KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Four times on Sunday the Chiefs were in Denver territory facing short yardage on fourth down.
Four times the Chiefs and coach Romeo Crennel opted to either kick a field goal or punt.
Not exactly the hey-we-got-nothing-to-lose approach you might expect from a team that was 1-9 and riding a seven-game losing streak coming into the game.
But Crennel defended his decisions on Monday and said even in hindsight, he wouldn’t have done anything differently.
“No, the situation, when I made the decision that I made, I had good reasons for making them,” Crennel said. “You don’t look back. You make your decisions and if they work, they think you’re a genius. If they don’t work, then they go the other way and they think you’re a dummy.”
Crennel’s first decision to go conservative seemed the most logical. The Chiefs took the opening kickoff and drove from their own 29 to the Denver 16, and faced a fourth-and-3.
Taking the three points there was seemed a smart reward for a solid opening drive.
But after that, Crennel’s conservatism came into greater question.
On their next drive, the Chiefs got a short field, thanks to a 20-yard punt return from Javier Arenas, and started at the Denver 37. They drove all the way to the Broncos’ 4 and faced a fourth-and-2.
Again, Crennel called in kicker Ryan Succup.
“At that point in the game,” Crennel said, “maybe if it had occurred in the second half, rather than the first quarter, then maybe you go for it at that time.”
Hmmm. Actually, Crennel had two chances in the second half to test his own theory.
Trailing 7-6 and facing a fourth-and-1 at the Denver 31 in the third quarter, Crennel didn’t go for it. And he didn’t hesitate – he again brought in Succup, who connected from 49 yards.
Asked if he second-guessed himself now knowing that field goals weren’t likely to beat Peyton Manning and the Denver offense, Crennel said, “Nope. I mean you have to do what you feel is right at the time. I felt that going against that team, you have to get points on the board, and that it’s important. The more points the better, but if you don’t put points on the board, that’s not going to be good enough. And if you don’t put enough points on the board, that’s really not good enough.”
Out of the mouth of Romeo.
But Romeo’s ultra-conservative approach marched on into the fourth quarter when with just under six minutes left and trailing 14-9, Crennel again punted on fourth-and-6 from the Denver 46.
Crennel said after the game Sunday he was banking on pinning the Broncos deep and then having his defense stop Manning and the Broncos.
Instead, the Chiefs didn’t get the ball back until only 18 seconds remained, trailing 17-9.
“At the time, I thought it was the right decision considering the time left,” Crennel said.
But Crennel may not have given his opponent – Manning, a future Hall of Famer – quite enough credit.
Crennel’s decisions were the talk of sports radio Monday in Kansas City as hosts and callers seemed bewildered that the Chiefs’ coach would think he could beat Manning with field goals.
Even Fox NFL game analyst Brian Billick second-guessed Crennel.
In a column for FoxSports.com, Billick wrote, “…when you are a struggling 1-9 football team playing against an explosive offense with Peyton Manning under center, you might consider going for it on fourth down and go for the seven points rather than the three.
The Chiefs had three yards and two yards to gain on the respective fourth downs (in the first half), one of which was spotted on the Broncos’ 4-yard line. Even if only one of the gambles paid off with a touchdown, that still gives you more points than the two field goals.”
Billick then added, “Worst-case scenario: You don’t earn the first down, but you surrender the ball with Denver backed up on its own goal line and you win the hidden yardage battle of field position.”
Crennel, though, seemed content with the offensive effort, praising his offensive line, his running backs and his quarterback for a solid game, even though the Chiefs failed to score a touchdown for the second straight game. Quarterback Brady Quinn, by the way, misfired on his final 11 pass attempts and finished with a quarterback rating under 50.
“We played a good football game,” Crennel said. “We just didn’t make the plays we needed to in order to win. But it was a competitive game and that’s a positive.
“I thought (Quinn) managed the game. He didn’t turn the ball over and that’s critical to this team. We haven’t turned the ball and that’s the first thing for me. When we don’t turn the ball over we are competitive and have a chance to win. So now, we’re going to build on the things we need to build on.”
And that likely means more field goals from Ryan Succup.