KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — On one sideline in Sunday’s AFC playoff showdown will be the glamorous and highly decorated defense of the Baltimore Ravens, starring Pro Bowlers Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed.
On the other side of the field, proud but humble and easily overlooked, will be a Kansas City defense starring — well, starring nobody.
Although they’ve improved significantly in just about every aspect and rank in the top third of the league in points allowed, the Chiefs did not have one defensive player voted to start in the Pro Bowl. Even some Chiefs opponents found this difficult to believe.
But instead of anger, Kansas City’s lunch-pail defenders say they feel sort of validated. To a man, the Chiefs have bought the all-for-one and one-for-all philosophy preached by head coach Todd Haley and coordinator Romeo Crennel. And why not? It’s working pretty well for the AFC West champs, who are hosting their first playoff game since 2003.
“We’re grinding. We don’t really concern ourselves with accolades,” said defensive end Wallace Gilberry, whose seven sacks were second on the team behind Tamba Hali’s AFC-best 14 1/2. “That stuff is for fans. We’re not trying to be flashy and live in the limelight. We could care less about that.”
It’s the message Haley has been drilling into players since he arrived after Herman Edwards’ 2008 team went 2-14 and set a 16-game NFL record with a pitiably low 10 sacks.
And it’s a philosophy the Chiefs did not simply embrace as they got better week after week and matched their victory total of the three previous years combined. They threw their arms around it and hugged it like a loved one returning from a long and dangerous journey.
Let the Ravens have their glory. They’ve earned it. The Chiefs say they’re content to just go to work.
“We know they’ve had a great defense for a number of years,” said linebacker Derrick Johnson, the 2005 first-round draft choice who was benched last year only to blossom this season and earn a five-year contract extension that could be worth as much as $34 million.
“We pride ourselves on defense around here, too,” he said. “When we go out there on Sunday, we plan to put our stamp on it. We’re all blue collar guys. We earn ours the hard way.”
Improvement was made immediately after Haley arrived. Last year, in a 4-12 campaign, the Chiefs went from 10 sacks to 22. This year the total jumped to 39. The Chiefs are also giving up fewer points and yards and the passing rating of opponents has dropped nine points.
Hali, moved from undersized defensive end to rush linebacker, increased his sack total by six and is coming into the playoffs on a hot streak after getting to Oakland’s Jason Campbell for 2 1/2 sacks last Sunday.
“I was very shocked that he did not make the Pro Bowl,” Campbell said. “Out of all the guys we faced this year he has got to be one of the top three on the defensive side of the ball. He is a guy that you’ve always got to know where he is at on the field. He should be going to the Pro Bowl.”
Ngata, Lewis, Suggs and Reed will all represent the Ravens in the Pro Bowl.
For the third year in a row, Baltimore was third in the league in fewest points allowed. For five straight years, they’ve ranked in the top five in rushing defense. Kansas City’s top-ranked ground game featuring Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones will be butting heads with a defense that allowed fewer than 94 yards rushing per game.
But the Ravens (12-4) do not have a defense that totally eclipses Kansas City’s. The Chiefs were in the upper half of the league in total defense and rush defense. Their pass defense gave up 219.9 yards per game, which was better than Baltimore’s 224.9.
Perhaps most important, the Chiefs permitted just 14.8 points while going 7-1 in Arrowhead Stadium. Only Pittsburgh and the New York Jets were better at home.
“I think they take a lot of gratification in the fact the team is division champion,” said Crennel, who has had a huge impact as first-year coordinator. “That’s something they haven’t been for a while and they appreciate it. As long as they keep getting the job done, we have a chance.”