Chiefs chase different result in rematch with Indy
INDIANAPOLIS — Jamaal Charles spent this week dissecting the Chiefs’ first game against the Colts.
On Saturday, Charles and his Kansas City teammates will finally get a chance to show they’ve learned from all those mistakes.
"They’re going to have their best game plan and best players on the field," Charles said. "We know what’s at stake here. We have to play fast and we have to play harder than them."
In Week 16, the Chiefs had four turnovers and Indianapolis (11-5) spent most of the game negating Charles by playing keep-away.
Nobody expects a replay this week – not Charles, not Andrew Luck, not even Andy Reid or Chuck Pagano. The two coaches understand most playoff rematches come with a surprise twist, even when the sequel is two weeks after the original.
How much can really change in 13 days?
For starters, the game will be played on Indianapolis’ climate-controlled home turf rather than the raucous, outdoor atmosphere of Arrowhead Stadium. And facing a potentially loud crowd on the road may force the Chiefs to stick with the game plan a little longer than they did in Round 1.
"I’m sure we’re going to see Jamaal," Pagano said, referring again this week to Charles as public enemy No. 1 even after he had only 13 carries in the first meeting. "If he doesn’t touch the ball 30 times I’d be shocked."
Kansas City (11-5) could have a noticeably different look, too.
Receiver Dwayne Bowe was knocked out of the first matchup with a concussion and was still sidelined last week. Tamba Hali also hurt his knee against Indy, while fellow linebacker Justin Houston sat out that game with a dislocated elbow. Bowe has already been cleared to play and Houston is expected to return this week, too, though Hali hasn’t practiced all week.
If Hali does play, he and Houston may force Luck to cope with even more pressure than just winning his home playoff debut.
But the bigger question for the Chiefs is whether they’ve fixed the miscues that proved so costly against the Colts two weeks ago.
"As a coach it’s a little bit like a farmer: Your work is never done, right?" Reid said. "There are always areas to work on, and that’s how it goes. We’re always striving to be better."
Here are five things to watch Saturday at Indianapolis.
MOMENTUM vs. HEALTH: The Colts wanted to build momentum for the postseason. The result: They went 4-1 in December. Once the Chiefs fell out of contention in the AFC West, they tried to get healthy. Kansas City is 2-5 since the bye week, has lost two straight, hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record since Week 3 and has dropped seven in a row in the playoffs. Saturday’s result will show which coach made the right call.
GOAL TO GO: Indy achieved one of its goals by winning the AFC South to host its first home playoff game in three years. It can’t achieve the next two – an AFC championship and a Super Bowl title – without protecting its home turf. The Colts understand six of the last eight Super Bowl winners played on wild-card weekend, and the last two world champs, the Giants and Ravens, were seeded No. 4. Indy has a chance to extend that streak.
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: No team has been better at minimizing mistakes than Indianapolis, which had a league-low 14 turnovers and 66 penalties. This game features the AFC’s top two teams in turnover ratio. Kansas City has forced 36 turnovers. The team that stays closest to its regular-season form is likely to be celebrating Saturday night.
WHO’S NO. 1?: Luck and Alex Smith were both No. 1 overall picks. While Luck has been incredibly successful in his two NFL seasons, Smith had to be more patient and eventually became Kansas City’s solution to last season’s turnover-prone ways. Luck was the clear winner of this matchup in the last game, and if he plays that well again, the Colts should be in good shape.
LOOKING FOR PROTECTION: If there’s one equally troubling bugaboo for both teams, it’s their inability to protect the quarterback. Injuries have forced both coaches to mix and match starters along the offensive line. That could be an especially big problem this week with the likely return of Houston and with Robert Mathis, the newly crowned NFL sacks champion, playing on the same field.