Big decisions loom, but Chiefs live in the moment

Posted Jan 1, 2012

Chiefs enjoy win in Denver as 2011 season comes to a close

DENVER, CO – Big decisions lay ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs. There’s a head coach to be hired, an intriguing quarterback situation to address and several noteworthy players headed toward free agency.

The decisions made by the Chiefs front office in the coming days, weeks and months will define the rest of 2012 and beyond.

But on the first day of the New Year, Kansas City is living in the moment.

“The feeling is great and you couldn’t ask for a better ending than this (given the circumstances),” said running back Dexter McCluster, who scored the Chiefs only touchdown in Sunday’s 7-3 win at Denver. “Going out with a win at the end of the season, to bring in a new year and build for next season.”

Kansas City’s victory didn’t play spoiler since the Raiders spoiled themselves with a home loss to San Diego. Denver still won the AFC West and will host Pittsburgh next weekend in an AFC Wild Card playoff game.

Nothing changed as a result of Sunday’s win. The Chiefs season is still over. It’s a season the team felt slipped away with several tight losses, including last week’s overtime back-breaker to the Raiders.

A blocked kicked here… A big pass play there…

But the disappointments of last weekend and the uncertainty that lies ahead took a backseat for one final post-game celebration.

“This was the last game of the season and a couple of guys on this locker room may not get another chance,” said safety Kendrick Lewis, who forced a key Tim Tebow fumble in the first half. “We just wanted to come out there and play great team ball and we showed it.”

 “This one was tight all of the way through, but we all just stuck together and played 11-man defense and 11-man special teams. That just carried us through.”

Chiefs defenders are also hoping that a late-season surge carries over into consistent, dominant play for the 2012 season.

Kansas City closed its three games under Romeo Crennel with stellar defensive play, beginning with a lights-out performance against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers and concluding with a near-shutout of a Broncos team with playoff hopes on the line.

This was a team that suffered five blowouts of 27 points or more, but was also a squad that won seven games despite its lowest scoring season in franchise history.

The defense had a lot to do with the Chiefs staying in the playoff hunt for 16 weeks.

“We’ll get some players that have been banged up back next year,” Lewis said, referring primarily to injured safety Eric Berry. “We’re only going to grow and get better as time goes on. Throughout this season, we grew and got better as a defense. So coming back in we’ll see what we did this year and try to build on it to get better.”

Lewis is one of several emerging players on a defense that leaves reason for excitement heading into the 2012 campaign. His forced fumble in the open field might have been Sunday’s most critical play.

With Denver down a touchdown and driving, Tebow turned the corner and headed into the Kansas City red zone. Lewis ran the alley perfectly, secured Tebow in the open field and batted the ball out of Tebow’s arms as he completed the tackle.

Rookie Justin Houston jumped on the loose football and Denver’s only return trip to the red zone came following a muffed punt in the second half. The Chiefs defense held strong after the special teams miscue and limited Denver to its only points of the game on a 38-yard Matt Prater field goal.

“My mentality was to just make a play and get our offense the football,” Lewis said. “I was able to deliver a good hit and Tebow fumbled. It changed the game.”

Lewis isn’t alone in his development this season.

Houston came on strong as the season progressed and looks like he’ll be a force opposite Pro Bowler Tamba Hali for the long haul. Derrick Johnson played the best football of his seven-year career and Brandon Flowers is locked up for the future as well.

“We have great momentum going into next year,” Johnson said. “That’s the way we’re looking at it. It’s 2012 and we’re 1-0. That’s a great accomplishment for us.”

The Chiefs said similar things following a 44-24 victory in Denver to close out the 2009 season. That calendar year began with a win in Denver and eventually produced an AFC West title.

As a whole, Kansas City’s season didn’t end the way it wanted. But 2012 began the best way possible.

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