It’s come full circle: The Chiefs now look like the teams they beat up on last year

Pro Bowl middle linebacker Derrick Johnson -- who went into a scrum with 51 seconds left in the first half, came out holding his leg and crumpled to the turf -- is likely out for the season with a ruptured Achilles.

Charlie Riedel/AP

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One song in — granted, it was a lousy bleeping song — and they’re already talking about breaking up the band. Guys, guys, guys, we haven’t even gotten to Frankie Hammond Jr.’s theremin solo yet!

"We can get worse or we can get good," Kansas City tailback Jamaal Charles said after his Chiefs dropped a 26-10 stunner to Tennessee in the season opener at Arrowhead Stadium. "My job is to get the team good."

Next up: A trip to Denver.

It can get a lot worse before it gets better, kids.

"It’s a long season," said Charles, who touched the ball Sunday a paltry 11 times — just seven of them carries — for an even paltrier 34 yards. "And I want the ball more, and coach (Andy Reid) knows that."

At first, real, honest blush, the 2014 Chiefs looked like the kind of team they were beating — and beating routinely — in September and October of last year. That’s the ultimate truth, the ultimate damnation. A 17-3 deficit early in the third quarter felt like 37-3. Quarterback Alex Smith was hurried five times (officially), sacked another four, picked off three times and flashed happy feet — the kind of happy feet that come with doubts about the protection in front of you — throughout.

The hosts lost the turnover count, three to nil. The Titans’ special teams were as good, or better, than what Dave Toub trotted out there. Tennessee’s kicker was 4 for 4 on field goals, including makes from 46 and 47 yards out. The Chiefs’ kicker was 1 for 2, and somehow managed to doink the ball off both uprights in the process.

Oh, and did we mention the Titans’ kicker, Ryan Succop, used to be the Chiefs’ kicker until about nine days ago?

"It’s something that I don’t think I’ll ever forget about this game," said the former Kansas City special teamer, who was among the Chiefs’ final preseason cuts late last month in favor of rookie Cairo Santos. "You never know how things are going to go on opening day, and to get off to a start like this in Arrowhead, it was special."

Succop didn’t pour any more salt with his words. One, because he’s a stand-up dude; two, because his kicks left plenty of salt already.

They also underscored one of the themes from Sunday: Sometimes, going younger and cheaper can bite you square in the backside.

At least general manager John Dorsey had a plan for life after Succop. There was no plan for what happened with 51 seconds left in the first half, when Pro Bowl middle linebacker Derrick Johnson went into a scrum, came out holding his leg and crumpled to the turf. Ruptured Achilles.

"You never know what can happen out there on any play," defensive end Allen Bailey said. "So be prepared for everything."

Early in the third quarter, veteran end Mike DeVito, same deal. On the afternoon, the Chiefs had more defensive starters leave the field on a cart (two) than they scored touchdowns (one). Left guard-turned-right-tackle Jeff Allen: Bicep strain, and hello Ryan Harris.

How the hell do you prepare for that?

Flip through our photo album of Chiefs cheerleaders.

"DJ’s been around here for a long time," guard Jeff Linkenbach noted. "And so it might hurt a little more."

Yeah. Yeah, it might. The 31-year-old Johnson is the Chiefs’ anchor in the middle, one of the big spikes that defensive coordinator Bob Sutton likes to hammer opposing teams with. This was supposed to be the fall No. 56 chased down the Chiefs’ all-time career tackle record the way he did so many tailbacks, having come into Sunday trailing Gary Spani by just 18 stops (999 to 981).

Instead, he left Arrowhead on a set of crutches, his season likely over. Ditto DeVito. Between the two, 177 career NFL starts, gone. Poof. Just like that.

"That’s a big part missing on our defense," outside linebacker Tamba Hali said, "but the next guy’s got to step up and they’ve got some big shoes to fill."

You can try to replace a kicker with young and cheap. You can’t patch 177 career NFL starts the same way.

"That’s part of it," wideout Junior Hemingway said. "It’s going to happen. And (when) that happens, (another) guy has got to come on. Got to keep rolling."

Broncos, Dolphins, Patriots, Niners.

The sky is not falling. Officially. But the clouds above Arrowhead are lower than they’ve been for a long, long time.

Even the caveats — wideout Dwayne Bowe missed the game because of a suspension stemming from last November’s drug-related arrest; right tackle Donald Stephenson’s four-game suspension for PEDs; practice-week injuries to cornerback Marcus Cooper and No. 1 punt returner De’Anthony Thomas — ring a bit hollow. Just as 9-0 and 11-5 were testament to Dorsey picking the right groceries and Reid working up winning dish after winning dish, the front office and coaching staff have to own this one, too.

You let seven starters walk to free agency, you lob a veteran kicker right before the start of the regular season, even if you’ve got Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady under center, it’s supposed to hurt.

Titans 26, Chiefs 10 hurt. A lot.

Actually, it felt a bit like Antonio Brown ran in from Pittsburgh and kicked everybody at Arrowhead in the face.

"I mean, you’re certainly not going to win doing the opposite of (what we did last year)," Smith said. "Losing the turnover battle, not executing in rhythm, all those things that I think we did last year to win, yeah, we didn’t do them (Sunday). We didn’t execute, and we didn’t execute in a lot of phases, especially on offense."

When Smith agreed to a four-year extension worth up to $68 million last week, he and the Chiefs found the stability both said they wanted. But with that stability of being the franchise quarterback comes a burden, too, the expectation among the fan base that the investment will be justified by elevated results.

Franchise quarterbacks are expected to shine without their No. 1 receiver. Franchise quarterbacks are not supposed to throw three picks against the Titans in the home opener.

That’s on Dorsey and Reid, too. Smith should ask the Chiefs’ last "franchise quarterback," Matt Cassel — whose Minnesota Vikings won big at St. Louis on Sunday, by the way — how that cycle works here.

One of the prevailing arguments against the Smith extension was that the Chiefs were now financially hamstrung toward having the financial room to add the right pieces around him, that "pretty good" under center wasn’t going to be nearly good enough with the roster at present. One regular-season game and a lousy preseason in, it’s become quite a bit harder to argue that point.

Dorsey is paying Smith to be, for better or worse, his Brady. If he isn’t, there are going to be more painful Sundays — more booing, more references to 2013 as a happy fluke, more comparisons to 2011, when injuries ruined any momentum from a playoff season in 2010, and more references to 2012, when the cardboard bottom on the yacht finally caved.

The Chiefs weren’t exactly built to play from behind last year. They are even less so now. It’s a symbiotic thing: When teams come in geared up to take Charles out of the equation, you have to find other methods of attack that force them to defend something else.

Which means having a passing game that actually scares people. Or an offensive line that is either so dominant that you can run Charles against any front, no matter how stacked, or versatile enough to move the game plan to the air.

Reid, at present, has none of the above.

Receiver Donnie Avery — a complementary piece, not a primary one, on nearly any other NFL offense — was targeted 13 times, the second-highest single-game total in his career, and came down with just seven of them. One of the Chiefs’ best deep threats, best separators, second-year tight end Travis Kelce, seemed to struggle to see the field. It got to the point where, after Succop’s third field goal of the day put the Titans up 23-3 with 12:39 to go in the contest, fans in the upper deck began chanting:

LET’S GO, ROYALS (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)

LET’S GO, ROYALS (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)

Which also summed up the day, for better or worse. So did this image:

"A whole lot of little things add up to pretty big stuff out there, as far as lack of production and all of that execution," Smith said. "We’ve got to get better from it."

Broncos, Dolphins, Patriots, Niners.

Next man up.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @SeanKeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.