Commentary

Razor's edge? Not for Chiefs' Haley

Chiefs have been perfect since their coach stopped shaving; is he on to something?

Originally Published: October 28, 2011
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

When Kansas City opened this season 0-3, including being outscored 89-10 in its first two games, coach Todd Haley did one of the few things he could to help turn around his team's season.

He deactivated his razor.

Since the Chiefs' horrendous start, the team has not lost and Haley has not shaved. The Chiefs' season no longer is in chaos even if Haley's month of growth is.

"This has nothing to do with my beard," Haley insisted this week. "This is about how we're playing as a team. I just try to coach, that's all I've done. The beard has nothing to do with our team's improved play."

But this is undeniable: Haley and the team both look different. Now, as odd as it seems, Haley could wind up going from a coach on the hot seat to being a Coach of the Year candidate, especially if Kansas City can find a way to beat San Diego at home on Monday night.

If the Chiefs win Monday, they would become the first team since the 2000 Pittsburgh Steelers to start a season 0-3 and then win its next four games.

But it might just be the start. Kansas City then would be staring straight at back-to-back home games against Miami and Denver, with a chance to move to 6-3. They've gone from being in play for Andrew Luck to hoping for a little luck along the way.

"We've stopped turning the ball over," Haley said, referring to the fact that the Chiefs were minus-5 in turnovers in their first three games and have been plus-6 in their past three. "We've gotten turnovers on defense, gotten yards after contact on offense. We're improving."

It is a compliment to the Chiefs' organization and a reflection on the NFL that a team can go from worst to potentially first, all in the span of about one month. The Chiefs are an unusual team in an unusual league.

A team that lost its first three games, that also lost cornerstones such as safety Eric Berry, running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki to season-ending injuries, but did not lose its conviction or confidence. It battled with replacement running back Jackie Battle, among others.

Haley was questioned and criticized, but he continued to plod along. And now, he has turned one hairy situation into another.

On to this week's 10 Spot:

1. Shining a light on assistants: When Saints coach Sean Payton was relegated to an upstairs coaching booth because of his broken knee, it highlighted an issue that deserves more attention. Behind the NFL's most successful head coaches are assistant coaches who get little credit despite their big contributions.

New Orleans offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. assumed an even larger role and helped lead the Saints to a staggering 62 points against the Colts. It's a similar story in Green Bay, where head coach Mike McCarthy gets his deserved share of praise but offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who has been with the organization since 2003, is one of the unsung heroes of the offense. In New England, as dominant as head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are, offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien is doing a great job dialing up plays. And in San Francisco, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has instilled the toughness that has made the 49ers tough to beat.

Few who follow football know Pete Carmichael Jr., Joe Philbin, Bill O'Brien and Vic Fangio. Yet the jobs they have done are as impressive as any in football.

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinThe Steelers' Mike Wallace has five TDs this season, including a 95-yarder in Week 7.
2. Steelers' Mr. Automatic: By now, Steelers opponents know what's coming. And they still can't stop it. Each game, Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace runs past defensive backs and each week he reels in a long pass that helps propel Pittsburgh.

He has at least one catch of at least 40 yards in six straight games. He has become to long passes what Detroit's Calvin Johnson has to touchdowns -- as close as there is to automatic. They're coming and the defense has little chance to stop them.

"You know he can run by you," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said about Wallace. "But he still finds a way to do it."

As for Johnson, he is having the type of season that Randy Moss had for New England in 2007. Johnson and Moss are the only players to have had 10 touchdown receptions through seven games.

3. AFC heavyweights: It would surprise no one if one or both teams from Sunday's New England-Pittsburgh game advanced to this season's AFC Championship Game. At least one of those teams has played in eight of the past 10 AFC Championship Games. Each team has advanced to the conference championship five times in the past 10 seasons. And at least one of them has represented the AFC in the Super Bowl in seven of the past 10 seasons.

They typically have been the class of the AFC, and they will go at it again Sunday in the latest battle of the franchises that have combined to win five Lombardi trophies over the past 10 seasons. And there is one other bit of history on the line. With a win Sunday, Brady and Belichick would win their 117th regular-season game together and pass Dan Marino and Don Shula for the most wins by a starting quarterback and head coach duo in the Super Bowl era.

4. Ohio teams set up nicely: At one point Monday night, Oct. 17, trade talks between Oakland and Cincinnati actually collapsed when the Bengals believed the Raiders had reneged on their offer of trading two high draft picks for Carson Palmer. When Bengals owner Mike Brown went to bed Monday night, the feeling within the organization was that the deal was a goner. But early Tuesday morning, Raiders coach Hue Jackson helped rekindle the talks, and a short time later the Raiders' offer and the trade were back on.

The two people who negotiated the details on the deal were Cincinnati executive vice president Katie Blackburn and Oakland chief executive Amy Trask, thought to be the first time that two women closed a trade of this magnitude. And when it was done, the ultimate cost of Palmer's Cincinnati holdout could be computed.

Palmer had been scheduled to make $11.5 million this season, and after agreeing to a $5 million pay cut in Oakland this season to play for the Raiders, he now will make $2.5 million the remainder of the season. So Palmer lost $9 million and Cincinnati added two prime picks.

Lost in the hoopla of Palmer ending his holdout and landing in Oakland is what is unfolding in Cincinnati and across Ohio. The Bengals have positioned themselves to compete for AFC North titles for plenty more seasons, and the Cleveland Browns are not far behind.

Each team has completed a blockbuster trade and each has stockpiled future draft picks. As it stands, the state of Ohio is scheduled to have four of the 32 first-round picks in the April draft -- two for the Bengals, two for the Browns. The Bengals also will have an additional first- or second-round pick in 2013 thanks to the Palmer trade while the Browns have an additional fourth-round pick in 2012 thanks to the Julio Jones trade.

Ohio is flush with picks and hope. And if the two franchises can connect in future drafts the way they did in the last draft, then life is going to become even more challenging for the Steelers and Ravens. Last April, Cincinnati drafted A.J. Green in Round 1 and Andy Dalton in Round 2. The Browns drafted defensive tackle Phillip Taylor in Round 1, and defensive end Jabaal Sheard and wide receiver Greg Little in Round 2. Each team hit on its picks, and each team is armed with more for the future.

[+] EnlargeMike Shanahan
AP Photo/Nick WassMike Shanahan and his team are facing all kinds of adversity heading into Week 8.
5. Gut check for Skins: From the time Washington returned from its bye two weeks ago, losses in the standings and on the sideline have piled up. The Redskins have lost to the Eagles and Panthers and lost even more in the process.

Against Philadelphia, the Redskins lost tight end Chris Cooley to what turned out to be a season-ending injury, left tackle Trent Williams to a high ankle sprain and guard Kory Lichtensteiger to a season-ending injury.

Then, against Carolina, running back Tim Hightower tore his ACL and Santana Moss broke a bone in his hand in an injury that required surgery and will sideline him at least one month.

Washington did a better job of building up its depth during the offseason. Now, with Washington traveling to Toronto to play Buffalo, it will be tested. And Redskins quarterback John Beck faces his own test. He never has started and won an NFL game. Beck is 0-5 in his NFL starts.

6. No player is more valuable than Peyton Manning: Aaron Rodgers is making his case for MVP, and so is Tom Brady. But without Manning, the Colts look lost, inept, as hopeless as they were before they drafted Manning with the No. 1 overall pick in 1998. Entering this season, the Colts had made the playoffs in each of the past nine seasons. They were bidding to pass the 1975-83 Cowboys and become the first team to make the playoffs in 10 straight seasons. But now they are 0-7 and the only thing they have clinched is that, for the first time in nine years, they will have fewer than 10 victories in a season. Only other thing left to clinch is the No. 1 overall pick.

7. Aaron Maybin's resurgence: When the Jets return from their bye week, one of the biggest storylines for their game against Buffalo will be the resurgence of former Bills linebacker Aaron Maybin. As hard as it might be to imagine, Maybin is tied with Calvin Pace for the team lead with three sacks and tied for the NFL lead with three forced fumbles. What makes it more impressive is that the Jets did not sign Maybin until just before the fourth game of the season, against Baltimore.

Since then, Maybin has played more than 40 plays and produced as if he has played in a lot more. It looks like head coach Rex Ryan has tapped into something with Maybin that Buffalo could not after drafting him 11th overall in 2009. In Buffalo, Maybin was as big of a bust as Vernon Gholston was in New York. But in New York, Maybin has turned into the type of defensive force the Jets hoped Gholston would be.

8. The new Bad Boys in Detroit: The Motor City had basketball's Bad Boys with the Pistons of the late '80s and early '90s, and now it is coming up with football's answer. First, Lions coach Jim Schwartz got involved in a postgame altercation with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. The next Sunday, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh drew the ire of some Falcons who said he taunted injured quarterback Matt Ryan.

The Lions have begun to develop a reputation for their behavior, but they're also developing another reputation: as a good defense struggling to stop the run. In the past three games, the Lions' 28th-rated run defense has surrendered 453 rushing yards. The 49ers gashed Detroit's run defense. The Falcons did the same. And the Broncos are sure to employ the same strategy on Sunday. If Detroit doesn't get its run defense straightened out, its run to playoff contention will be ended abruptly.

9. Tebow had luck on his side: Nearly a week has passed since Tim Tebow led the Broncos to an improbable, come-from-behind overtime victory over the Miami Dolphins. But what makes the win even more improbable is that the Broncos recovered an onside kick before driving for the game-tying touchdown to force overtime. Before last week, Denver's John Fox had coached in 358 games over 23 NFL seasons and none of his teams had ever recovered an onside kick. And then, with Tebow starting his first NFL game, it all changed. Of course.

10. Stat of the week: Last Sunday night against Indianapolis, the Saints scored 62 points, which is six more than the Rams have scored all season. The Rams will get a firsthand look at how explosive the Saints can be when they host them in St. Louis on Sunday.

The Schef's specialties

•  Game of the week: Patriots at Steelers -- A potential AFC Championship Game preview.

•  Player of the week: Titans RB Chris Johnson -- If he can't get back on track Sunday against Colts, then it's fair to wonder if he will produce at a high level again this season.

•  Upset of the week: Seattle over Cincinnati -- Would not be much of an upset, but it's hard to envision a big underdog such as Arizona or St. Louis coming through.

Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.