The Morning After: Minnesota

Posted Oct 2, 2011

Simple message goes long way in finding first win of season

ARROWHEAD STADIUM – Two words, completed using only seven letters, were written on the grease board inside the Chiefs locker room Sunday afternoon.

Someone had taken a black dry-erase marker and printed “NO DOUBT” in extra large letters across the board for everyone to see.

Short and simple, yet timely and meaningful, the message fit the current state of the Chiefs quite well.

In order for the Chiefs to get off the schneid, doubt had to be erased from the disappointments that led to a 0-3 start. An uncompetitive first two weeks, followed by a gritty Week Three comeback that fell short, doesn’t typically make for the best mental state.

“We talked about being 1-3 all game and all week and that’s what was on our mind,” WR Dwayne Bowe said. “That was the motivation to come out 1-3 no matter what, having no doubts.”

A one-win first quarter was far from what the Chiefs had in mind coming off a division championship season, but the difference between 1-3 and 0-4 is more than significant. Sunday’s 22-17 victory makes next weekend’s visit to Indianapolis much bigger.

The Chiefs simply couldn’t afford another loss. No one came out and delivered that message prior to Sunday’s game, but the brunt of post-game comments pointed towards a collective understanding in what a 0-4 start would truly mean.

“Every day we feel like we can go out there and win, but this week we just harped on it,” said CB Brandon Flowers, who started despite nursing an injured ankle. “We’re a streaky team. If we get one win, we can build on it, take one game at a time, so we just wanted to get over that hump and get that first win and once we got that first win, I think everything will settle back down and we’ll go back to playing Chiefs football.”

“We’re getting warmed up, we’re getting started,” Bowe added. “You’re going to see more of this and we’ve just got to find what works and I think (Sunday) we battled and we’re going to go forward with that.”

Winning infused  Kansas City’s locker room with a wave of confidence. It was a welcome change for a team that needed a win in the worst of ways.

“This is a regular NFL game, this is how an NFL game is supposed to be,” said LB Derrick Johnson. “The first couple weeks, we were lopsided with the scores but it’s not what it’s supposed to be like, it’s supposed to be like this.”

If blocking the natural sense of self doubt that accompanies a three-game losing streak was the primary goal, the Chiefs passed that test with a near-perfect score.

Matt Cassel turned in his best effort of the season after throwing an inexplicable late-game interception the Sunday before. Ryan Succop, who was battling a case of the shanks, returned to consistency with five field goals to tie a franchise record. His 54-yarder that gave Kansas City a 12-10 lead was a career long.

Individual stories of resolve can be found up and down the Chiefs roster, but it took a collective confidence to hold off a Vikings team just as hungry for its first taste of victory.

“Winning is contagious,” Johnson said. “It’s a good habit to win. The more you win, the more confidence you have. This league is about confidence. Today, we had a lot a confidence at the end of the game.”

The Chiefs were tested late, maybe mentally more than physically. To say that Arrowhead didn’t possess any fourth quarter doubt would be a lie.

Chiefs fans have seen this act before, especially during snake-bitten seasons of losing. Just as fast as a fourth quarter lead is gained or extended, it’s taken away. The opponent has the football late with a chance to win and, in recent years, they typically have.

Rising above self-doubt is a difficult thing to do and the Chiefs were put to the test in the final two minutes.

Clinging to a five-point fourth quarter lead, the Chiefs offense went three-and-out inside its own Red Zone immediately following a Vikings touchdown drive that grinded more than eight minutes off the clock. Dustin Colquitt blasted a 61-yard punt, but the Vikings were on the Chiefs side of the 50-yard line four snaps later thanks to pass plays of 15 and 23 yards.

When the two-minute warning arrived, doubt had plenty of opportunities re-entry.

But the Chiefs did what winners do. They held strong with a four-down defensive stop to claim victory at home. Two batted footballs at the line of scrimmage kept Donovan McNabb from hitting open receivers. Blanket coverage clouded throwing lanes on third and fourth down snaps when McNabb took his final shots at victory.

“We need to remember how this feels because it feels great,” Cassel said. “I think everybody was excited that we finally played a game where everybody played together in all phases. We worked together and it was a great team victory. All the hard work that you continue to put in, it pays off. Hopefully we can continue to do that.”

It’s just one win and the Chiefs have plenty of work ahead after digging a 0-3 hole to start the season. But confidence returned to the locker room for the first time in quite a while.

No streak was ever built when doubt outweighed confidence. Victory extended beyond the scoreboard Sunday afternoon.

“Remember this feeling,” Johnson said to anyone that would listen. “It’s got to feel so good that you want to make it a habit so that we can have more of these.”

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