KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Todd Haley looked like a man who hasn’t gotten much sleep lately.
Sure, the Chiefs didn’t get home from a humbling 34-3 loss to New England until about 4 a.m. Tuesday, but that probably wasn’t the only reason he’s been awake at night. Kansas City has lost three straight in lopsided fashion, along with their starting quarterback for the season.
So it made sense that Haley’s eyes were a bit glazed over Tuesday afternoon, the strain of a 4-6 season evident in every syllable that came from his mouth.
“The game last night was disappointing,” Haley said after laboring through at least two reviews of the film. “The guys were let down. We went up there fully expecting to play our best and win the game, and get further back into this race, and it didn’t happen.”
Not by a long shot.
Behind the often unsteady guidance of Tyler Palko, who was pressed into his first NFL start after a hand injury to Matt Cassel, the Chiefs were unable to score a touchdown for the second time in the last three weeks. They yielded the final 34 points of the game to Tom Brady and the Patriots, despite hanging within 10-3 at halftime.
Everything unraveled in the second half, like it has so often this season. Julian Edelman returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown, Palko wound up throwing three interceptions — a couple were tipped — and Kansas City’s once-vaunted ground game again struggled.
Thomas Jones showed signs of emerging from his slump, carrying eight times for 48 yards, and Dexter McCluster and Jackie Battle also had bright moments.
But without the game-changing ability of Jamaal Charles, one of several players lost for the season to injuries, the Chiefs were again unable to break the big play that turned into surprise touchdowns last season.
“It’s not a lot,” Haley said. “It’s just been little things that make a big difference.”
Things won’t get much easier for the Chiefs given their upcoming schedule. They host Pittsburgh on Sunday night before facing Chicago and the New York Jets in back-to-back weeks on the road. Then comes defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay, which could still be chasing perfection on Dec. 18.
Haley knows the schedule won’t be kind to Kansas City, and there’s nothing he can do about that. But he also knows he doesn’t have the luxury of thinking about anything besides beating the Steelers, a task that seems almost insurmountable given the way the last few weeks have gone.
“We’re in the mode of doing whatever we can to win games, and stay in this mix,” said Haley, whose team trails Oakland by two games in the AFC West. “We’re still in it if we can play consistently good football down the stretch, which we haven’t done the last three weeks.”
Haley said there were bright spots in reviewing the Patriots game, which he did twice on the plane ride home and likely a few more times once the team made it back to its training facility.
Offensive lineman Rodney Hudson, the Chiefs’ second-round draft pick, performed well in about 20 snaps that he played, and rookie defensive tackle Jerrell Powe was finally active for a game. Haley said there were times that he was disruptive up front, even if he struggled to finish plays.
Then there was the performance of Palko, the journeyman who was pressed into the most unenviable of debuts: Monday night on national television against the Patriots.
Palko wound up going 25 of 38 for 236 yards, and seemed to have a good grasp of what offensive coordinator Bill Muir was trying to accomplish. But he also threw three interceptions, which Haley went through in detail with Palko when they sat together on the plane ride home.
“I mean, you can’t run away from them. They’re interceptions,” Palko said after the game. “They were turnovers and you can’t run away from those things. You have to learn from them, but move forward as well. At the end of the day, you go back, watch the film, evaluate, and move forward. You can’t do anything about the past and obviously it was disappointing, but you can’t do anything about it.”
With Cassel officially being placed on injured reserve, the Chiefs picked up Kyle Orton off waivers from the Denver Broncos on Wednesday.
Palko will likely be the starting quarterback against Pittsburgh on Sunday night, and fifth-round draft pick Ricky Stanzi is No. 2 — for now.