A Big Step Forward

Last Sunday, NFL Network's Steve Mariucci summarily dismissed Kansas City as a contender. Mariucci should spend more time watching games instead of swapping hair care tips with ESPN's Mel Kiper.

Despite the Chiefs' ugly offensive statistics in their win over the Vikings, something quite significant happened last Sunday.

The Chiefs discovered an offensive playmaker.

While rookie wide receiver Dwayne Bowe's stat line against Minnesota was hardly earth shattering (five catches, 71 yards, one touchdown), he showed the ability to steal passes from defenders even under tight coverage. He also has enough speed to make plays down the field. With his size, agility and impressive ball skills, Bowe is the kind of receiver that's open even when defensive backs are hanging all over him. Finally, the Chiefs have an outside option that can draw defenses away from tight end Tony Gonzalez.

The circumstances surrounding Bowe's coming out party were even more important. After a first half in which the team sputtered to 56 total yards, quarterback Damon Huard yelled at Larry Johnson, Tony Gonzalez and any coach that came within range. Instead of leading to an internal meltdown, Huard's fit caused offensive coordinator Mike Solari to start going down the field. This change in offensive strategy allowed the Chiefs to turn a 10-3 deficit into a 13-10 win.

Under pressure, individuals (and teams) reveal their character. Instead of pointing fingers at Huard, defensive players encouraged him to say something to coaches. The coaches listened instead of benching their angry quarterback (a la June Jones and Jeff George circa 1996). Whatever else you may think about head coach Herm Edwards, he has succeeded in instilling a team concept.

After the game, Edwards claimed the play calling had not changed in the second half, but that Huard simply chose to throw short in the first half. While some may interpret this statement as Edwards shifting blame to his quarterback, I see it as a clear signal to Huard to go down the field more often.

After Edwards spent the entire offseason drilling in the notion that his quarterback must avoid mistakes to keep his job, I am not at all surprised that a career backup like Huard might have become more cautious than his coach intended. Last week's warring statements suggest the offense is on its way to striking a reasonable balance.

Last Sunday's breakthrough, however, does not automatically propel the Chiefs to contender status. Bowe needs to show he is not a one-game wonder. The coaches need to recognize the need to attack down the field. The defense has to keep their edge while the offense establishes an identity.

But despite these obstacles, the Chiefs have taken a big step forward – regardless of what Steve Mariucci may think.

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