With both teams in last place, the best reason to watch a game between Kansas City and Tennessee would be to see Priest Holmes and Steve McNair.
That won’t be an option this week.
The Chiefs will be without Holmes, while the Titans hope McNair can return when the teams meet on Monday night.
Both teams made the playoffs in 2003-04 but quickly fell out of postseason contention this season. Kansas City had high hopes for 2004, but has endured two losing streaks of three or more games. Tennessee lost five of its first seven games and was never a factor.
Making matters worse, neither team has been able to keep its top offensive player on the field.
Holmes has missed the last four games—three of them losses—because of an injured right knee, and will miss the rest of the season after he was placed on injured reserve Thursday. Though he has rushed for 892 yards and scored 15 touchdowns, his numbers are well below his totals of last season, when he had his third straight 1,400-yard season and scored an NFL-record 27 touchdowns.
At least the Chiefs have a pair of running backs who have played well in Holmes’ absence. It is almost impossible for the Titans to replace McNair, their franchise quarterback who shared NFL MVP honors last season.
The oft-injured quarterback has missed three games with a bruised sternum and has played hurt in others. He talked after a game two weeks ago about considering retirement following the season because of all his injuries, then was surprisingly inactive for Sunday’s 54-21 loss to Indianapolis.
“He wants to play,” Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said. “He wants to finish up and play. He understands he can only do that when he is healthy enough and able enough.”
If McNair can’t play, the Titans will again turn to Billy Volek. The backup threw three touchdown passes last week, but that didn’t matter because Tennessee’s defense—also weakened by injuries—was no match for Indianapolis’ league-leading offense.
With normal backup Derrick Blaylock joining Holmes on the sideline last week, Larry Johnson rushed for 118 yards and scored two touchdowns as the Chiefs snapped a four-game losing streak with a 34-27 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
Johnson has played little and publicly feuded with Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil, but proved he can be relied on if Blaylock can’t recover from the sprained neck he suffered in the first half of last week’s game.
“Larry did a good job,” Vermeil said. “He missed some holes he was running so hard, almost blindly a couple of times. As he learns to relax and be a little more patient in his reading, I think he’ll end up making some more good runs.
“We were pleased to see him get really excited. He looked like a different guy. I think that’s all coming with him growing up.”
Blaylock will probably start Monday night. He has seven touchdowns in the last six games.
However, scoring isn’t the problem for the Chiefs, even without Holmes. Kansas City gains 418.8 yards per game to rank second in the NFL and averages 28.4 points, but even those numbers often haven’t been good enough because the Chiefs surrender averages of 370 yards and 27.2 points. They also have a minus-8 turnover ratio.
Even a healthy McNair would have a hard time overcoming a Tennessee defense that ranks in the middle of the league this season after being one of the NFL’s best in recent seasons. The Titans have surrendered 82 points in losing their last two games.
A banged-up defense that has added Samari Rolle and Rocky Calmus to an already long injury list seems to be unable to hold up for entire games. The Titans have yielded an NFL-high 103 points in the fourth quarter and have been outscored by 82 points in the second half, worst in the league.
Kansas City has a 26-18 lead in the series between former rivals from the American Football League. This is the first time Vermeil has faced the Titans since he coached the St. Louis Rams to a victory in Super Bowl XXXIV.