Troubled Broncos visit payback-minded Chiefs
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)
Never mind the handshake. Josh McDaniels may one day be coming to Todd Haley for a handout.
Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen insisted this week he's not thinking of replacing his embattled young head coach. Then, less than an hour later, the team issued a statement that quoted Bowlen as backing off that declaration, saying he'll evaluate the situation at the end of a drearily disintegrating season.
The owner and his second-year coach already are both $50,000 lighter in the wallet thanks to NFL fines over an embarrassing taping session of an opponent's practice. Then, as preparations began for Sunday's rematch in Kansas City, a further pall was cast with the sad revelation that Broncos receiver Kenny McKinley had a gambling problem and was deep in debt when he committed suicide last September.
Hardly anything good has happened for the Broncos (3-8) since they pounded the Chiefs (7-4) 49-29 in Denver on Nov. 14, a deeply embarrassing day for KC that Haley made worse by refusing to shake hands with McDaniels.
Captured by still and live photography, the snub made Haley and the Chiefs look like poor sports. While he has never explained why he was so upset, Haley did apologize the next day - but not to McDaniels directly. Apparently, the two have not spoken since their last game.
As chagrined as Haley was at the controversy he created, it's hard to think of anything McDaniels could do that would offend the Chiefs coach to the point that he would refuse to shake hands again this week.
But both men spent the week publicly declaring their respect for one another, brushing aside any suggestion of ill feelings on anyone's part.
''I have a great deal of respect for their coaching staff and what they've been able to do and how they're playing and how they're scheming,'' said McDaniels.
Did he lose respect for Haley?
''Absolutely not,'' McDaniels said. ''I think things happen. I understand that. I have a great deal of respect for Todd and for everybody involved with the Chiefs organization.''
Haley feels the same, he says.
''There was no animosity to begin with,'' he said.
While things have gone south for the Broncos since that victory, all trends have pointed upward for the Chiefs. With Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe setting records, the Chiefs have beaten Arizona and Seattle by a combined score of 73-37 and maintained their lead over San Diego in the AFC West.
A Denver defense yielding a league-high 29.4 points per game will be dealing with one of the league's hottest quarterbacks in Cassel, who was voted AFC offensive player of the month after going 90 for 144 for 1,111 yards and 12 touchdowns. He had only one interception and a passer rating of 111.2 in November. He also became the first quarterback since Tom Brady in 2007 with four touchdown passes in consecutive road games.
His main target has been Bowe, who leads the league with 14 touchdown catches and has set a team record with TD catches in seven consecutive games.
Memories of last month's Denver debacle are still fresh for the Chiefs. In the second quarter, they fell behind 35-0 - a franchise record for biggest deficit in the first half.
''It was a bad taste in our mouth and again this is a division rival and a big game because it is our next game,'' said Cassel.
''Hopefully we will come ready to play.''
While Cassel's been the AFC's hottest quarterback for a month, no one in the NFL has more passing yards than Denver's Kyle Orton. In spite of the Broncos' struggles, he leads the NFL with 3,370 yards passing and through 11 games has a career-best 96.0 rating. In addition, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd is the NFL's leader in yards receiving.
''The quarterback is playing at a high level. The receiver, Brandon Lloyd, is playing at a high level for them,'' said Haley. ''He's a vertical threat.''
Orton insists all the distractions have not kept the Broncos from sticking to business and preparing for their trip to Arrowhead Stadium, where they crushed the Chiefs last year 44-13.
''Controversy, distractions - that goes with the NFL,'' he said. ''You go through a 16- or 17-week season, something's always going to come up. We've dealt with it in the past. Everybody in this building is focused on getting a win. That's it.''
While the Chiefs wouldn't say anything about wanting payback for last month's humiliation, Orton figures it's only natural that they've circled this game on the schedule.
''Oh, I would assume they would have all the motivation just being in first place, being in a big game at home,'' he said. ''I know all the motivation we need is we're struggling and we need to go out and do anything we can to get a win.''