Jamie Squire - Getty
So it’s been a long season for the Chiefs. For the first time since 1982, they will win only two games at home. The offense might be the worst in franchise history, and the defense, while inspiring early, has been mostly inept recently.
Because of all this disappointment, Sunday, only about 40,000 fans showed up at Arrowhead Stadium to watch the Chiefs lose their final home game. Who knows how many tuned in on television, but there were more interesting NFL games on this weekend, for sure.
Despite all of that, if you didn’t catch the Chiefs this past weekend, you definitely missed something – Brodie Croyle, unleashed.
The Baby Brodie era, as I referred to it after Croyle’s first conservative start in Indianapolis, is over. Herm Edwards took the diapers off his young quarterback Sunday against the Titans, and the results were encouraging, at least for a while.
It was evident from KC’s first offensive play. Mike Solari sent Dwayne Bowe and Eddie Kennison down the field with aggressive routes, and Croyle faked a handoff before throwing deep over the middle. His picture-perfect spiral hit Bowe right in the hands, but was dropped.
No matter. The Chiefs continued to attack, throwing seven consecutive times to open the game and dropping Croyle back on 12 of the game’s first 19 plays. Baby Brodie? The kid gloves were most certainly off this time.
Croyle rewarded the Chiefs’ Patriot-like playcalling by guiding the team to two first-half touchdowns, completing 14 passes. Only three other football teams had reached the end zone twice against the Titans before halftime this year – the Colts, Bengals and Jaguars.
Impressive? Perhaps, but Croyle’s final stat line – 25 for 43, 217 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions – wasn’t all that gaudy. Look beyond his four-quarter performance, however, and you’ll find something else to feel encouraged about.
The Chiefs converted 11 of 17 third downs Sunday, six courtesy of Croyle’s right arm. The young quarterback also scrambled for a first down in the fourth quarter and converted a fourth-down opportunity on Kansas City’s second touchdown drive.
Big, beautiful touchdown bombs and 400-yard performances get Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Peyton Manning on ESPN every week, but moving the chains is just as important. Look at Trent Green’s Chiefs career. What was he known for if nothing else than sustaining drives with clutch throw after clutch throw? Kansas City’s offense ranked in the top five in third-down conversion percentage during Dick Vermeil’s final two seasons.
Consider another promising young quarterback, Denver’s own Jay Cutler. Broncos fans are positively gaga over Cutler this season, and it’s not because of his stat page. Cutler has only 18 touchdown passes this year and won’t sniff 4,000 yards passing. He’s shown a penchant for sticking the ball right where it doesn’t belong – in the gut of linebackers and defensive backs. Denver’s offense has underachieved, and is averaging only 21.1 points per game.
So why are Broncos fans buying #6 jerseys in droves? Cutler is a clutch player. He’s converted 44.9 percent of his opportunities on third down, ranking just behind Palmer and Manning. His quarterback rating on third down is a sparkling 102.6.
Cutler has succeeded in clutch situations despite the fact his best receiver – Javon Walker – has missed much of the season with knee problems. Second-year man Brandon Marshall and Brandon Stokely have picked up the slack, but Cutler’s ability to buy time and his unique talent for throwing back across his body with few bad repercussions have sustained Denver’s drives.
You think Sunday was easy for Croyle? The Titans held Tony Gonzalez in check, limiting the All-Pro to just three catches, just one of which came on third down. We saw Damon Huard zone in with tunnel vision on his tight end way too much this year, but not Croyle. He found his wide receivers Sunday (15 catches) and didn’t even take a sack.
This all sounds great, but let me yank you back to reality – the Titans are ranked 26th in third-down defense this year. Croyle’s got a ways to go before anyone can compare him to Cutler, let alone Palmer or Manning, and the two interceptions he tossed in the second half Sunday were flat-out awful throws.
But Sunday was a good sign, at least in a way. In a season of disappointment, Brodie Croyle has given the fans something to cheer about. I hope you didn’t miss it.