Statement wins a thing of the past
Here's a definitive statement about the NFL: There no longer are statement wins.
Just look what happened to the Steelers after their big victory over the Patriots, or the Chiefs after their fortunate win against the Chargers. Or even the Raiders, who banded together to win one for late owner Al Davis and have struggled since.
Never has the cliche about pro football being a week to week endeavor been more accurate than now. Teams can go from brilliant to unwatchable in seven days. Win a huge divisional game one week, as Kansas City did in overtime against San Diego following Philip Rivers' botched center snap, and lose to Miami - winless Miami - the next.
Set aside some demons the way the Steelers did with their solid victory over New England, then flop down the stretch, on defense no less, against the Ravens.
It's no wonder when players, coaches and anyone else associated with an NFL team says the previous week's work is over, and it's on to the next challenge. As Pittsburgh linebacker Lawrence Timmons said following the 23-20 last-second loss to Baltimore, ''We can only focus on the things that we can control and that's the next game. That's what's most important right now.''
Actually, what's most important is straightening out things for that next game. Indeed, it now seems that the losers of ''statement games'' have an easier chore preparing for the next opponent than the winners do.
Case in point: Kansas City.
The Chiefs could have taken firm control of the AFC West simply by showing up with something near their best last weekend. Instead, they brought their worst, as bad as anything they produced in their three-game slide to open the schedule. They went from the exhilaration of a potentially season-defining victory to the exasperation of handing the Dolphins their first win.
''We really tried to work hard to make sure we were handling the week correctly, physically and mentally,'' Chiefs coach Todd Haley said. ''I'm not making excuses for the guys, but I just think we probably tried to do too much during the week which they just weren't physically capable of handling.''
It's never just physical, though. The mental challenge of coming off such a high and getting ready for one of the dregs of the league also is difficult. Yet, the top teams are expected to follow up big victories with more victories.
Except for a handful of teams (Packers, 49ers, Giants; oddly, all in the NFC), it isn't happening.
One of the issues is simply that, no matter what they claim, athletes and coaches do get up more for one opponent than another, particularly division rivals. Those games mean twice as much in the standings and often shift tiebreakers in one particular team's favor.
So when the Chiefs go from facing the Chargers, who already had beaten them this season, to the Dolphins, who hadn't beaten anyone, a letdown is natural.
Not that much of a letdown, though.
''I felt like we were focused and ready, but it didn't happen, man. It didn't happen,'' Chiefs linebacker D.J. Johnson said. ''We have to do much better. If we want to win this division and play like we did Monday night, we've got to be more consistent across the board.''
Consistency surely helps, and the Chiefs need look no further than their archrivals, the Raiders.
Few victories have been more emotionally charged than Oakland's 25-20 triumph in Houston on Oct. 9, the day after Davis passed away. Winning one for Al was a driving force that day.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, rather than a ''statement game,'' it could turn into the last truly positive point of the season. Rather than build off that victory by winning a few more for Al and winning the weak AFC West, the Raiders are floundering. Injuries and losses to Kansas City and Denver that displayed serious problems on both sides of the ball bring into question the Raiders' resourcefulness.
''We have so many moving parts, but I'm not going to make excuses,'' coach Hue Jackson said. ''I could give you every excuse in the book, but I'm not going to do that. It'd be very easy for me to sit here and do that. I'm not going to do it. Bottom line is, we have to get it fixed. And I think the team has to recognize it. We have the makings of a real good football team.
''Until we learn to do those things better, we'll be sitting here feeling like this,'' Jackson said after the loss to Denver. ''And I'm tired of it. I'll be the first to say, I'm tired of it. I told the team that. These opportunities only come up every now and then.''