Kansas City Coach Todd Haley understands his team will have to overcome… (Chris Oberholtz / Associated…)
Todd Haley is focused on the future but drawing inspiration from the past.
The Kansas City Chiefs coach, whose 0-1 team plays at Detroit on Sunday, is at a pivotal moment in his career. His team needs to make a better showing than it did in a 41-7 loss to Buffalo in its opener, and the Chiefs must do so without second-year safety Eric Berry, one of their best players, who's done for the season because of a knee injury.
Haley spoke to his team before Wednesday's practice and, for inspiration, invoked two up-from-the-rubble teams: the 1989 Pittsburgh Steelers and 1999 New York Jets. Both of those teams overcame big setbacks to advance further than anyone could have imagined.
"I was a little nervous before that talk," Haley conceded in a phone interview. "You have to organize your thoughts and talk it through pretty clearly when you're talking to them, especially about those Steelers, because you're talking about something that happened when these players were infants, mostly."
The Chiefs, who won 10 games and the AFC West last season, weren't the only playoff team to stumble. Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis were stomped in their openers, but at least each of those teams plays at home Sunday. (Seattle lost too, and the Seahawks were a playoff team, but how much can be expected of a team that reached the 2010 postseason with a 7-9 record?)
"The Steelers feel like we do; they got trounced and they lost a player they really need," Haley said, referring to injured tackle Willie Colon. "Indianapolis feels like we do; they got trounced and they've lost their quarterback. Atlanta, Seattle — how do they respond? We're in that category."
Haley has a personal connection to both the '89 Steelers and '99 Jets. His father, Dick Haley, was Pittsburgh's longtime personnel director and was still with the franchise in '89 when the team lost its first two games, 51-0 at home and 41-10. The Steelers regrouped to finish 9-7 — with Chuck Noll winning NFL coach of the year for the only time in his career — and made it to the divisional round of the playoffs before losing to Denver.
"If you're not careful, a devastating loss can drag you down," Haley said. "The Steelers didn't let 51-0 do that to them."
Dwight Stone, a receiver from that Steelers team, called Haley this week with some words of encouragement. Stone also played for the '99 Jets — Haley was the receivers coach — when New York lost quarterback Vinny Testaverde in its opener and wound up losing six of seven. That team regrouped too, winning seven of its final nine to finish 8-8 and narrowly miss the postseason.
That Jets team, Haley said, spent too much time trying to find the ideal replacement for Testaverde rather than trusting the player they had in backup quarterback Ray Lucas. Once the team turned to Lucas, it began to string victories.
The way Haley sees it, losing Berry has the Chiefs in a similar situation, and an unfamiliar one since Kansas City didn't lose a single starter because of injury or illness for more than one game last season.
"I don't think you can ever count on saying you're going to replace Eric Berry with the next Eric Berry," Haley said about the first Chiefs rookie to make the Pro Bowl since the late Derrick Thomas in 1989. Berry played about 1,100 snaps last season, more than any of his teammates.
"It's got to be a collective effort to replace a guy that gives you that many snaps and that much production," Haley said. "But I think that's what good coaches are for. You've got to find the solution."
Stokley's Giant step
The New York Giants have signed 13-year veteran Brandon Stokley with the idea that he'll be their third receiver, but they aren't disguising the fact they really wanted to re-sign Steve Smith, who instead inked with Philadelphia.
"We had wanted all along Steve Smith back and that was the objective, that was the hope and the expectation," Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said.
However, Gilbride said he feels good about Stokley "because he's an intelligent guy who has shown the quickness that you need."
Stokley is also very familiar with the Giants' quarterback, having worked for years alongside Eli Manning and his brother Peyton at their summer passing academy. The 35-year-old Stokley and Peyton Manning have been close friends for years. The Giants need a reliable slot receiver, someone who might have helped at Washington last Sunday when the team converted just one of 10 third downs.
When in doubt …
Two of the best players in the Oakland-Buffalo game will be the punters, both of whom are on the NFL's all-decade team of the 2000s. The Raiders' Shane Lechler was the No. 1 punter on that honorary squad, and his backup was the Bills' Brian Moorman.
L.A. Stadium talks
For those keeping score at home: AEG's Tim Leiweke, who is pushing for an NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles next to Staples Center, is scheduled to meet in New York with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday.
The window of opportunity is wide open for Green Bay, if you consider that the Packers have the NFL's third-youngest roster, behind Tampa Bay and Seattle. According to STATS Inc., the Packers' Week 1 roster was the youngest of the previous defending eight Super Bowl champions, with an average age of 25.70 years.
Those are grizzled veterans compared to the quarterback Green Bay will face Sunday in Carolina. Cam Newton is 22.