NFL Nation: Derrick Johnson

This is the second installment of the last 15 players who have been taken 15th overall in the NFL draft, the pick the Steelers have this year. I reviewed the most recent picks at No. 15 overall on Monday and here they are:

2013: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Saints

2012: Bruce Irvin, DE, Seahawks

2011: Mike Pouncey, C, Dolphins

2010: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants

2009: Brian Cushing, LB, Texans

Here are the five picks that preceded those players at No. 15 overall:

2008 -- Branden Albert, OT, Chiefs: Albert gave the Chiefs six seasons at left tackle after playing guard at the University of Virginia. Albert is not an elite left tackle but he’s a pretty good one and he made his first Pro Bowl in 2013. Albert is headed to free agency, and he will be among the most coveted offensive tackles on the open market. Even if he leaves Kansas City, this still was a good pick for the Chiefs.

2007 – Lawrence Timmons, LB, Steelers: The Steelers will gladly take it if they get another player with the 15th overall pick the caliber of Timmons. He piles up tackles, is good in coverage and is also capable of making big plays. Timmons, who has started 53 consecutive regular-season games, is a model for how the Steelers like to bring along the players they draft. He played mostly special teams as a rookie, assumed a bigger role in the defense his second season and became a full-time starter in 2009. Timmons has been entrenched in the starting lineup since then and is the Steelers’ best defensive player.

2006 – Tye Hill, CB, Rams: This looked like a good pick after Hill made the PFWA All-Rookie team. But he regressed after his first season and the Rams were willing to trade Hill for a seventh-round draft pick after the former Clemson standout spent just three seasons in St. Louis. Hill, who had four interceptions for the Rams, qualifies as a bust, especially since St. Louis took him four picks before three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

2005 – Derrick Johnson, LB: One of the top 3-4 inside linebackers in the NFL, Johnson seems to get better with age. Johnson made his third consecutive Pro Bowl after recording 107 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2013. Johnson, 31, also intercepted two passes in helping lead Kansas City’s resurgence. This pick has been a big hit for the Chiefs, especially with Johnson still playing at such a high level.

2004 – Michael Clayton, WR, Buccaneers: The former LSU star burst onto the scene as a rookie, catching 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. He fell off a cliff after that, never coming close to the numbers he put up as a rookie. Clayton battled some injuries as well as inconsistency and never built on what he did his first season in the NFL. The Buccaneers released him after six seasons, making Clayton a miss with where Tampa Bay took him in the draft.

What was Johnson supposed to do?

January, 27, 2014
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The hit by linebacker Derrick Johnson on Kansas City Chiefs teammate Jamaal Charles in the Pro Bowl seems to have angered a few fans. No argument here that Johnson lowered his shoulder and hit Charles hard in the head-and-shoulder area in knocking him to the ground.

Charles
Johnson
No penalty was called. It was a nice tackle by Johnson, and in any other game he would have been applauded for a job well done.

But this was the Pro Bowl and Charles is a teammate. So should Johnson have laid off?

Sorry, that one doesn’t work.

This year’s Pro Bowl was one of the most competitive in recent years, perhaps because the NFL mixed up the rosters rather than playing by conference. Whatever the reason, it was a better and more entertaining game, so let’s not get on a player who was doing things the right way.

This kind of play was inevitable when the league went to the new Pro Bowl format. It wasn’t the only teammate-on-teammate hit. Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward upended teammate Josh Gordon as well.

It’s also true that Charles was coming off a concussion and Johnson might have hit him in the head. But if the injury hadn’t resolved itself and Charles was still concussed, he shouldn’t have been playing.

Even Charles didn’t seem upset by Johnson's hit, telling The Associated Press after the game, "I can't get mad at him. It's just about football, and you've just got to be ready."

Johnson was in the proper spirit of the hit on Charles as well. He tweeted, “Have to give my fellow teammate some friendly fire. LOL! I can't lie. It felt pretty good!"

It was football. It should have felt good.

Chiefs star in Pro Bowl

January, 27, 2014
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs were represented by 10 players at the Pro Bowl and some figured prominently. A look at how they fared:

-- Linebacker Derrick Johnson was the game's defensive MVP with eight tackles and a forced fumble. He also had a big hit on his Chiefs teammate, running back Jamaal Charles, in the first quarter.

-- Quarterback Alex Smith was just 9-of-22 for 116 yards, but he threw the winning touchdown pass, a 20-yarder to Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray.

-- Charles rushed five times for 43 yards and caught a pass for four yards.

-- Dexter McCluster returned five punts for an 11-yard average, including a 26-yard return.

-- Safety Eric Berry and nose tackle Dontari Poe each had an interception. Berry also had four tackles.

-- Linebacker Tamba Hali and cornerback Brandon Flowers each had a pair of tackles.

-- Linebacker Justin Houston registered no stats. Neither did offensive tackle Branden Albert, but he had a good time nonetheless in his first Pro Bowl game. Albert tweeted afterward, "Hawaii.... I'll see you next year."

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 10
Preseason Power Ranking: 19

Biggest surprise: The Chiefs plucked rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, off waivers to start the regular season. Cooper played better than the Chiefs had a right to expect for a long stretch of the season as the third cornerback. He had a rough stretch late in the season before bouncing back at the end. At 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds, Cooper has the size to match up with the league's bigger receivers. Cooper projects as nothing less than the Chiefs' third cornerback next season and could eventually become a starter.

Biggest disappointment: Offensive tackle Eric Fisher was the first overall pick in the draft last year but rarely played like it. The Chiefs used Fisher on the right side, and he initially had trouble making the transition. He also had trouble avoiding nagging injuries, which caused him to miss four games, including the playoff loss to Indianapolis. Fisher should eventually develop into the kind of player the Chiefs envisioned. He showed great athletic skills that will help him reach his potential. Fisher was usually unable to anchor against a strong pass rush and that's where many of his problems occurred. A year in Kansas City's strength program will benefit Fisher greatly.

Biggest need: The Chiefs need a fast wide receiver to energize their passing game. They gambled by giving Dwayne Bowe a lucrative long-term contract last offseason, but Bowe didn't play like a No. 1 wide receiver until the playoff loss to the Colts. Bowe will turn 30 next season, so if nothing else, it's time for the Chiefs to plan for someone else to step into that top receiver's role. The Chiefs have a couple of fast wide receivers in Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins. While Avery delivered some big plays, he dropped too many passes and disappeared too many times. Jenkins hasn't been able to establish himself as a consistent threat.

Team MVP: The Chiefs have at least a couple of defensive candidates but the better choice is running back Jamaal Charles. He supplied much of Kansas City's offensive production, particularly early in the season when the offense around him frequently sputtered. Charles led the league in touchdowns and expanded his game to become a much more dangerous pass-catcher. Coach Andy Reid and his offensive staff did a much better job of getting Charles matched up against linebackers in the open field, and he rewarded them with a number of big plays. If the Chiefs had not lost five of their final seven regular-season games, Charles would have been a strong candidate for league MVP.

Justin HoustonDavid Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCTJustin Houston and the Chiefs are out of the playoffs after blowing a 28-point lead to the Colts.
INDIANAPOLIS -- If there was ever any doubt, there can be none now. The Kansas City Chiefs, who already owned the market on postseason heartbreak, heaped even more misery on their long-suffering fans Saturday, displaying a new way to lose.

Their defense, the one that carried them to a 9-0 start, collapsed in epic fashion in the second half Saturday in a wild-card playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. The Chiefs held a 28-point lead early in the third quarter, and the defense, the one that created so much havoc early in the season, couldn’t hold on.

The 45-44 playoff loss to the Colts was as devastating as any for a franchise steeped in playoff disappointment. If the Chiefs couldn’t hold on with a defense that once strangled opposing offenses, will Kansas City ever win a playoff game?

To do that, the Chiefs will have to bring a defense far better than the one that allowed 372 yards and 35 points to Andrew Luck and the Colts in the second half.

“Sometimes, the game speaks for itself," coach Andy Reid said. “You don’t have to say a whole lot."

He didn’t have to. Reid's defense, a unit that once was on a record pace for sacks and didn't allow more than 17 points in the season’s first nine games, now owns a dubious place in NFL playoff history.

Only the 1992 Houston Oilers wasted a bigger lead than the Chiefs' 28 points in a playoff game, squandering a 35-3 advantage to lose 41-38 in overtime to the Buffalo Bills in a wild-card game.

“It’s hard to put into words, to lose a game we clearly had control over," linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “This doesn’t come around much.

“We had the game won big-time. We’ll take that, 31-10 at halftime, any day. You've got to pull it off. We didn't pull it off."

It’s tempting to say everything the Chiefs accomplished over the first half of the season was a fluke, but that’s too easy. The Chiefs played against plenty of struggling quarterbacks early in the season and their achievements were impressive, no matter the competition.

Just as real were their defensive failures against some of the league’s better quarterbacks, such as Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Luck. The competition picked up and the Chiefs couldn’t keep up.

Now they have to live with the second-biggest playoff collapse in NFL history, plus the fact that they scored 44 points in a postseason game and still found a way to lose.

“It’s hard to comprehend right now," defensive end Mike DeVito said. “There was so much, so fast. All we can do right now is feel disappointed. As we go, we’ll realize more about what happened."

The Chiefs’ playoff losing streak now stands at eight games and 20 years. Kansas City hasn't won a playoff game since 1994, when Joe Montana and Marcus Allen led the Chiefs past the Oilers at the Astrodome.

During that eight-game playoff losing streak, Kansas City lost to the Colts following the 1995 season by missing three field goals.

The Chiefs also lost to Denver after the 1997 season in a titanic struggle between what were probably the NFL’s two best teams.

They lost to Indianapolis again after the 2003 season, when they couldn’t make the Colts punt.

Going back to 1971, the Chiefs lost in overtime to the Miami Dolphins in an epic battle on Christmas Day. Jan Stenerud, who later was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, missed three field goal attempts.

All of those games were bitter disappointments. But never had the Chiefs failed to hold a four-touchdown lead.

The Chiefs should have known how Saturday's game might turn out early in the fourth quarter when safety Eric Berry pried the ball away from Colts running back Donald Brown at the Kansas City 2. The ball bounced off the helmet of a Colts lineman and to Luck, who recovered the fumble and dove into the end zone for the touchdown that cut Kansas City’s lead to 41-38.

They should have known how this playoff game might turn out when their offensive engine, Jamaal Charles, left the game for good with a concussion in the first quarter. Still, they managed 44 points, which should have been more than enough to secure a victory.

The loss of Charles was never bigger than on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Colts left backup running back Cyrus Gray open down the right sideline, but quarterback Alex Smith, in a rare mistake, overthrew Gray.

“Anytime you get an opportunity like that, you expect to hit it," Smith said. “The tough part is that all week with so many reps, and obviously with Jamaal getting all of those, it’s something we never [practiced] with Cyrus. But you’ve still got to hit it, though. You don’t get many opportunities like that."

As with any game decided by one point, the Chiefs will have a large selection of plays they can pick through to torture themselves with by playing the what-if game.

Thanks to a shoddy defense, they’ll now have months to ponder all of them.
Continuing our look at the Patriots' possible playoff opponents, here's an overview of the Kansas City Chiefs, the team we deem to be the most difficult matchup for the Patriots, stemming largely from the presence of one of the league's most explosive offensive players.

Record: 11-5
Seed: 5th
Division status: AFC West runner-up, top AFC wild card
Vs. Patriots: No matchup in 2013

How these two can face off: If Kansas City beats Indianapolis on Saturday and San Diego beats Cincinnati on Sunday.

Top offensive player: Running back Jamaal Charles. If not for the brilliance of Peyton Manning in 2013, Charles would likely be the top candidate to earn league MVP honors. He totaled 19 touchdowns this season and led the Chiefs in rushing and receiving.

Top defensive player: Linebacker Derrick Johnson. It's hard to pick just one from an excellent front seven, but Johnson is the quarterback who makes thing go. He's all over the field and may be the best coverage linebacker in the NFL.

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How they can stress the Patriots: The offense is built around Charles and his unique ability to impact the game as both a rusher and receiver. Reid is among the most creative and timely coaches as it relates to the screen game, and the Patriots must be on alert for such an attack. Charles isn't a big back, but he's tough, agile and incredibly fast. If he gets in the open field, he's as good as gone. The Patriots have struggled both defending the run and defending against running backs as receivers. If they face the Chiefs next Saturday, their defensive game plan is likely to revolve around containing Charles.

How the Patriots can stress the Chiefs: Injuries to both Justin Houston and Tamba Hali dramatically impacted the Chiefs' pass rush, which had a trickle-down effect into the secondary. And while Kansas City will be represented by two Pro Bowlers from their secondary, the group on the whole is an area of limitation for the defense. Opposite of Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith has given them size and length, but the team has had struggles finding consistent play from their sub package cornerbacks, while safety Kendrick Lewis has been beaten down the field on occasion this season. The Chiefs' run defense has an identical 4.5 yards per carry allowed to the Patriots' season-long total.

X factor: The tiebreaker for us in deciphering between the Chiefs and Colts as the toughest matchup for the Patriots (the pillar for either argument is Charles and Andrew Luck, respectively) was the Chiefs' special teams. Kansas City combined for a league-best four return touchdowns for a score, two apiece on punt and kickoff returns.

All-AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs

January, 2, 2014
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NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs were appropriately honored with nine players on ESPN’s All-AFC West team.

Each of the nine players deserves his spot on the all-division team. No strong argument could be made for any Chiefs player who didn’t make the team.

Running back Jamaal Charles and left tackle Branden Albert were the offensive players selected. Charles had a strong all-around season, emerging as a legitimate threat as a pass-receiver. Charles beat out some strong competition from Denver’s Knowshon Moreno and San Diego’s Ryan Mathews.

Albert had a solid season despite missing three games late in the year with a knee injury.

On defense, nose tackle Dontari Poe, inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston and strong safety Eric Berry were chosen. Poe, Johnson, Houston and Berry may have had their best NFL seasons. Poe was a force against both the run and the pass and was so valuable to the Chiefs that he rarely came out of their lineup.

Johnson and Berry showed outstanding all-around games. Johnson tied his career high in sacks. Berry set a career high in sacks and scored twice on interception returns. Houston was among the NFL leaders in sacks in late November before dislocating his elbow, an injury that forced him out of the lineup for four games.

Hali was among the AFC leaders in sacks.

On special teams, punter Dustin Colquitt and punt returner Dexter McCluster were selected. Colquitt didn’t have the best average in the division but landed a huge percentage of his punts inside the 20, an important statistic for a team that relied on favorable field position.

McCluster scored a touchdown on two punt returns, including an electrifying 89-yarder against the New York Giants.

Kansas City ChiefsDavid Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCT/Getty ImagesAlex Smith and Jamaal Charles were among the Chiefs starters who sat in advance of the playoffs.

SAN DIEGO -- Linebacker Derrick Johnson won’t wake up on this Monday morning with the normal bumps and bruises, aches and pains. He will feel fresh, like he didn’t even play football on Sunday, which of course he didn’t. Johnson and many of his key Kansas City Chiefs teammates were given the day off.

"It’s going to be great," Johnson said. "I’m going to be moving fast. We’ll be rested and ready to go and we’ll get started on Indy. We know we’ve got a great opportunity to beat a team we didn’t play [well] against a couple of weeks ago. We know if we can play better than we played … this way, it’s going to be an interesting matchup."

Multiply Johnson’s situation by several others, and you understand why coach Andy Reid rested as many of Kansas City’s playmakers as possible and why it was the right thing for the Chiefs to do, even though they finished the regular season on Sunday with a 27-24 overtime loss to the San Diego Chargers.

This game was all about giving them a better chance to win Saturday’s wild-card playoff game against the Colts in Indianapolis. Reid’s move will no doubt do that.

The Chiefs might not beat the Colts. But if they don’t, it won’t be because running back Jamaal Charles didn’t absorb the 20 or more hits he would have against the Chargers, because quarterback Alex Smith didn’t take the two sacks backup Chase Daniel did, because nose tackle Dontari Poe didn't wind up on the bottom of a pile of humanity on each of San Diego’s 72 snaps.

"I look at the positive of it when I do that," said Reid, who had the starters take some snaps in practice during the week. "It gave the guys a week to heal up and rest up and still at the same time get good practice in. If we do meet up again with San Diego then they’ve got that practice time in with a game plan."

It might be tempting to believe Reid’s maneuver cost the Chiefs a victory, but don’t go there. The Chiefs should have won in regulation but failed to finish when Ryan Succop’s 41-yard field goal went wide to the right with four seconds remaining.

Charles, Smith, Johnson, Poe and the rest of Chiefs’ starters lost to San Diego 41-38 last month in Kansas City. So it’s fair to wonder whether the backups didn’t do a better job on Sunday than the starters might have.

At any rate, the Chiefs had nothing to lose. They were destined, win or lose, to be a wild-card playoff entrant and the No. 5 seed. Wild-card teams don’t get a playoff bye, like the Chiefs would have had they won the AFC West. So Reid created a bye for them.

Among the starters who did not play were left tackle Branden Albert and linebacker Justin Houston. They were injured but would have hurried back to play for the first time in weeks if not for Reid’s decision.

Instead, they had another week to get ready for the Colts.

"That’s one way of looking at it," Reid said about giving these players a bye. "There were a couple of guys with a lot of snaps under their belt like Jamaal and [strong safety Eric] Berry. These guys have been playing and they play physical positions. They had a chance to rest up. It gave Albert and Houston another week to heal up. They’re both ready to go but it gave them a chance to have one more week.

"That’s all for the good."

What the Chiefs did is forfeit any chance at building some momentum for the playoffs. In their last game heading into the postseason, on Dec. 22, the starters played their worst game of the season in losing to, yes, the Colts 23-7 at Arrowhead Stadium.

But that goal is and was secondary to the one the Chiefs accomplished Sunday.

"We’re wiping the slate clean now," Smith said. "It’s a brand new season. This game is such a week-to-week thing anyway. [The notion of momentum going into the playoffs] is talked about but not necessarily realistic."

For the Chiefs, the game had an odd, preseason-in-December kind of feel. Smith, not in uniform as one of the inactive players, stood around during pregame warm-ups, searching futilely for a way to be useful.

"So weird," he said. "I was wandering around. I definitely felt out of place."

Likewise, Johnson was inactive and couldn’t have played once the game started.

"I’m on the sideline warming up the whole game," he said. "I didn’t know what to do with myself."

So, some awkward moments for the Chiefs? Sure. But they did what needed to be done and gave themselves a better chance at postseason success because of it.

"It’s not so much for the quarterback, but some of these guys who play the really physical positions and bang a lot during the game," Smith said. "That’s what’s most important. Come tomorrow, those guys won’t have all the dings and things that do go on in a game. They’ll be fresh and be ready."

Pro Bowl selections: Kansas City Chiefs

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs put an impressive eight players into this year's Pro Bowl but one who didn't get selected could be among the year's biggest snubs.

Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson is having perhaps his best NFL season, but isn't among the eight Chiefs going to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. Those eight are running back Jamaal Charles, offensive tackle Branden Albert, nose tackle Dontari Poe, outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, cornerback Brandon Flowers, strong safety Eric Berry and punt returner Dexter McCluster.

Johnson leads the Chiefs in tackles, an unofficial statistic, with 107. He also tied his career high in sacks with 4.5.

Statistics don't tell Johnson's complete story. He is a down-to-down presence for the Chiefs and his game hasn't slipped even as that of the defense around him deteriorated over the season's last half.

Punter Dustin Colquitt also deserved consideration. Colquitt doesn't have one of league's best averages but he's tied for most punts downed inside the 20 (35), an important statistic playing for a team that depends heavily on favorable field position.

Other than Flowers, it's difficult to argue with any of the eight players who did reach the Pro Bowl. Charles is having perhaps his best NFL season, having developed as a legitimate receiving threat. Albert is having a solid season as the blindside pass protector for quarterback Alex Smith.

Poe has been a force against both the run and the pass and is so valuable to the Chiefs that he rarely comes out of the game. Hali and Houston both have 11 sacks. Berry has been strong against the run and returned an interception for a touchdown two times. McCluster returned two punts for touchdowns, including an electrifying 89-yarder in September against the New York Giants.

Flowers' selection is odd. He isn't having one of his best seasons. The Chiefs often leave him alone in man-to-man coverage and he hasn't done a great job of holding up under the pressure.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Upon Further Review: Chiefs Week 15

December, 16, 2013
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- A few thoughts on the Kansas City Chiefs' 56-31 win over the Oakland Raiders:

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Jamaal Charles
Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJamaal Charles caught eight passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns against the Raiders. He added another 20 yards and a TD rushing.
Death by screen: The Chiefs made the Raiders look as if they'd never covered the screen pass on their first play from scrimmage. Jamaal Charles took that one 49 yards for a touchdown. He later scored twice more on screen passes, from 39 and 16 yards. Charles, who also scored a 71-yard touchdown on a downfield pass, was used consistently on screens because of what the Raiders did against the Chiefs in their previous meeting in October. Their pass rush sacked quarterback Alex Smith twice and hit him on numerous other occasions. "They do a great job rushing the passer and their blitz package is phenomenal," coach Andy Reid said. "We felt that since we didn’t score one time in the first five drives against them the last time, we thought maybe the screen game would help us get going. It was something with their great pass rush that we felt we needed to slow it down a little bit."

A perfect Smith: Smith's stat line brought him a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Smith was 17-of-20 for 287 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. He lost a fumble for the first time this season, but that doesn't count against his passer rating. “Teammates make me look good," he said. "I didn’t do much. Three screens for touchdowns. I’ve never been a part of anything like that or seen that."

Turnover party: The Chiefs expanded their league lead in turnover differential with a plus-six Sunday. The Chiefs intercepted five passes and recovered a pair of Oakland fumbles. The Chiefs started seven possessions on Oakland's side of the field, six times after creating a turnover. The Chiefs scored four touchdowns following an Oakland turnover. Meanwhile, the Raiders didn't start any of their 14 possessions on Kansas City's side of the field. The Chiefs are now plus-21 this season in turnover differential.

More big plays: The Raiders gained 461 yards, marking the fifth time in the past six games the Chiefs have allowed more than 425. Oakland had seven plays of 20 yards or more. This one was more troubling than games against veteran quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers. "Defensively, we've got to do a little bit better," linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "We know that. But it's good when you know you can correct some things and we get a win at the same time."

This is beyond Chiefs' wildest dreams

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
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videoOAKLAND, Calif. -- Their season will ultimately be defined by what happens in the next few weeks and whether the Kansas City Chiefs can win a playoff game for the first time in 20 years.

But it was validated Sunday in the oddest of places, in a building the Chiefs have always considered a monument to everything evil. It was here, in the basement of the Oakland Coliseum, that the Chiefs celebrated their return to the postseason.

With two games left in the regular season, the Chiefs clinched nothing worse than a wild-card playoff spot by beating the Oakland Raiders 56-31. At 11-3, they pulled into a tie with the Denver Broncos for first place in the AFC West and would win the division championship by picking up a game in the standings on the Broncos over the next two weeks.

That’s a concern for next week and beyond. For one afternoon, the Chiefs were content with their stunning achievement. They had come from a very bad place -- they were a league-worst 2-14 last year and endured the murder-suicide involving teammate Jovan Belcher -- and still managed to thrive. The unexpected thing is that it hardly took any time at all.

"You can’t really explain it in words," said linebacker Derrick Johnson, the longest tenured Chiefs player. He is playing for his fifth head coach in Andy Reid and, until this season, was mainly known around the league for being a great player stuck with some bad teams.

"We’re a humble group," Johnson said. "Last year was a year we wouldn’t wish upon any team, on or off the field. But it’s just gratifying how we’ve grown in the short time, with the new [coaches] coming in."

The big move, of course, was the hiring of Reid as Kansas City’s coach. It looks now like a no-brainer, but the move carried some risk. Reid looked burned out after 14 sometimes difficult seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and endured last year’s death of his son Garrett.

Reid was so energized by his move to Kansas City that he looks like a first-year head coach.

Other major steps followed, all accompanied by danger. The Chiefs hired longtime Green Bay Packers scouting college director John Dorsey, giving him the job as general manager for the first time. They traded for quarterback Alex Smith, who was benched last season with the San Francisco 49ers.

"I don’t know if it validates everything I’ve done, but I’m so pleased to see it come together like it has," said Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, who hired Reid and Dorsey and approved the trade for Smith. "It hasn’t all been easy. We went through a three-game stretch where we didn’t win a game. It was tough. The guys knew Andy had been there and he had done it. They maintained their confidence and continued to let him lead and as a result we’re sitting here today in the playoffs."

As if the Chiefs needed a reminder of how far they’ve come in one season, there’s also this: They played their annual game in Oakland on this very weekend in the middle of December 2012.

They were shut out, losing when Oakland scored just five field goals. On Sunday, the Chiefs played like they encountered little resistance. Their 56 points is the most they’ve ever scored against the Raiders no matter where the game was played.

"It’s pretty tough to put into perspective," guard Jeff Allen said. "It’s actually amazing. It’s unbelievable. We all believed that we could do it but for it actually to happen is indescribable."

From the outside, that can be difficult to believe. Even at 2-14, the Chiefs were talented. They sent six of their players to last season’s Pro Bowl.

So they didn’t feel this would be a rebuilding season.

"Early this year we saw Andy taking over the team in [offseason practices] and later in training camp," Hunt said. "It was clear to me the process was moving faster than I had anticipated. I had no idea where it would finish."

To the Chiefs, that’s the great thing. They still don’t know when or where it will finish. They just know it won’t end with the final regular season game in two weeks against the Chargers in San Diego.

This journey will continue into January and perhaps beyond. If the Chiefs are being honest, they will tell you that part is beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Defense needs to have sense of urgency

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs have allowed at least 425 yards in each of their past four games, a stunning statistic given where they started the season defensively. Putting that into perspective, you need to go back to the franchise’s dark days in the late 1970s (1976, to be exact) to find a time where they allowed 425 yards or more in four straight games.

The extent of Kansas City’s defensive collapse is stunning to the point where nobody could have forecast that. But there were signs throughout the Chiefs’ nine-game winning streak that some tough times were ahead.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Johnson
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesTime is running out for linebacker Derrick Johnson and the Chiefs to figure out their defensive woes.
The Chiefs were pressuring and sacking the quarterback at a record pace, and it was only a matter of time before opponents adjusted. They have, many times with quicker throws. The resulting flow of turnovers has also slowed accordingly.

The Chiefs all season have allowed big offensive plays, the result of the pressure style they favor. It’s common sense that if they continue to allow those big plays while making few of their own on defense, this thing could get ugly.

If they’re not going to get back to what they were early in the season with regard to pressuring the quarterback and causing mistakes and turnovers, they need to at least stem what at times has been a steady torrent of big plays.

“Sometimes when you win, stuff isn’t magnified,’’ said linebacker Derrick Johnson, suggesting the Chiefs can indeed do that. “You messed up here, you got out of a gap there, it’s just covered up a little bit because you won. But we’ve lost, and stuff we weren’t doing as good as early in the year is magnified. We’re trying to fix it. There’s a little more emphasis on what you did wrong.

“We’ve went against the best quarterback in the league (in two of their last three games). No excuses. We know where we need to get better. There’s a sense of urgency to do that.’’

Sure, the Chiefs were picked apart by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, who seem to do that against all opponents. So on some level there’s no shame in the Chiefs allowing that to happen, too.

But that ignores a couple of key points. The first is that these Chiefs were in many ways built to compete with the Broncos. They have (or want to have) a pressure-oriented defense that can disrupt a quarterback, whether it’s a time-tested veteran like Manning or a rookie. They Chiefs acquired a couple of big cornerbacks in Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper so they could match up with Denver’s big wide receivers, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

The other is that the Chiefs played a couple of other quarterbacks besides Manning in those awful four games. One, Buffalo’s Jeff Tuel, is an undrafted rookie making his first NFL start. The Chiefs still had trouble delivering the Bills a knockout punch.

The other was another time-tested veteran, Philip Rivers. The Chiefs played against Rivers and the San Diego Chargers like they had never seen a crossing route.

Time is running out on the Chiefs. They have four games to get this thing fixed before their season takes a more serious turn. They need to use that time wisely.

Derrick Johnson: We're 9-2, not 2-9

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The collective confidence of the Kansas City Chiefs should be soaring. After winning only two games last season, the 9-2 Chiefs are tied for the lead in the AFC West and will play for first place at home Sunday against the Denver Broncos.

Johnson
But after losing their last two, they don't sound like a particularly confident bunch. The Chiefs at times sound as if they're trying to talk themselves into believing that the season's first nine games weren't a dream but their reality.

"We're 9-2," linebacker Derrick Johnson felt it necessary to remind everyone earlier in the week. "We're not 2-9."

This might be more of an issue for the Chiefs than most teams, including the Broncos. Denver led 24-0 at halftime last week in New England but wound up losing in overtime to the Patriots.

But the Broncos are coming from a good place. They won the last two division championships and their quarterback, Peyton Manning, wears a Super Bowl championship ring, albeit from his days with the Indianapolis Colts.

The Chiefs have no such rich and recent history. Their immediate success this season was a surprise to everyone, and it's not difficult to understand how some of their players who have been around for awhile might wonder whether it was indeed all a mirage.

That's been the challenge this week for Chiefs coach Andy Reid. He's been around long enough to understand that most seasons have their ups and downs and that's it's just taken the Chiefs more time than usual this year to experience the negatives.

So Reid and his staff have been in the confidence-building mode this week.

"You've got to be confident in this business at all times," Reid said. "You've got to have a short memory is what you have to have.

"I will tell you this is not a business to be in if you don't have a [lot] of confidence. You have to be willing to learn from your mistakes, learn quickly, and then go into that next one with a blank slate, start over again and give it your best shot."
SAN DIEGO – Maybe San Diego Chargers coach Mike McCoy should take note of how his opponent this week handled practice time during training camp.

The Chargers have struggled with poor tackling all season. McCoy said his team missed 12 tackles in the Chargers’ loss to Miami on Sunday, allowing 92 yards after contact. He also lamented his defense's poor execution of the fundamentals, including repeatedly jumping offside.

San Diego’s opponent this week, the Kansas City Chiefs, boasts one of the top-rated defenses in the NFL, and sits tied atop the AFC West standings with Denver at 9-1.

[+] EnlargeJulius Thomas
John Leyba/The Denver PostThe Chargers have struggled with poor tackling. Their opponent on Sunday, the Chiefs, has not had that problem.
Kansas City coach Andy Reid set the stage for how his team is playing this season by doing something unusual during training camp – live tackling for 10 to 15 minutes during team drills. Some NFL teams have live-tackling drills during the goal-line period, but few teams are willing to risk injuries with live tackling during the meat of practice time.

"We tackled to the ground in camp," Reid said. "We’ve always done that. And that’s kind of how I was raised in the thing, and that’s how we do it."

Reid offered sound reasoning behind his decision.

“In its simplest form, this game is about blocking and tackling,” Reid said. “I don’t think that part has changed, so it allowed us to work on it and try to get better at it.”

Longtime Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said Reid’s approach during training camp was a wake-up call for a team that suffered through a disappointing 2-14 campaign last season.

“It was very physical,” Johnson said. “I’ve never been to a training camp where certain periods were live. Since I’ve been here for nine years, we’ve had a few times where you go goal-line and you go live. But we were going live every other day, so it gets you in the best position to make plays when the real game comes.”

Full tackling drills during the regular season are rare. Due to the collective bargaining agreement, the Chargers can hold only a limited amount of padded practices during the regular season. They also have suffered significant injuries to key players on defense.

On Wednesday, San Diego practiced in helmets, jerseys and shorts.

“We’ve had a tackling circuit on Wednesday every day this year,” McCoy said. “So there’s certain things you work on every day. And obviously, from last week’s game we’ve got to clean some things up.”

Chargers cornerback Shareece Wright said better tackling is about having the right mindset and all 11 players getting to the ball.

“It’s being sure every time, and not assuming – not expecting a guy to go down because one guy is tackling him,” Wright said. “It’s just a mindset of everybody getting to the ball and just being furious out there to get the ball carrier down.”

Injury update: Tackle King Dunlap (neck), outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (hand), cornerback Johnny Patrick (concussion) and receiver Eddie Royal (toe) did not practice on Wednesday. Johnson had a soft cast on his left hand.

Receiver Vincent Brown (shoulder) was a limited participant. Safety Jahleel Addae (ankle), receiver Keenan Allen (knee), defensive end Lawrence Guy (toe), center Nick Hardwick (neck), running back Ryan Mathews (hamstring) and linebacker Manti Te’o (elbow) were full participants.

Chiefs need to get swagger back -- soon

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
2:42
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Justin Houston, Dontari PoeAP Photo/Joe MahoneyThe Chiefs entered Sunday leading the NFL in sacks, but they could not once get to Peyton Manning.

DENVER -- Forget about the rematch against the Denver Broncos in two weeks. There's only one game on the Kansas City Chiefs' schedule that matters now, and it's next Sunday's meeting with the San Diego Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chiefs have to get their swagger back. They haven't played their game in several weeks, and on Sunday night they paid for it by losing for the first time this season, 27-17 to the Broncos.

It's just one game, and at 9-1 the Chiefs are still tied for first place with the Broncos in the AFC West. Still, their world suddenly feels like it's teetering. That's what happens when a defense that had carried the Chiefs through the first nine games collapsed, failing to make a single impact play in Denver's 76 offensive snaps.

Think about that for a second. The Chiefs, the league leader in sacks, never got to Peyton Manning, rarely even got a hand on him.

The Chiefs, the league leader in turnovers forced, got one takeaway, but it wasn't forced. A bad exchange on a handoff between Manning and Montee Ball wound up on the ground, and the Chiefs' Derrick Johnson was there to pick it up.

"That's us. That's what we do," Johnson said, referring to the sacks and turnovers that fueled the Chiefs through their 9-0 start. "It's just one game where we didn't do what we usually do."

Similarly, coach Andy Reid described the loss as just one bad day.

"We played a good football team," Reid said. "They got us today."

The Chiefs had better not fall into that trap. They haven't been themselves for weeks, and to believe the Chiefs will return to their previous form is, in all likelihood, wishful thinking.

The Chiefs didn't get a sack in their previous game against Buffalo, either. The week before that, they had just one against Cleveland.

Not every opponent will be able to exploit Kansas City's defense like the Broncos, who have Manning at quarterback and an impressive array of receivers. But other opponents have caught on to Kansas City's methods of pressure and have adjusted. The Chiefs need to adjust as well.

"It's one thing to say offenses are catching up to us just because we lost one game," cornerback Sean Smith. "Our defense is still very good. We're not hanging our heads low. You've got to give some credit to the offense. They're very efficient. They don't make too many mistakes. But still we have to find some kind of way to force turnovers. We definitely need more opportunities for our offense."

Perhaps the Chiefs will bounce back next week against the Chargers and return to their dominant form. Yet some ominous signs popped up against the Broncos that more likely mean it could be some time before the Chiefs right themselves defensively.

Rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper, who had been a gem since he was pulled off waivers from San Francisco to begin the regular season, had his worst game. Linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali looked like average pass-rushers.

When opposing quarterbacks get rid of the ball quickly, as Manning mostly did and Buffalo's Jeff Tuel frequently did, the Chiefs look average, and sometimes not even that. So expect San Diego's Philip Rivers and other opposing quarterbacks to continue to throw quickly to neutralize Kansas City's pass rush.

"This league is a copycat league," Johnson said. "Whenever things work against you, other teams are going to do it, too."

Indeed, the fate of Kansas City's season depends on the defense pulling itself together. The Chiefs certainly can't count on their offense to carry them.

The Chiefs blew their only realistic chance to win Sunday night in the first quarter. After Johnson returned Manning's fumble to the Denver 18-yard line, the Chiefs had a chance to recover from an early 3-0 deficit.

Earlier in the season, they would have jumped all over the opportunity. This time, they returned the favor on the first play when fullback Anthony Sherman fumbled. Denver recovered and, with the help of a 70-yard pass from Manning to Demaryius Thomas, soon had a 10-0 lead.

It was Kansas City's first double-digit deficit of the season. Predictably, they couldn't overcome it.

So after just one defeat, the Chiefs' season has that fragile feel. They don't have much time to fix their problems. If they don't do it by next week's game against the Chargers, the Dec. 1 game against Denver might not matter much, anyway.

"We have a big division game coming up next week, so there's no time to feel sorry for ourselves," Smith said. "You take [the Denver loss] with a grain of salt."

They'll do so at their own peril.

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