Granted, dominating the Jacksonville Jaguars is the closest thing the NFL has to no-win venture: Damned if you do; disowned if you don’t.
But when you’re coming off of 2-14, you don’t apologize for putting the truncheon to the other schmo coming off 2-14. No, sir. When they go all Kevin Bacon and ask, “Please sir, can I have another,” Animal House-style, you do the gentlemanly thing. You oblige them.
So the Kansas City Chiefs obliged Sunday, racking up six sacks in a 28-2 rout that wasn’t even as close as the final score. And for two teams trying to forget low water marks of the previous autumn, the contrasts could hardly have been more striking. The men in the crudely spray-painted helmets went right back to stepping on rake after rake. The men in red looked as if 2012 never happened.
And maybe that’s because, for half of them, it hadn’t. Quarterback Alex Smith was new, and he was every bit as advertised: Calm, steady, poised, accurate (21-of-34 passing), largely unspectacular (173 passing yards) but incredibly smart. The former 49ers castoff took what the Jaguars gave him, and if that happened to be nothing, then he simply took off (four rushes, 25 yards).
Fullback Anthony Sherman was new, and when he wasn’t opening up holes for the law firm of (Jamaal) Charles, (Knile) Davis and (Cyrus) Gray (22 combined carries, 97 combined rush yards), he was providing the role of West Coast Offense checkdown receiver in the flat (four catches, 44 receiving yards). Guard Geoff Schwartz, forced into pinch-hitting duty in the middle of the line? New. Sean Smith at corner, Husain Abdullah at safety? New and new. All took turns, during one point or another, carrying the flag.
But what Sunday’s opener really hammered home was how different a team can look under center with a competent pilot at the controls. The Chiefs pummeled a bad team on the road by running the ball (28 carries, 120 team yards); passing it efficiently; looking relatively stable on special teams (a Jags blocked punt for a safety at the outset being the lone blemish); and releasing the dogs of war against a quarterback out of his respective depth.
In other words, the Chiefs looked, more or less, the way we thought they were going to look a year ago, as designed by Scott Pioli and tutored by the likes of Romeo Crennel and Brian Daboll. How’s that for irony?
“We could see this coming with our defense,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson told reporters after the game. “We wanted to put something on film and let everyone see that the Chiefs’ defense is for real … our defensive line dominated their defensive line. It’s that simple.”
It’s not about the “right 53,” as Pioli so often liked to remind us.
It’s about the right quarterback.
It’s about the right bodies on the offensive line.
It’s about the right coordinators, pushing the right buttons, with the right personnel. New defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has barely been able to contain his glee for months now, grinning like a man who bought a fixer-upper of a house only to discover a small oil well in the backyard.
Sunday, we saw why. Outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, in particular, abused No. 2 overall draft pick Luke Joeckel, a tackle out of Texas A&M, all afternoon. Houston sacked Blaine Gabbert three times; Hali broke up one pass and turned another into a pick-6 the other way. Second-year defensive lineman Dontari Poe was all over the place (five solo stops, 1.5 sacks and a pass breakup). Cornerback Brandon Flowers chipped in with two pass deflections and a pick.
It looked like a team with six Pro Bowlers playing a team that might well be moving to Los Angeles, London, Paris, Beijing or some other exotic locale. And if not for Charles’ apparent quad injury in the third quarter, the damage probably would have been worse.
So, yes, O.K., it was the Jags.
But you know what? Don’t qualify it. Don’t stick an asterisk by the “W.” Not when you came in having dropped 10 of your past 14 openers, including six of the past seven.
Besides, everyone got one step closer to what they really want out of this party. The Chiefs want the right to touch the trophy that bears the name of franchise founder Lamar Hunt. The Jags want the rights to South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
And, hey, to that end, they’re off to a flying start. Imploding pocket. Confused quarterback with happy feet. Home crowd calling for the backup signal-caller, then throwing their arms up in disgust, leaving early to get on with their lives. The 2013 Jaguars appear, at first blush, to be the 2012 Chiefs, comically airbrushed headgear aside.
The 2013 Chiefs? Well, they appear to be something else entirely.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com.