Chiefs need win to stay in playoff hunt

Arizona's defense could present another big running day for Kansas City's Holmes

? When it comes to having his coaching decisions questioned, Dick Vermeil gets no peace.

Just minutes after sparring with reporters in Seattle last week over such things as play-calling and use of timeouts in Kansas City’s disappointing loss to Seattle, Vermeil got on the bus and took a deep breath.

Carol Vermeil was in his face before he could exhale.

“She said, ‘Why did you punt there in the fourth quarter?'” Dick Vermeil said. “‘Why pass on first-and-goal from the 1?’ I just told her, ‘Dear, I don’t need this right now.'”

What Vermeil and his Chiefs need more than pointed questions is a victory today against the Arizona Cardinals. A loss would almost surely shove the Chiefs (5-6) completely out of the playoff picture. It would doom them to spending the season’s final weeks with teams like the Cardinals (4-7), who have nothing to play for but that old standby called pride.

Arizona coach Dave McGinnis would probably trade his team’s five-game losing streak for a browbeating from anybody’s wife.

“Losing five in a row, it makes me sick,” he said. “I haven’t got a lot of sleep in the last five weeks.”

The Chiefs, who could be wasting a great year by running back Priest Holmes, are in a similar spot as this time last year, when they won three of their last four to finish 7-9, long after being eliminated.

“When you have hope and desire, it creates motivation to keep striving,” Vermeil said. “But as soon as you lose that, it’s tough to compete.”

Holmes, who rushed for 197 yards against the Seahawks and also had 110 yards in pass receptions, jumped back into the lead in the NFL rushing race with 1,209 yards, He won that title last year with 1,555.

He’ll be going against a run defense ranked 27th while taking aim, with five games remaining, on two NFL records Marshall Faulk set during the 2000 season: yards from scrimmage (2,429) and total TDs (26). Arizona knows it will be a tall order.

“I was on teams with Walter Payton,” Arizona coach McGinnis said. “All the guys who are able to amass yards in this league are guys who play with a certain zest and zeal. Dick and (offensive coordinator) Al Saunders are doing a great job of devising ways to get him the ball. The offensive line is doing a fabulous job. They pull and move as well as any I’ve ever seen.”

The Chiefs defense has struggled, too. Kansas City has surrendered 312 points (28.4 a game) and is ranked last in total defense. It sets up an interesting contrast with a struggling Arizona offense, which has scored just 19 touchdowns all season.

The Cardinals, who haven’t had a winning road record in a non-strike year since 1976, have been weakened by injuries to some of their top ball carriers. But running back Marcel Shipp, who like Holmes came into the league as a non-drafted free agent, had 135 yards against Oakland and is establishing himself as a bona fide weapon.

“It’s going to be a different kind of offense than the one we faced last week at Seattle,” said Chiefs linebacker Scott Fujita. “This team’s going to run the ball extremely well and they’ve got a playmaker at quarterback in Jake Plummer. And this running back they’ve got right now is very impressive. It will be hard to shut him down.”

The Cardinals are coming off a 41-20 loss to the Raiders in which Plummer committed two early turnovers that led to a quick 14-0 Oakland lead.

“There’s going to be two very hungry teams out there,” said McGinnis. “If you don’t have the hunger, then you don’t belong in this league. You’re always playing for the fiber and fabric of what this league is. We have to have a win. And I’m sure that’s the way Dick feels about his team.”