Must-win game. I have said it 4,738 times this week and will probably say it that many more times between now and Sunday. The Yankees season is over (and really has been since the beginning of August), but will officially end on Sunday in Houston and there’s a chance the Giants season could end on the same day, just four games in and what will be two days before October.
Prior to Opening Night against the Cowboys I hadn’t been this exciting about a Giants team since … well, Opening Night against the Cowboys last year. Now the Giants are 0-3 and have lost all three games in embarrassing fashion and are a loss to Andy Reid, Alex Smith and the Chiefs on Sunday from playing three months of football for nothing.
With the Giants playing the Chiefs for the first time in four years and trying to save their season against an old foe in Reid, I did an email exchange with Joel Thorman of Arrowhead Pride to talk about the Chiefs’ 3-0 start, the perception of Andy Reid in Kansas City and whether or not Chiefs fans wanted Alex Smith as their quarterback.
Keefe: The last time the Giants and Chiefs met was Week 4 in 2009. The Giants won that game (a game I barely remember) 27-16 to open the season 4-0. The following week they beat the Raiders 44-7 to open the season with five straight wins, but after that it was all downhill. The Giants went 3-8 the rest of the way for one of their patented second-half collapses and finished the year being outscored 85-16 by the Panthers and Vikings in Weeks 16 and 17 respectively.
That Giants win gave the Chiefs their fourth straight loss to the open the season. The following week the Chiefs would lose to the Cowboys and were 0-5. They wouldn’t get much better from there, finishing the season 4-12 with two five-game losing streaks in the same season.
This year things are different. Very different. The Giants are 0-3 and pretty much facing postseason elimination if they can’t win on Sunday in Kansas City (or unless they go on a 10-2 run the rest of the way). The Chiefs are 3-0, having already beat the Cowboys and Eagles to help out the Giants, and are tied atop the NFC West with the Super Bowl-favorite Broncos.
What’s it like to be 3-0 and playing so well to open the season because I don’t remember?
Thorman: 3-0 is great.Things are going well and everyone just seems happy, the players, coaches and fans. I’m enjoying it so far and the reason for that is because it was so unexpected. Nobody expected the Chiefs to start 3-0. The debate in Kansas City was whether they’d win seven or nine games. No one expected the Chiefs to have a top three defense after three weeks. No one expected the lack of turnovers so far. We just didn’t see it coming. The expectations coming in were for the team to be competitive in December. Playoffs? Maybe if things went great. It reminds me of the 2010 Chiefs, who started 3-0. There were expectations to be competitive, but not make the playoffs.
Keefe: No head coach in the league knows the Giants or the NFC East like Andy Reid does. Sure the Giants have had their fair share of success against him over the years, but it was pretty even with a usual series split with the Eagles. So far Reid has put his knowledge of the division to good use with wins over the Cowboys and Eagles in back-to-back weeks, including getting a win at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia in a sort of homecoming game
Everyone knew that Reid would be highly sought after on the open market once the Eagles decided to let him go after last season and it took about 15 minutes to get a new job with the Chiefs. I’m guessing you’re an Andy Reid fan now, but were you a fan of the decision to hire Reid at first? What do you think he will do to prepare his new team to face one of his familiar opponents?
Thorman: Yes, I was a fan of the move. For where the Chiefs were in their history and where they were coming from, Andy Reid was a perfect fit. The Chiefs last two coaches were Todd Haley, who had no experience as a head coach, and Romeo Crennel, who wasn’t very good. Chiefs owner Clark Hunt couldn’t afford to whiff on another coach. His franchise was in dire straits. He had to get it right. So he went from the most accomplished coach on the market. It’s a big change from the last two coaches the Chiefs have had and I think that’s exactly what was needed.
Reid brings respectability, stability and confidence. The Chiefs DO have talent. Outside of quarterback, that wasn’t the question. Reid’s arrival has brought out the best in anyone. Reid didn’t have anything special for the Cowboys two weeks ago and he knew them well so I don’t expect him to do anything too unique for New York. Just don’t turn it over, get after Eli Manning and hope for a win. That’ll be the formula in every game.
Keefe: I have never been an Alex Smith fan. Not when he was drafted, not when he was benched, not when he was benched again, not when several head coaches lost their jobs because he couldn’t perform, not when Jim Harbaugh figured out how to have him manage games, not when he reached the NFC Championship Game against the Giants and not when he was finally benched for good for Colin Kaepernick. I didn’t understand why the Chiefs decided to trade for him or why Reid was so adamant about wanting him as his quarterback. But so far everything has worked out in Smith’s favor, Reid’s favor and the Chiefs fans’ favor.
The Chiefs needed a change and needed a quarterback for the future when it was evident that Matt Cassel wasn’t going to be that guy. Was Smith the guy you wanted and if not, who?
Thorman: Alex Smith was the best option if you were looking for a quarterback last year. The Chiefs had the No. 1 pick so they could’ve taken anyone. It just wasn’t one of those years. So for where the Chiefs were, yes, I think Alex Smith was the option. It made me feel a little better knowing Andy Reid has liked Alex for a number of years. But, yeah, I see your concerns and I can’t really dismiss them.
Reid hasn’t changed his offense a whole lot so Alex Smith is passing the ball a lot, which isn’t what he did in San Francisco. I think Alex has grown a lot, which will help this relationship. I think Andy is also a smart dude who generally maximizes his quarterback’s ability. So from that standpoint I think Andy will get the absolute most out of Alex just like Harbaugh did. The real question, in my opinion, is whether Alex gets a new deal in Kansas City. He has this year and one more year on his contract. That will be the real sign of how committed they are.
Keefe: And what about Matt Cassel (who was the most fortunate quarterback to ever get rich until Matt Flynn came along)? What were your feelings when the Chiefs traded for Cassel after the 2008 season?
Thorman: I was very excited about Matt Cassel when the Chiefs traded for him. In fact, the failures of Cassel probably contributed to my pessimism about the Alex Smith trade. The Chiefs NEVER went after young quarterbacks and had it work out so this was exciting. Obviously it didn’t work out but if you’re asking how I felt back then … yeah, I was excited about it and thought it would work out. Remember now, at the time the Cassel trade was made, he was thought of so highly that reporters found it unbelievable that the Chiefs gave up “only'” a second round pick for him. In fact, one national reporter said the NFL should investigate the trade. So I wasn’t the only one who thought it was a good deal back then. Notice that I mentioned Alex’s contract above. I think the biggest mistake with Cassel was not the trade — can’t knock you for trading for a young quarterback — but the crippling contract that kept him in KC.
Keefe: This game on Sunday means everything to the Giants. It’s the difference between starting to climb out of the 0-3 hole and come back in a division that is still up for grabs or everyone packing it in for the season and Tom Coughlin’s job being called into question once again. For the Chiefs, sure it would be nice to win and be 4-0 and keep pace with the Broncos and I’m sure Reid wants to run the table on the NFC East, but it’s not like the Chiefs have to win.
With everyone pushing the Giants away and giving them no chance to figure out what has gone wrong over their last 11 games and how they could have lost eight of those games after being 6-2 last year and looking at a division title and a chance to defend their Super Bowl win, it puts the Giants in the perfect place. This team and franchise has always crumbled under pressure and failed to live up the hype or perform as a favorite. It’s when the odds are stacked against them and they can fly under the radar is when they start to play to their abilities.
Now this could also be me fresh off the Yankees being eliminated from reaching the postseason for just the second time since 1993 pretending that things will turn around for the Giants and my football season won’t be ruined the way my baseball season just was. Or it could be for real and the New York Football Giants I was excited about three Sundays ago before the season started could show up for the first time this season. Man, do I wish it was Week 4 four years ago.
What do you expect to happen on Sunday?
Thorman: I expect the Giants to play much better, but ultimately I’m picking the Chiefs. I don’t see this as a blowout. I have it as a four-point game. Ultimately Kansas City’s pass rush is going to be too much for Eli Manning. Whether it’s the sacks that get him or the interceptions that come after he’s hurried, the Chiefs can and will capitalize on the Giants mistakes. Kansas City won’t make many mistakes on their own which means they won’t be taking a lot of shots either. That’s why I see this being a close affair. The thinking here in Kansas City is that the Giants can’t possibly be that bad. No one expects a crappy Giants team to come to Arrowhead. 23-19 in favor of the Chiefs.