When the euphoria began to die down, following the Chiefs' 27-24 OT upset of the Steelers, the Chiefs and their fans began to realize how important this win was.
It has been a tough two and a half seasons to be a Chiefs fan. After the loss to Jacksonville, which marked the halfway point of the 2009 season, the Chiefs were 7-33 dating back to the beginning of the 2007 season. Scott Pioli and Todd Haley are in their first year, but Chiefs fans and some players still feel the agony of two terrible seasons grating on them. The Chiefs needed a big win to lift the spirits of Kansas City and show signs of a badly needed turnaround. The wins over the Redskins and Raiders showed we could beat opponents just as bad as we are; all they did was show we could compete with bottom-tier competition. Before Sunday, we had yet to beat a winning team.
The nitpickers will say the Chiefs were lucky to win. The Steelers had just over 500 yards of offense, they were missing All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, two offensive linemen got hurt, and Big Ben was knocked out before he could finish a potential scoring drive. I say we were missing our star wideout, a starting OG, were overmatched in terms of talent, and still pulled off the win. The Chiefs simply won by limiting mistakes and having all facets of the team perform at a high level. We didn't do anything complex or tricky, we simply executed when we had to and the Steelers didn't.
Why was this win important? Todd Haley came into the 2009 offseason with both guns blazing, preaching conditioning, hard work, and accountability. Even though he has mellowed out a little over the last few weeks, he kept the practices hard and grueling. Hard work doled out by an emotional head coach with no payoff eventually leads to players tuning you out. All that buy-in from earlier in the year needed validation, or it would run out. All the talk of changing the culture would've been just hollow words that sound nice, but mean little. That win showed a sign of what could be done, if only everybody did their job and kept the faith. This win is the kind of win that can be built upon.
This win, and how it was done, proved that for all Haley's yelling and Pioli's politically correct posturing, there actually seemed to be a method to all the madness that has permeated the Chiefs this season. The most important factor was how the team stuck with the Steelers, never letting go, proving they were willing and able to hang with the defending World Champions. Matt Cassel overcame a bad first half and a second-half fumble to erase a 10-point halftime deficit with several big strikes, all without key wideout Dwayne Bowe. Andy Studebaker, Mike Vrabel's backup, had two INTs, including a 94-yard return from the endzone that created a 6-10 point swing in the game. Jamaal Charles opened the game with a 97-yard kickoff return and proved to be the only effective RB on the Chiefs roster. Castoff Chris Chambers had two big catches, one to set up the tying TD and one to set up the game-winning FG. Undrafted rookie Jovan Belcher had a key stop in OT to force the Steelers to punt. It was a team effort led by both high-dollar names and no-name players.
This is only one game, so we can't extrapolate that the Chiefs will run the table and finish 9-7, but 6 wins, the total of 2007 and 2008, look possible. This team could also finish 3-13. Haley needs to refocus the team's efforts and prepare for the next opponent. If the team keeps the faith and continues working on the vision Haley has for this team, 2009 could be less dismal and offer hope for 2010.