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Chiefs return from abyss to make noise

Michael Silver
Yahoo Sports

As far as Missouri Miracles go – and can we all pause for a moment to acknowledge one of the most unbelievable World Series games of all time? – Todd Haley and the Kansas City Chiefs can't come close to competing with the Cardiac Cards.

The turnaround taking place across the Show Me State, however, has the potential to be one of the more improbable NFL stories in recent memory, depending on whether the Chiefs continue to defy the laws of football inertia.

Two weeks into the 2011 season, they were lower than Lindsay Lohan's current career trajectory and seemingly as exposed, as the troubled actress is posing for Playboy. Outscored 89-10 in blowout defeats to the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions, and reeling from season-ending knee injuries to a pair of Pro Bowl players (halfback Jamaal Charles(notes) and safety Eric Berry(notes)), it looked as though K.C.'s shot at defending its AFC West title was over from the start.

And now? If the 3-3 Chiefs can defeat the San Diego Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium on Monday night, they'll be locked in a three-way tie with the Chargers and Oakland Raiders for first place. As that unlikely reality dawned on Dwayne Bowe(notes) last Sunday following the Chiefs' 28-0 thrashing of the Raiders in Oakland, the talented wideout made no effort to downplay the accomplishment.

"That's amazing," Bowe said, smiling like a man who'd learned that a scary medical diagnosis had, in fact, been a false alarm. "Now we find out what we are."

I'd argue that the Chiefs have already revealed their fortitude and resilience, regardless of how the rest of the season plays out. Sure, it could all still unravel, and it's possible Haley won't survive to coach a fourth season – a potential casualty of a strained relationship with Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli.

Right now, however, Kansas City is on the verge of becoming the first team in NFL history to win four consecutive games after a 0-3 start – and Haley is a role model for every coach in every sport whose team begins its journey by stepping in a large pit of quicksand mixed with fertilizer.

[ Related: Absurdly premature 2011 playoff picture ]

"I know we believe," he said after Sunday's victory over the Raiders, a team that beat the Chiefs twice last season. "I don't know if anyone else believes. Belief – that got a man to the moon, didn't it? Can you imagine what people said to that first guy who said, 'We're going to the moon'?"

Give Haley and the Chiefs credit for staying grounded after a rocky post-lockout stretch that included a season-ending knee injury to valuable tight end Tony Moaeki in the preseason and the subsequent losses of Berry and Charles. In a 21st-century world of real-time overreaction, Haley reached back into the past to reach his players, reminding them that teams have fought back from horrific starts before.

Haley's father, Dick, was the Pittsburgh Steelers' longtime player personnel director. Todd was a college student at Florida in 1989, when the Steelers lost their first two games to the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals by a collective 91-10 margin. Pittsburgh rallied to finish 9-7, snuck into the playoffs as a wild card and won a first-round playoff game over the Oilers in Houston before Bubby Brister and friends nearly shocked John Elway and the Denver Broncos on the road.

Those '89 Steelers were on Haley's mind after K.C.'s season-opening, 41-10 defeat to the Bills. He got a text message from Dwight Stone, a backup wideout and special-teams ace on that Pittsburgh team, telling him to keep his head up. Haley asked Chiefs video coordinator Pat Brazil – whose father, Dave, was an assistant coach on Chuck Noll's '89 staff – if he could track down a highlight video of that season from NFL Films.

Three days after the Chiefs' 48-3 defeat to the Lions, Haley began a Wednesday-morning meeting by showing his players the 17-minute video in its entirety.

"Some of the things that were said in the video were unbelievable," Haley recalled Sunday. "[Former Steelers tackle] Tunch Ilkin said, 'We didn't listen to what everybody else told us we were. We believed in what we could be.'

"That resonated with our guys. They've been told 'no' all their lives. Brandon Flowers(notes), you're not fast enough. Tamba Hali(notes), you don't work in this [3-4] scheme. Matt Cassel(notes), you're a backup, nothing more. Me, you can't be a head coach – you didn't play the game [in college]."

The Chiefs' transformation wasn't instantaneous. In Week 3, they faced the Chargers in San Diego and trailed 10-0 at halftime – with zero first downs. A second-half rally fell short, and the Chargers escaped with a 20-17 victory, clinching the game on Eric Weddle's(notes) interception with 55 seconds remaining.

Still, Haley was surprisingly upbeat after the game. He felt as though he had his team back. Just in case, however, he invoked a couple of superstitious conventions, deciding to go back to wearing the ratty red baseball cap he'd rocked on the sidelines during the bulk of the 2010 season and to put away his razor until further notice. That explains why Haley showed up in Oakland looking like he'd spent the week at Occupy Wall Street.

"The beard stays," he said. "My wife likes it. And we're winning."

[Related: Haley isn't shaving until team loses]

The Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts in successive weeks, pulling out close victories over a pair of struggling teams. They fought back from a 24-7 deficit to win at Indy by a 28-24 score, matching the biggest comeback in franchise history. Following a bye, the Chiefs jumped all over the Raiders, intercepting quarterbacks Kyle Boller(notes) and Carson Palmer(notes) three times apiece.

"We always felt this was possible," said Flowers, the young cornerback who had two of those picks – and one of the Chiefs' two interceptions for touchdowns on the day. "Early on in the season, we didn't panic. We knew we were a streaky team. We said, 'We've just got to keep believing.' We never bowed our heads."

Perhaps most important, at least in Haley's eyes, was what the Chiefs stopped doing: making brutal mistakes. Their turnover ratio was minus-seven after two games; in the four games since, it's plus-six.

"Little things were getting us the first two weeks," said fullback Le'Ron McClain(notes), who signed as a free agent from the Baltimore Ravens over the offseason. "We just buckled down and got back to the basics.

"I knew we had a good team, with good players and a good leader in Todd Haley. I like the aggression that he has. He's a great leader. We're behind him 100 percent. He's always telling us to believe in ourselves, and we buy in."

Said Haley: "It was very simple to me. We were doing things to get you beat in the NFL. We're not New England, a team that can do things to overcome turnovers. We're just not there yet."

Whether the tenuous Pioli-Haley combination will ever produce a team that gets to that lofty place remains to be seen. In the meantime, however, it's hard not to appreciate the Chiefs' improbable ascent from the abyss.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

The Colts will put up a surprisingly good fight against the Titans in Nashville before falling to 0-8 in heartbreaking fashion. … The whole Steelers revival storyline will take a major hit after Tom Brady(notes) and friends work them over, as per usual, at Heinz Field. … The Seahawks will upset the Bengals in a sloppy game that reinforces the notion that most NFL teams are pretty average at this stage of the season.

[ Related: Patriots out to exploit Steelers' big weakness ]

And remember, you can find all of my picks here – and receive the analysis behind them by registering for the Silver Insider at ridewithsilver.com. As for the Locks of the Week segment that I own (at least for the time being), five entertaining minutes are coming your way.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

Denver, where things have changed considerably since my last visit, in that it's Tim Tebow's(notes) world and the rest of us just live in it. At least, that's the story coming off of last Sunday's drama in South Florida. If Tebow can hand the Lions their third consecutive defeat, the legend will grow. If not, I'll probably write about the visitors – and numerous Tebow worshippers will call me a godless hater. In any event, it'll be nice to breathe some mountain air.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. Upon learning that MC Hammer had addressed the 49ers during their bye week, a jealous Jim Schwartz vowed to "get my own washed-up rapper to Motown" and invited Vanilla Ice to speak to the Lions.

[ Related: NFL's hypocrisy lets coaches off the hook ]

2. The NFL's criminal element is far more egregious than that within the general population.

3. There was no correlation between the timing of reports that the Dolphins have already approached Bill Cowher about possibly replacing Tony Sparano and, the following day, that the Miami coach has put his house on the market.

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

Is it fair to say that adult film star BiBi Jones has Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski(notes) on her fantasy team?

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

Browns linebacker Scott Fujita(notes) and his parents, Helen and Rodney, who were honored earlier this month by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Also honored: actress Nia Vardalos. I am not doing a shot for her, and perhaps that will make her cry. To which I say: Spray some Windex on those tears and move along.

FANTASY ANNOYANCE OF THE WEEK

When Cal women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb, fresh off a resounding victory that improved Bringin' It Back to 4-3, realized that half her team was staring at byes this week, she didn't stress out in the least. After all, opponent The Romo Empire (4-3) is down a pretty good player for the same reason – dude with ties to God's University by the name of Rodgers – and Gottlieb has faith in her bench. "It's like I always tell my team," she explained. "If you come off the bench, you need to be better than the other team's starters." It sounds good in the real world, but in fantasyland there's no way for Gottlieb to coach up her backups. So, with the bye brigade (Matt Ryan(notes), Shonn Greene(notes), Santonio Holmes(notes), Plaxico Burress(notes), Julio Jones(notes), Jacoby Ford(notes)) sitting this one out, and Willis McGahee(notes) likely out with a broken hand, I urged Gottlieb to pick up some reinforcements: Bernard Scott(notes) (starting at halfback for the Bengals due to Cedric Benson's(notes) suspension) and Jabar Gaffney(notes) (should get more balls from the Redskins with Santana Moss(notes) sidelined) will join a makeshift lineup that includes John Beck(notes) (she chose him over Colt McCoy(notes) and Matt Hasselbeck(notes)), Jackie Battle(notes), Reggie Wayne(notes) and studs Adrian Peterson and Jimmy Graham(notes) (thank heaven).

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Terrell Owens(notes) had 72 catches for 983 yards with the '10 Bengals.
(AP Photo)

My buddy Malibu, meanwhile, made a bold move following Sabbath Bloody Sabbath's defeat: He did what no NFL team has been willing to do (so far) and signed Terrell Owens. Though there were no NFL teams represented at T.O.'s workout in Southern California this week, Malibu was watching (via NFL Network) and came away duly impressed. "I liked that he caught the ball with his hands away from his body," he said. "During agility drills, he seemed quick on his feet." Malibu also had this observation: "I thought Drew Rosenhaus looked very good too. Rosenhaus has got a little Ed Hochuli in him. He likes to show off as if he's buff." (For those of you in fantasy agent leagues, Rosenhaus would be a great play this week. You can't get this advice anywhere else.) If Owens actually gets a chance to flex in the NFL, Malibu will be mighty grateful. Heading into its matchup with 6-1 Bangas (Ray Rice(notes), Calvin Johnson(notes) and a whole lot of average), Sabbath (4-3) has a pretty underwhelming lineup, especially with Benson's suspension and Jones' bye. Scott and the Chargers' defense join underperformers like Philip Rivers(notes), DeSean Jackson(notes) and Vernon Davis(notes), with Malibu hoping that Brandon Pettigrew(notes), Mike Tolbert(notes) and Darren Sproles(notes) perform as projected. Malibu actually contemplated benching Rivers for Eli Manning(notes) but decided that's a no-no for a rabid Chargers fan

THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

It wasn't quite Tim Tebow in South Florida, but Cal's regular-season field hockey finale featured a pair of Golden Bears goals in the final 58 seconds to force overtime at UC Davis, and then a game-winner from senior forward and NorPac Conference player of the week Megan Shimojima 10 minutes later. The 3-2 victory, which improved the 14th-ranked Bears to 13-3, was the 200th of Shellie Onstead's coaching career, which began in Berkeley in 1995 and will hopefully last at least another 17 years.

Speaking of awesome Cal coaches, Gottlieb is getting ready to do big things at Haas Pavilion in addition to being an easily influenced fantasy football owner. The Bears open the season at Rutgers on Nov. 13; their slammin' new website, This Is Cal Basketball, made its debut earlier this week.

In other news, Cal is going to the Rose Bowl on Saturday – alas, not to play in the Granddaddy Of 'Em All for the first time since 1959, but to battle the struggling UCLA Bruins in a Pac-12 game. The Bears looked much better last Saturday in a 34-10 victory over Utah at AT&T Park, but I still don't want to talk about the previous three weeks.

Finally, the late, great Jill Costello received the NCAA Inspiration Award for increasing lung cancer awareness and doing her university proud.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

Ryan Kenny Powers

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

Back in the '70s, Linda Ronstadt was known as the "First Lady of Rock and Roll." While that might have riled Joni Mitchell and inspired young Chrissie Hynde to shoot her mouth off in unrivaled fashion, Miss Ronstadt – whose love interests included then and current California Gov. Jerry Brown and "Star Wars" creator George Lucas – wielded the mic with serious authority. I thought of Rondstadt when I saw the drama unfolding in Miami this week, which included rumors that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross had the hots for Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden, Tony Sparano putting his house on the market and a we stink/he stinks/I stink back-and-forth between halfback Reggie Bush(notes) and safety Yeremiah Bell(notes). Think Bush is second-guessing his decision to relocate to South Florida after five years in New Orleans and three at USC? Does Kim Kardashian have a big booty?

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Reggie Bush has just 329 offensive yards this season.
(Getty Images)

And if you like that imagery, you'll love envisioning Bush serenading his head coach while getting his Ronstadt on, to the tune of the Clint Ballard Jr. composition "You're No Good."

Lost to Tebow, it made me sick
We sucked for Luck and now we're oh and six
I heard you're selling your pimped-out pad
Cause you can see that we're so damn bad

We're no good
We're no good
We're no good
Tony we're no good
I'm gonna say it again
We're no good
We're no good
We're no good
Tony we're no good

Ross hopped a plane and courted Harbaugh
Then he snuck back home and hoped nobody saw
He begged your forgiveness on bended knee
Gave you a financial apology

You're no good
You're no good
You're no good
Tony you're no good
He done paid you again
You're no good
You're no good
You're no good
Tony you're no good

I'm playin' out the string and then I'm going my way
Forget this whole fiasco and head back to L.A.

We're no good
We're no good
We're no good
Tony we're no good
Won't ever play here again
We're no good
We're no good
We're no good
Tony we're no good

Oh, oh no
We're no good
We're no good
We're no good
Tony we're no good

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