YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Chiefs' Concern at 4-0 Is Playoffs

Pro football: They beat Broncos, 17-14, but still remain unproven.

September 23, 1996|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KANSAS CITY — Fret not, there is no way Carolina will meet Kansas City in the Super Bowl--not as long as Marty Schottenheimer continues coaching the Chiefs.

Everything else is possible, including an undefeated regular season for the Chiefs, who are 4-0 for the first time in team history after keeping Denver quarterback John Elway off the field in the closing minutes of Sunday's 17-14 victory before 79,439 in Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chiefs, who have won 12 consecutive AFC West Division games, are probably on their way to a second consecutive division title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but there's no need for the red-clad faithful to book space in New Orleans.

As the first sentence in Marty Schottenheimer's biography in the Chiefs' media guide reads, "A Marty Schottenheimer-coached football team has a distinct character." Of course it does, it can win every game except the game that gets a team to the biggest game of them all.

Three times he has taken his team to the precipice of greatness only to fall off the edge with an AFC championship game defeat. Last season his team had a 13-3 record--the best mark in the AFC--and lost in the first round of the playoffs at home to Indianapolis.

Schottenheimer is the only coach to take his team to the playoffs 10 times since 1985, and in that time he leads all NFL coaches with 116 regular-season victories. So many missed opportunities. Denver and Buffalo lack such gaudy credentials and have had no luck in the Super Bowl, but at least they get there.

Maybe this season will be different. Maybe the Chiefs will make the big plays down the stretch as they did to defeat the Broncos. Maybe Steve Bono and Victor Bailey, Danan Hughes, Chris Penn and Todd McNair will lift Schottenheimer on their shoulders. Steve Bono and Victor Bailey, Danan Hughes, Chris Penn and Todd McNair? Forget the Super Bowl, Schottenheimer must be some kind of coach to win a game--any game--with that cast of throwaways.

Classic Schottenheimer football just like those muddy days in Cleveland with Bernie Kosar trudging back in the pocket and dumping the ball to Earnest Byner. Only this time, at the most critical time in the game against the Broncos, Schottenheimer had to get it done with Bono & Nobodies.

The Chiefs were ahead, 17-14, with 2:55 to play, and Elway, who had already led the Broncos to six fourth-quarter comeback victories over Kansas City, standing on the sideline waiting for his chance. Bono, known as, "Bones" to his teammates, took charge. Scary thought, all right, and one that prompted a smattering of boos.

But on third and eight from the Chiefs' six, with Kansas City needing to run out the clock, Bono found Penn for nine yards and a first down. Frayed nerves again moments later, but on third and five from his 20, Bono completed an eight-yard pass to McNair, and all the Chiefs had to do was kneel and let the clock run out.

"I was so happy, I ran on the field and hugged John Elway because he never got back on the field," said Joe Phillips, Kansas City defensive lineman. "That guy has beaten me so many times I've lost count."

Ten years ago, Elway engineered "The Drive," a 98-yard march in Cleveland in the AFC championship game to send Schottenheimer on his sad-sack odyssey. Terrell Davis runs of six and 65 yards gave Denver all its points, but in the end everyone expected it to come down to Elway.

Against Elway, "you try to get a 21-point lead with two minutes to go, and then you're in pretty good shape," Schottenheimer said. "As long as they don't have three timeouts left."

The better plan, as it turned out, was to let Denver have the fourth-quarter lead, and then give the game to Schottenheimer's quarterback to win. An interesting approach given Bono's shaky resume, but with the game on the line Bono took the Chiefs 67 yards in eight plays to overcome a 14-10 deficit and grab a 17-14 advantage with 4:09 to play.

Running back Marcus Allen completed the Chiefs' comeback with a two-yard dive for his 106th rushing touchdown thereby tying Jim Brown for second place on the career list behind Walter Payton (110).

Was it gratifying to see your quarterback lead a fourth-quarter comeback? Schottenheimer was asked. "I never even thought about that," he said. "You look at it far differently than I do."

Could Schottenheimer have been looking at Elway pacing the sideline?

"I know I was," said Neil Smith, Kansas City defensive lineman. "You know he was just salivating over there with the idea of coming in and getting us."

But this was no AFC championship game, so it was Schottenheimer's game to win. In fact, given the ball on his own 21 yard-line with 4:09 to play, Elway could do no better than move his team to midfield before throwing into double coverage. Dale Carter, who continued to play both offense and defense for the Chiefs, went high for the interception at the Kansas City four, and Denver never got the ball back.

"We wanted destiny in our hands," Allen said. "You could see the determination in the players' faces and we wanted to finish it off."

With Schottenheimer's teams, that's something that can be counted on--until the AFC championship game.

Los Angeles Times Articles