That’s the good news, the lifeline, the saving grace. What we didn’t know before the Understudy Bowl in Green Bay on Thursday night, we still don’t.
A year ago at this time, the Kansas City Chiefs’ leading tackler was Tysyn Hartman. Their third-leading stopper was Vince Agnew. Twenty-two punts had been recorded. The various offensive lines had allowed 21 preseason sacks. Only 17 of 60 third-down attempts during exhibitions — 28.3 percent — had been converted successfully. Most pockets of optimism were firmly in the cautious camp.
Then the lights went on for real, Chiefs 28, Jags 2 happened, and the happy wagon was off, rolling into history.
Which is a nice way of saying Packers 34, Andy Gang 14 at Lambeau Field was largely no harm, no foul, and a lot of rain. It all sort of depends on which half of the glass you want to look at. Green Bay backups looked a lot better than Kansas City’s. Beyond that, any definitive indication of what’s to come Sept. 7 is probably ancillary, at best.
Although in the preseason finale a year ago, it must be said, the Chiefs’ bench stomped the Packers’ bench, 30-8 at Arrowhead Stadium. And August 2013 felt like a train that was picking up speed as the regular-season curtain was getting ready to open.
A year later, August on Arrowhead Drive has had a hell of a time staying on the damn rails.
Other than a great catch by A.J. Jenkins, a consistent second-half surge by the offensive line on the ground, Joe McKnight running as if a roster spot depended on it, a nice touchdown grab by Richard Gordon, more Jaye Gordon havoc, a Kyle Love sack and some decent stabs at the ball by DeMarcus Van Dyke, the failures on the final eye-test outweighed the gold stars.
After dropping the second half to Minnesota by a 20-7 margin last Saturday, the Chiefs’ backups were outscored in the first half, 20-7, in Green Bay. The end zone was less of a stranger than it had been the past two weeks, but progress — and we’re talking inches, not yards — has to be taken with a grain of salt, given who played and, more to the point, who didn’t.
Rookie safety Daniel Sorensen was pushed into a tough situation because of Eric Berry’s heel, and he’s doggie-paddled enough to stick, you’d think — for special teams service, as much as anything else. His August has not been as seal-floggingly terrible as, say, that of fellow newbie Phillip Gaines, who was exploited so routinely on the perimeter by the Packers’ No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks that you half expected Aaron Rodgers to suit up and take a few swings at the kid for a few giggles.
Of course, Gaines is a third-round draft pick. So is Van Dyke, but not by this regime.
You don’t know whether to send Chiefs general manager John Dorsey a crate of Scotch or antacid this weekend. Maybe both.
Because if it’s not one thing in August with The Andy Gang, it’s another. Then it’s usually back to the other thing again. After giving the ball away, 2012 style, against Minnesota in the home preseason finale, turnovers were cleaned up a bit in the first 30 minutes in Wisconsin (one each). But the ol’ penalty monster reared its ugly head again: seven first-half flags for 41 yards to the Packers’ one for five. In total, the Chiefs were flagged 14 times for 131 yards of shame.
Which is kind of how we’ll remember Preseason 2014: a month of three yards forward, 10 yards back. That and suspensions.
Not that there weren’t isolated sparks: An up-and-down second quarter for Tyler Bray included a gorgeous, 45-yard rainbow of a toss along the right boundary to Jenkins, who went into full extension with 4:31 to go in the period and cradled the ball as he crashed to the turf. Some four plays later, Bray fired a fastball to Gordon in the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown pass, finally putting the Chiefs on the board with 3:21 left in the half.
Of course, Jenkins would later leave the contest with a concussion. Because it’s been that kind of August.
Vance Walker? Hand issue. Nico Johnson? Quad problem.
What, did someone on Arrowhead Drive sell their soul for the glory of 2013, and this is payback?
While the kicking competition between incumbent Ryan Succop and rookie Cairo Santos will apparently have to finish in private (and perhaps in secret), other cases along the roster’s fringes were laid out. It would be a shock to see Sorensen cut; ditto Cyrus Gray, although McKnight (10 carries, 50 yards rushing) staked a claim on what’s becoming a crowded backfield. We root for Demetrius Harris, but when Demetrius Harris cannot corral high throws at 6-foot-7, we start to wonder if there’s a point to Demetrius Harris taking up a roster spot. Receivers Frankie Hammond Jr. and Fred Williams are both good stories, compelling stories, but there may not be room for them both.
Light a candle for Dorsey — who has until 3 p.m. Saturday to cull his roster to the NFL-mandated 53 — for having to evaluate all of this muck. It’s tough enough trying to rebuild a home out of piles of smoking rubble, let alone a roster. Over the last four weeks, the Chiefs have allowed 16 sacks, punted 18 times and converted 22 of 57 third-down tries — and almost all of it without the services of their best offensive player, tailback Jamaal Charles.
If we’ve learned anything from Reid/Dorsey Year 1, it’s that a lot can change in 10 days. And thank goodness for that.