Sat, Sep 25, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Chiefs keep their cool despite struggle

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , HOUSTON, TEXAS

The playoff hangover Kansas City suffered in January has extended into the 2004 season. Entering Sunday's home game against the Texans, the Chiefs are 0-2 for the third time in five years.

Kansas City's 38-31 playoff loss to Indianapolis at Arrowhead Stadium was the first of three consecutive defeats. In losses to Denver (34-24) and Carolina (28-17) this season, the Chiefs have resembled anything but a Super Bowl contender coming off a 13-3 campaign.

Coach Dick Vermeil has been around long enough to understand that two weeks into the season is not a time to panic. He doesn't need to be reminded that since 1990, 17 teams that began 0-2 made the playoffs, including Philadelphia last season. The 1993 Cowboys and 2001 Patriots were 0-2 teams that won Super Bowls.

"First off, we've played two playoff teams, and one [Panthers] was in the Super Bowl," Vermeil said Wednesday. "Second, we've got to reduce our [offensive] package and better define it a little and quit thinking about being the No. 1-scoring team in the NFL for two years in a row."

Kansas City led the NFL in scoring the last two seasons, producing at least 30 points in 15 games and at least 40 in nine. But this season, the Chiefs are having trouble scoring, and the problem -- injuries -- is beyond Vermeil's control.

Receiver Eddie Kennison (seven catches) missed much of training camp because of a wrist injury and probably won't play against the Texans because he injured a knee against the Panthers.

Receiver Johnnie Morton missed training camp because of an Achilles injury and has caught only eight passes. Marc Boerigter, the third receiver, is out for the season. Tight end Kris Wilson, a second-round pick, is out with a broken leg. Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez has been playing with a sore foot and has only six catches.

And the worst news of all is that running back Priest Holmes, who set an NFL record with 27 touchdowns last season, might not play Sunday because of an ankle injury.

No wonder quarterback Trent Green hasn't thrown a touchdown pass.

"The injuries have taken a toll," Green said this week. "Right now, we're kind of scrambling to put guys in there. We just don't have the continuity right now.

"We can't keep falling behind and think we'll eventually crawl out of it. We've got to start making a move."

Dante Hall, the Houston native who is the NFL's best return specialist, is expected to start at receiver. Hall, who came off the bench for 40 catches last season, has two receptions so far this year.

"The guys behind them [injured players] have to step up and fill the void," Hall said. "We're not the only team going through it. A lot of teams are losing key individuals.

"I think I can help the team both ways. Each time I have the ball in my hands, I try to make things happen. When we get the ball, we have to eliminate penalties so [offensive coordinator] Al [Saunders] can call the offense like he wants to, as opposed to facing second-and-20 and third-and-long. Once we stop killing ourselves, it'll come on offense."

The Chiefs' problems on defense aren't too surprising. After last season, they fired defensive coordinator Greg Robinson and brought back Gunther Cunningham.

They ranked 30th against the run last season, and now they are allowing 187.5 yards rushing per game. Denver's Quentin Griffin (156 yards) and Carolina's DeShaun Foster (174) have destroyed Kansas City's run defense.

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