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Chiefs enter bye week in rut
National Football League
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This certainly wasn’t how the Chiefs expected to enter their bye week.
After a strong finish last season and a couple of headline-grabbing offseason acquisitions, Kansas City was a trendy pick to win the AFC West. Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry were back from ACL injuries and coach Romeo Crennel had calmed the waters after Todd Haley’s tumultuous tenure.
Then a blowout loss in Week 1. And another the following week. And after a franchise-record rally for their only win, the Chiefs have dropped three more games entering their off week.
“We’re all frustrated,” general manager Scott Pioli said. “It’s not what any of us come out of the gate expecting, and that’s where we are.”
Where they are is 1-5 and last in the division.
Banners have been towed by airplanes pleading for Pioli to be fired. Crennel appears over his head serving as head coach and defensive coordinator. Right tackle Eric Winston made national news when he railed against Chiefs fans for allegedly cheering an injury to quarterback Matt Cassel, and now it appears there will be a bona fide quarterback controversy next week.
Crennel did a remarkable job of steadying the Chiefs when Haley was fired late last season, a big reason he was given the full-time job after a mediocre stretch as head coach in Cleveland.
The next 10 games may prove whether that was an aberration.
“When you look at positives for a team and you’re not winning, it’s hard to say that there are many positives,” Crennel said. “You have to do is you have to look at pieces and what’s happening.”
There have been positives, even though they’ve been hard to notice.
Charles is among the league leaders in rushing after a record-setting performance against the Saints, when Kansas City rallied from 18 points down in the second half to win in overtime.
The defense showed signs of life a couple of weeks ago in a 9-6 loss to Baltimore, even though it was miserable in a 38-10 defeat at Tampa Bay last Sunday.
Justin Houston has emerged as a dependable pass rusher opposite Tamba Hali, even though the Chiefs have been so far behind most games that his sacks haven’t been all that useful.
Beyond that, though, it’s hard to find a silver lining to this increasingly dark season.
“It’s a good time for a bye week,” said Cassel, who resumed practicing this week after his concussion Oct. 7 against Baltimore. “We need to get a lot of things corrected. Everybody is out there with the intention of making the corrections that we need to get ourselves back in this.”
Crennel has said that Cassel would return as the starter whenever he’s medically cleared to play, but he subtly backtracked on that assertion this week, when he revealed that Brady Quinn — who struggled against the Buccaneers — would be splitting first-team reps in practice.
Cassel certainly hasn’t done much to warrant the job.
The former Pro Bowl quarterback is completing just 58.5 percent of his passes for 230 yards per game, many of them while trying to frantically rally the Chiefs from behind. He’s also thrown nine interceptions against five touchdowns, and lost five fumbles.
The 14 turnovers by Cassel are more than all but two other teams.
“This is a time to evaluate everybody on the bye week, try some different things and see where we’re at. That’s kind of part of what happens,” Cassel said. “I’m going out there to get better each and every day, and do what I need to do to get better.”
The rest of the Chiefs are trying to do the same, and quickly running out of time.
Kansas City returns to face division rival Oakland next Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, and then hits the road for games at San Diego and Pittsburgh.
The three-game stretch into the middle of November could ultimately decide whether Cassel, Crennel or even Pioli still has a job next season, or whether team chairman Clark Hunt makes the same kind of bold move that he made when he fired general manager Carl Peterson four years ago.
“It’s like anybody’s job, or anybody’s family business,” Pioli said. “You know what the issues are, you know what the problems are and you work on them behind closed doors, and you’d better get them fixed when it’s time to perform.”