

On its first five possessions, for instance, Kansas City had an average starting point of its own 46-yard line. All five series, though, concluded in punts. For the game, the Chiefs ran 31 of their 60 snaps either from the 50-yard line or inside Cincinnati territory. With such a lopsided edge in field advantage, their offense managed just two touchdowns.

Holmes was held to 62 rushing yards, his lowest output of the season, and was limited to only 98 all-purpose yards, his first time under 100 yards all year.

A defense viewed as somewhat flawed, but which had kept opponents out of the end zone while allowing the fourth fewest points in the league, surrendered a gaudy 422 yards and 21 first downs. Most times the Chiefs needed a defensive "stop," especially late in the game, they were steamrollered by Cincinnati tailback Rudi Johnson.

One team official actually noted that sometimes a loss, one following a long winning streak, is the best thing for a club. It can be a wakeup call, a clarion reminded that helps to return focus, a moment that lifts some of the weight from players' shoulders. The club official noted that, for the NFL's best team, the assignment is to put Sunday behind it, to get back to the business at hand.

That business, Holmes hopes, includes a rematch with the Bengals in the playoffs.

"If they're going the same place we're going," Holmes said with disdain finally leaving his voice, "we'll definitely meet again."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Click here to send Len a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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