They will be playing at home and this is not a playoff game, so the Kansas City Chiefs have every reason to expect that they will look like a completely different team when they face the Carolina Panthers on Sunday in a tussle between 0-1 teams.
The Chiefs, who, like the Panthers, were expected to be one of the elite teams this season, have won their last 13 regular-season home games. Their average margin of victory has been 19 points, and Coach Dick Vermeil has taken an all-will-be-well stance on the heels of Sunday night's 34-24 loss at Denver.
"Our approach is always to remain positive," Vermeil said during a news conference this week. "It's so easy to be a contributor to the doom and gloom. That's not my job. That's everybody else's job, whoever likes to make their living that way. That's what they do. We don't do it that way. It's hard to get people to perform at a level they're capable of performing at by only dwelling on the negatives. It's the same way for your family: You can't raise your own children dwelling on the negatives because they're going to end up being negative."
Still, it is difficult for even the most optimistic coaches to feel good about the Chiefs' defense. The unit's play was embarrassingly poor in a 38-31 defeat to the Indianapolis Colts at Arrowhead in an AFC semifinal in January that abruptly knocked the Chiefs from the playoffs after a 13-3 regular season.
Kansas City made no significant upgrades defensively during the offseason, pinning its hopes for improvement on a coordinator switch from Greg Robinson to Gunther Cunningham. The early returns Sunday were not encouraging, as Quentin Griffin, the Broncos' new starting tailback, rushed for 156 yards and two touchdowns and Denver piled up 413 yards of total offense.
Vermeil said he will remain patient for at least a while longer as players learn Cunningham's system.
"Defensively, actually we've experienced the same problems we've always had with certain positions breaking down within the scheme and the discipline," Vermeil said. "So we've got to put more than penicillin on it. We've got to fix the problem. But I think a game like that continues to define things for [Cunningham] and the defensive coaching staff and what we have to do. I think the other thing is they've just got to keep playing together longer and learn how the scheme fits together properly in stopping things we break down in. . . . People need to play with better discipline and better technique and more consistently than they are. They will do it, or someone else will do it for them."
Two defensive starters, end Vonnie Holliday and safety Greg Wesley, sat out Wednesday's practice because of nagging injuries. Holliday has a strained groin muscle and Wesley has a strained hamstring, and their status for Sunday's game is uncertain.
The Panthers got away from their run-first approach in their 24-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Monday night. Tailback Stephen Davis had only nine carries for 26 rushing yards, and Carolina had 38 rushing yards in all. Vermeil said he expects Panthers Coach John Fox to put the game back in Davis's hands this weekend.
"John Fox and his crew are anxious to redeem themselves coming to Arrowhead this weekend," Vermeil said. "The one thing you need to know about John Fox and the Carolina Panthers is they will not be in awe of Arrowhead. They went into St. Louis last year and beat them in a playoff game, went to Philadelphia and beat them in a playoff game, went to the Super Bowl and, especially in the second half, played an outstanding football game.
"[Monday] night they played a little contrary to their successful profile of last year. . . . I don't know if it's a philosophical change or influenced by how well they played in the second half in the Super Bowl against New England, or it was just that they didn't feel they could run the ball against Green Bay. So I don't know, but it won't take long to find out. Nonetheless, it is a profile change and philosophical approach from a year ago. They emphasized the running back then. I kind of look for them to move back into that profile this week, especially with the problems we have in stopping the run."
Rice Being Phased Out
Jerry Rice spent most of the second half of Sunday's loss at Pittsburgh on the Oakland Raiders' sideline while Coach Norv Turner divided the playing time among the younger wide receivers. Rice is probably the greatest receiver in NFL history, but he turns 42 next month and the Raiders, after releasing Tim Brown before the season, clearly are ready to build their offense around young wideouts Jerry Porter, Doug Gabriel, Ronald Curry and Alvis Whitted. Gabriel, in particular, had some eye-catching moments during preseason, and the Raiders believe the second-year pro could be a star in the making. Gabriel had a 58-yard touchdown catch against the Steelers, while Whitted had a 38-yard touchdown reception.
Gallery To Start
The Raiders plan to move Robert Gallery into the starting lineup this week at right tackle. Gallery got most of the work with the starting offense at that spot during Wednesday's practice and, barring any setbacks, is to start there Sunday against Buffalo.
Gallery, the second overall choice in the draft, wasn't in the starting lineup against the Steelers but replaced Langston Walker at right tackle late in the first half. Gallery also got some playing time at left guard in Pittsburgh. He was drafted to play left tackle but also played at left guard during the exhibition season, then got work at right tackle in the final week of the preseason. The Raiders plan to move him back to left tackle next season. . . .
San Diego claimed safety Clinton Hart off waivers from Philadelphia. The Eagles' decision to waive Hart was surprising, given that he played relatively well as a fill-in starter last season when Brian Dawkins was hurt. Philadelphia needed a roster spot to re-sign tailback Dorsey Levens. . . .
The Packers believe that nose tackle Grady Jackson, who dislocated his kneecap Monday night, can return in three to four weeks. The team originally feared Jackson could be out one to two months, but an MRI showed less extensive damage than suspected. . . .
Cornerback Mike McKenzie got extensive work in Green Bay's practice Wednesday after ending his holdout and joining the club. Packers coaches plan to decide at the end of the week whether to work McKenzie into a few plays Sunday against Chicago. More likely, he'll sit out the Bears game and play at Indianapolis the following Sunday. . . . Green Bay released quarterback Scott McBrien, an undrafted rookie from the University of Maryland, from its practice squad.
Williams Hearing Set For Tuesday
Arbitrator Richard Bloch is scheduled to hear arguments by attorneys for the league and the Players Association on Tuesday in the Miami Dolphins' bid to force retired tailback Ricky Williams to return $8.6 million to the team. . . .
The union filed a collective appeal grievance for New York Giants players Carlos Emmons, Barrett Green and Terry Cousin even though Emmons and Green did not file individual grievances, a person familiar with the case said this morning. The three players were fined $500 apiece by Coach Tom Coughlin for arriving early, but not early enough to suit Coughlin, to a recent team meeting. Coughlin was nine minutes late for his Wednesday media briefing. . . .
Giants reserve safety Omar Stoutmire will be sidelined for the remainder of the season after tearing a knee ligament. Stoutmire had lost his starting job to Brent Alexander but was a key member of several special-teams units. . . .
Veteran offensive tackle Bob Whitfield declined an offer to be re-signed by the Atlanta Falcons, who released him just before the season. . . .
The Minnesota Vikings released kicker Aaron Elling before the season but are seriously considering bringing him back to handle kickoffs while Morten Andersen handles the team's field goal duties. Elling served as Tennessee's fill-in kicker and punter in the Titans' opening game but was released Tuesday. . . . Panthers linebacker Mark Fields bruised his ribs Monday night but practiced Wednesday and should play in Kansas City. . . .
Fox is keeping his plans for his struggling offensive line under wraps until the end of the week. Tutan Reyes could move into the lineup at guard ahead of either Rich Tylski or Doug Brzezinski. It appears that Matt Willig is likely to retain the starting right tackle job even though the Panthers are contemplating a switch to Todd Fordham. . . .
The Colts, Chiefs and Panthers can take some comfort in the fact that the last three Super Bowl winners had to rebound from losing their season-opening games. New England was embarrassed, 31-0, at Buffalo last season but has lost only one game since. Tampa Bay dropped its 2002 opener, 26-20, in overtime against New Orleans. The 2001 Patriots began with a 23-17 defeat at Cincinnati and lost their second game of the season as well. The last team to open with a win and go on to a Super Bowl championship was the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, who shut out the Steelers, 16-0, in their first game. . . .
Steelers rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was taken off the practice field on a cart Wednesday after hurting his right knee, but the team said the injury was determined to be only a bruise. Pittsburgh has only two quarterbacks, starter Tommy Maddox and Roethlisberger, on its 53-man roster and might have to promote Brian St. Pierre from the practice squad for Sunday's game at Baltimore.
Alexander Sits Out Practice
Seattle tailback Shaun Alexander sat out Wednesday's practice because of his bruised knee. He could test it in practice today or Friday, and the Seahawks continue to hold out hope that he could play Sunday at Tampa Bay. . . . After wide receiver Koren Robinson dropped some passes in their opening victory, the Seahawks replaced the tinted eye shield on his helmet with a clear one. . . .
The 49ers say they plan to start Ken Dorsey at quarterback Sunday at New Orleans in place of Tim Rattay, who suffered a second-degree separation of his right shoulder in Sunday's loss to Atlanta. Rattay had held out hope of playing against the Saints even if he couldn't practice this week.
San Francisco likely will be without defensive end Andre Carter because of back troubles. With fellow end Brandon Whiting also plagued by a back problem, the 49ers signed former Arizona defensive end Dennis Johnson on Wednesday.
Whiting missed San Francisco's opening game, meaning that Philadelphia must give the 49ers a seventh-round draft pick to complete the March trade involving wide receiver Terrell Owens. The pick improves to a sixth-rounder if Whiting, who went from Philadelphia to San Francisco in the trade while working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, misses this game and can end up being as high as a fifth-round selection, depending upon how many games Whiting misses. . . . The average margin of victory in the NFL's 16 opening-weekend games was 8.4 points, the smallest for a Week 1 slate since 1983, when the average margin was seven points. . . . The 12 individual 100-yard rushing performances in the opening weekend was the most ever in an NFL Week 1. . . . The six players who scored three touchdowns apiece set a league record for the most players with three touchdowns in any week since the 1970 merger. . . . Cincinnati signed center Jerry Fontenot, a longtime starter for the Saints released by New Orleans before the season. Bengals centers Rich Braham and Larry Moore have been plagued by knee injuries. . . . The Giants are converting backup wide receiver Mark Jones into a reserve defensive back. He played safety as well as receiver in college at Tennessee.