KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Le’Ron McClain posted a bold tweet a little over a week ago after another tough loss to the San Diego Chargers had dropped the Chiefs to 0-3.
The veteran fullback predicted Kansas City would win its next five games.
It doesn’t sound so bold anymore.
After getting off to one of the worst starts in NFL history, including back-to-back losses by scores of 41-7 and 48-3, and sustaining season-ending injuries to several key players, Kansas City showed some moxie two weeks ago in fighting back from a 10-point hole in a 20-17 loss to the Chargers.
Then on Sunday, the Chiefs rallied from a second-half deficit for a 22-17 win over Minnesota.
One down, Le’Ron. Four to go.
“You don’t really talk about it, because you never want to think of yourself crossing that line from being 0-4 to being 1-3,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said after he was asked whether beating the winless Vikings constituted a must-win situation. “It’s a little thing, but it’s a big thing, too.”
Instead of trying to dig out from an insurmountable hole, the Chiefs will visit Indianapolis on Sunday with the potential for getting to 2-3 before early bye week.
“That’s kind of how our games will go, so we have to keep getting better, clean up a bunch of little things that could make a difference one way or another,” Chiefs head coach Todd Haley said Monday. “That’s what we’re doing now.”
Kansas City still faces long odds of defending its AFC West title.
Only three teams since 1990 have started 0-3 and reached the postseason: the 1992 Chargers, the ‘95 Lions and ‘98 Bills. Only the Chargers lost their first four and made it.
None of those teams was missing the collective talent that Kansas City has already lost to season-ending injuries, either. All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles, Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry and tight end Tony Moeaki each tore their left ACLs in a cruel coincidence, and linebacker Brandon Siler went down with a torn Achilles tendon shortly after signing in training camp.
But what the Chiefs are missing on the field they’re compensating for with sheer intensity.
Quarterback Matt Cassel got into a screaming match with coach Todd Haley on the sideline Sunday after a promising drive stalled. It was captured on television in all its gory detail, though both parties brushed it off as just “part of the game” once the victory was wrapped up.
Cassel in turn took his intensity to the locker room, where he unleashed a verbal tirade directed at the rest of the Chiefs during an impromptu halftime speech straight out of the movies.
“He was screaming and yelling, ‘We can do this! We can do this! One play at a time.’ And that’s what we did, one play at a time,” wide receiver Dwayne Bowe said. “The quarterback screams and yells, you definitely want to do everything you can to support him.”
That’s not to say the Chiefs have solved all their ills.
Rather than punch the ball into the end zone on offense, Kansas City had to settle for five field goals by Ryan Succop. The running game, which led the league last season, finished with 103 yards against Minnesota, about 60 below its 2010 average. Cassel struggled to throw downfield, just as he has all season, until he hit Bowe for a 52-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
But each of those negatives hides a positive, if you just look hard enough.
Succop started the season 2 for 5 on field goal attempts, but matched Jan Stenerud and Nick Lowery for the single-game franchise record by hitting all five tries against the Vikings. That included a 51-yarder and a career-best 54-yarder that pushed Kansas City ahead in the second half.
The running game may be struggling, but Bowe finished with five catches for 107 yards in a performance reminiscent of last season. Free agent acquisition Steve Breaston finally gave Cassel a downfield threat, finishing with four catches for 91 yards against the Vikings. He had grabbed only six passes for 88 yards his first three games combined.
They’re all doing their best to make up for the loss of their injured leading rusher, one of their best pass catchers, a linebacker who was supposed to plug up the middle and a safety who emerged last season as one of the best in the game.
“We got a tough, resilient bunch of guys that care, and that’s really important,” Haley said. “They fight and they’re going to fight to win, and to be a good team, and I believe that we will be that. We just have to make sure we’re getting better every game.”