Quality win boosts Kansas City's confidence
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — To paraphrase Winston Churchill, Kansas City's victory over the Steelers was not the end of a long battle to regain respectability.
It was not even the beginning of the end. But maybe it was the end of the beginning.
The Chiefs' first two wins under their new regime hardly counted for much, coming against the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders. But Sunday's 27-24 overtime victory was different. These were the defending Super Bowl champions who were walking away with heads hung low. This was the sort of victory a team can build upon.
"The difference is we were supposed to beat those other teams," said safety Jon McGraw. "A team like the Steelers, to me, that's a different class. I think should be a real confidence-booster for this team."
After winning only four games in 2007 and two in 2008, the Chiefs' slow start under Todd Haley, their demanding rookie head coach, had put a strain on everyone. Starting with a rigorous offseason conditioning program, Haley and new general manager Scott Pioli had been doing everything possible to create an entirely new mind-set.
Then they lost their first five games and discouragement began to set in.
But now the Chiefs have back-to-back wins. Plus, they own a victory over a team that's likely to finish with a winning record. That hasn't happened since the Chiefs beat San Diego on Sept. 30, 2007.
"Up until this game, it's been a lot of faith," said McGraw. "We've been asked to believe that this is going to work without having seen a lot of success or fruit from it. Now I think (this win) can get some of the guys who were sort of on the fence to buy in or to believe this is heading in the right direction. This could be a huge change of mind-set."
Their new confidence will be tested immediately when they travel to San Diego to face a Chargers team that destroyed them in Kansas City 37-7 on Oct. 25.
"Beating the Steelers was huge for this team," said rookie place kicker Ryan Succop, whose 22-yard field goal in overtime won the game. "All the coaches and players have been working really, really hard. It's exciting because we feel like we're getting rewarded for all our hard work."
The victory was especially uplifting for wide receiver Chris Chambers. As a member of the Chargers, he had been 0-3 against the Steelers the past 13 months.
"I think the feeling is definitely good, the confidence is starting to build a little bit," said Chambers, whose 61-yard catch-and-run set up Succop's game-winner. "The guys are starting to surround each other and play for each other. It was a total team victory — offense, defense, special teams. We know now that we're capable of beating a team of that caliber.
"Now, we have to move on and play an even better team next week."
Haley, who's been saying for weeks his team was making progress, noted a different atmosphere in the locker room Monday.
"There was a buzz," he said. "And like I've said a bunch of times, everybody works too hard to not get results. And when you do get good results, it makes it a little more fun."
After grabbing a 7-0 lead on Jamaal Charles' 97-yard return of the opening kickoff, the Chiefs fell behind 17-7 at halftime and 24-17 with 8:35 to go.
"We had many opportunities in that game where we could have folded the tent," Haley said. "And the guys, as they've kind of shown throughout the year, they're going to fight and we just did a better job of executing, which we're going to have to do against that team to have a chance to win. I was very proud of our guys."