The low point of the Kansas City Chiefs’ otherwise strong season occurred three weeks ago in Denver, where an irate Todd Haley refused to shake hands with Broncos coach Josh McDaniels after his team was handed a lopsided defeat.
While Haley hasn’t had much to fret about since, McDaniels is now the coach under heavy scrutiny, dealing with questions about his job and a videotaping scandal.
Haley and the AFC West-leading Chiefs look to avenge that embarrassing defeat and eliminate McDaniels and the Broncos from postseason contention when they meet Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Kansas City (7-4) leads San Diego by one game in the West, but it was hard to tell the team was atop its division with its performance in a 49-29 loss at Denver on Nov. 14. The Chiefs fell behind 35-0 - the largest first-half deficit in team history - and after the game Haley pointed his finger at McDaniels, who extended his hand for the customary post game handshake, and turned and stomped away without shaking.
Haley apologized for his actions the following day but declined to say what upset him.
Haley has been in a much better mood since, thanks to back-to-back impressive offensive performances.
After beating Arizona 31-13 on Nov. 21, Kansas City defeated Seattle 42-24 last Sunday. The Chiefs amassed a season-best 503 yards at Qwest Field as Matt Cassel(notes) tied his career high with four touchdown passes. Three of them were to Dwayne Bowe(notes), who extended his streak of at least one TD catch to seven straight games.
Bowe finished with 170 yards on 13 receptions - tying his career best set at Denver two weeks earlier - while Jamaal Charles(notes) ran for 173 yards on 22 carries to top 1,000 yards. It was the first regular-season game in NFL history two teammates reached 170 yards in rushing and receiving.
“We’ve become very hard to defend,” Haley said. “That’s our goal to be a balanced team, but it starts with the run.”
The Chiefs are averaging an NFL-best 174.3 rushing yards but didn’t get a chance to get their ground game going in Denver last month because they fell behind so quickly. Charles was limited to 41 yards on 14 carries, while Cassel completed 33 of 53 passes for a career-high 469 yards and four touchdowns.
Kansas City, which has outscored opponents 138-67 in going 5-0 at Arrowhead Stadium, hopes it has the chance to run a bit more in the rematch. Denver is third-worst against the run, allowing an average of 141.6 yards.
“The games are just going to get bigger,” Haley said. “This game this week will be our biggest game to date. I think that is critical for us.”
The Broncos’ win over the Chiefs last month is their only victory in seven games. With a 36-33 loss to St. Louis last Sunday, Denver fell to 5-16 since Nov. 1, 2009 - its worst 21-game stretch in four decades - and is one defeat away from missing the playoffs.
Amid all these problems, the Broncos have also been hit hard off the field.
McDaniels and the organization were fined $50,000 apiece last Saturday for video operations director Steve Scarnecchia taping San Francisco’s walkthrough a day before a loss to the 49ers in London on Oct. 31.
Broncos owner Pat Bowlen insisted McDaniels wasn’t involved with the taping and his job is safe.
McDaniels is simply trying to salvage the remainder of what is shaping up to be a fifth straight season without a playoff appearance.
“It’s not, you know, not my decision, not something that’s in my control,” McDaniels said. “I’m just going to worry about what I can focus on and try to control the things that I can control.”
McDaniels can lead the Broncos to their first season sweep over the Chiefs since 2007.
Orton finished November with eight touchdowns and one interception, while Cassel had an NFL-best 12 TDs to one pick.