KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The first three weeks of the NFL season, Brian Waters saw the definitive slump in the Kansas City film room. Had the Chiefs guard dissected the silence, he might have heard a sigh or a whispered expletive, or seen the wincing toward the front of the room, where lowlights of bungled plays flickered over and over.
"Man, we're losing over these little things?" Waters would think. "We've got to make those plays. It's got to start happening."
That was only a little more than a month ago, but it was hard for Waters – hard for any of the Chiefs – to see that happening on Sunday. When the season began, they were a faded facsimile of these Chiefs. But the 45-35 win over the Indianapolis Colts at Arrowhead Stadium had the familiar offensive authenticity.
A week after dropping 56 points on the Atlanta Falcons, Waters and the Chiefs' offense issued a second exclamation point against the Colts: 590 yards of offense, 33 first downs and almost 38 minutes of possession. And although the defense allowed 505 yards to the Colts, those numbers recall what Kansas City was all about during last season's 13-3 campaign – a season that seemed lost in this year's 0-3 start.
"A lot of that disbelief in those film sessions the first three or four weeks was internal," Waters said. "There was a lot of looking for little things to keep hope alive. There were just a lot of little things that weren't happening for us."
Despite Sunday's defense, there seems to be plenty happening for the Chiefs once again. Although it occurred against the Colts' stiff breeze of a defense, the Chiefs certainly regained the offensive look we expected two months ago.
The obvious boost has come from wide receivers Eddie Kennison and Johnnie Morton, who not only have regained their health but also have given balance to coach Dick Vermeil's system. The pair combined for 119 yards and a touchdown against the Colts and played perfect sidekicks to tight end Tony Gonzalez (125 receiving yards, two touchdowns) and running back Priest Holmes (225 total yards, three touchdowns).
To be sure, Sunday wasn't perfect. The two teams combined for 1,095 total yards – the third-highest single-game total in NFL history. Like the Colts, Kansas City has serious defensive issues. But new defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham did just enough with his blitz packages to slow Colts quarterback Peyton Manning as the Chiefs built a 31-14 lead by halftime.
His overall stats don't reflect it, but inside Manning's 472 passing yards and five touchdowns were a handful of errant throws and missed opportunities. The mistakes were just enough of an irritation to prevent a much-needed Colts win and were something the Chiefs couldn't accomplish when they lost to the Colts 38-31 in the second round of last season's playoffs.
"My God, they held them to 33 yards rushing," Vermeil joked of his defense, after watching the Colts abandon their running game in hopes of keeping pace with the Chiefs' offense. "We had to win that football game.
"I'd like to believe that's who we are [on offense]. Are we going to do that every week? No, we're not. But I've never been involved in back-to-back weeks like this. Maybe in 1999 [with the St. Louis Rams]."
Even those Rams, which Vermeil guided to a Super Bowl victory, might have been hard-pressed to keep up with the output of the Chiefs the last two games. The 101 points and 11 rushing touchdowns are astonishing proof that Kansas City is rediscovering an uncommon offensive flair. The players say it's simply a matter of improved execution on the offensive line, along with Kennison and Morton reclaiming their roles after early injuries.
A clear example of the two receivers working in unison came in the fourth quarter, a time when Kansas City had found a way to lose earlier this season. This time, Trent Green found Kennison with a 19-yard completion on third and 6. The play came with the Chiefs leading 38-35 with 2:49 remaining and continued the clinching touchdown drive. It was a striking example of the space and time that Green had to work with in completing 27 of 34 passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns.
"It's a credit to Eddie," Green said. "He was my third read, but he gave me the time to slide down the line and find him."
Now 3-4, the Chiefs hit the road for winnable dates at Tampa Bay and New Orleans before coming back to Arrowhead to face the Patriots. Green and others already were pointing to the stretch as the pivotal portion of the schedule. That's saying something. One month ago, the only pivoting this team had done was the about-face from last season's success. It's a truth not lost on the players.
"We still don't like the position we're in, being 3-4," kick returner Dante Hall said. "But at least we like the direction we're going."
Indeed. One more loss would have killed the Chiefs' faint playoff hopes, so perhaps it was appropriate that such an essential win occurred on Halloween. On a day that defines itself by bringing back the dead, Kansas City's stature surely got warmer to the touch.