Chiefs fans ravin’ about possibilities
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — You can forgive the good folk out here for their unbridled passion and excitement. It is playoff time in the National Football League. And there is a good reason why the fans of the Kansas City Chiefs have whipped themselves into a frenzy.
The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium since Jan. 8, 1994, when Nick Lowery’s 32-yard field goal defeated the Steelers, 27-24. Today the 10-6 Chiefs, champions of the AFC West — hey, at least they can claim a winning record, which is more than the NFC West champion can — will host the 12-4 Baltimore Ravens in a wild-card game.
When they captured the AFC’s No. 5 seed with a season-ending 13-7 triumph over Cincinnati, the Ravens avoided a trip to Indianapolis to face Peyton Manning and the third-seeded Colts. But Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh made it clear that a trip to Kansas City was no less of a challenge.
“I’m excited that it’s Kansas City,’’ said Harbaugh, whose team has never played the Chiefs in the postseason, but defeated them, 38-24, in the last regular-season meeting in 2009 in Baltimore. “But now you look at them and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is going to be a big challenge. This is going to be a tough football game.’
“There’s a reason these guys have the record they have. There’s a reason they won their division. There’s a reason they got a home game. It’s a really tough place to play.
“Historically, in the playoffs, it’s been an incredibly tough place to play. So we’ve got our hands full.’’
While Harbaugh will start a young quarterback in Joe Flacco who has five postseason games (all on the road) under his belt, second-year Chiefs coach Todd Haley will counter with veteran Matt Cassel, who will be making his first playoff start after enduring a late-season appendectomy.
This season, Cassel has taken a larger leadership role, much in the manner of Tom Brady, the player Cassel backed up during his time with the Patriots.
“That’s been part of Matt’s maturation process,’’ Haley said. “He is continuing to make progress toward being the leader and the quarterback of this team.’’
Cassel had a club-record touchdown/interception differential of plus-20 (27 touchdowns, 7 interceptions), second in the league behind Brady (plus-32).
“He makes a lot of plays,’’ said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. “He makes way more plays with his legs than people think, and that goes back to speaking about the talent that they have.’’
Much of Kansas City’s offensive success is rooted in its ability to run the ball; Jamaal Charles had 1,467 yards to rank second in the league in rushing. That has opened things up for Cassel and receiver Dwayne Bowe, who led the league with 15 touchdown catches and had 72 receptions overall for a team-record 1,162 yards.
“I think our regular season was a success,’’ Haley said. “We did what we had to do to punch a ticket to play more games. That’s our goal, will be our goal, was our goal last year, it’s our goal this year.
“We accomplished the goal this year. Now, this is where you can really define yourself as being a good team or being something special.’’
Which explains why Chiefs fans are ready to paint the town red.
“This is going to be a little more excitement, a little more energy, a little more adrenaline,’’ said Haley, whose team is a 3-point underdog. “But it’s going to come down to who plays the best, and all of the peripheral stuff is overrated for us. I just think we need to focus on doing the things that we have to do to be the best team on Sunday.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us, against a team like Baltimore that has a lot more experience than we do. In the last three seasons, they’ve played five road playoff games. They’ve won some of those, more than they lost.
“There are distinct advantages that way, but it’s not going to matter. What’s going to matter is who executes and does the things you have to do to win.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.