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Archive for Sunday, December 28, 2003

Chiefs hope Holmes can set record in finale

Kansas City has few other incentives against Bears in final game of regular season

December 28, 2003

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— All of a sudden, momentum heading into the playoffs doesn't seem to mean much to the Kansas City Chiefs.

That's because they have little of it.

The Chiefs (12-3) go into today's regular-season finale against Chicago already assured of the No. 2 seed in the AFC. New England (14-2) earned home-field advantage and the top seed throughout the AFC playoffs Saturday with a 31-0 victory over Buffalo. That means the Chiefs will be playing for nothing except a little momentum and Priest Holmes' place in history.

Blowout losses in two of their last three games and a defense that's become inept, however, could spell trouble no matter where their playoff games are staged.

Do the Chiefs need to put a whipping on the Bears (7-8) to regain confidence and build momentum going into their off week?

"Everybody places a different importance on momentum and this and that," linebacker Shawn Barber said. "I see each week as being its own week. If we win this week, that's not going to guarantee anything going into the playoffs and if we lose this week it's not going to guarantee anything, either. I basically want to go out there and perform well against Chicago because that's the next game."

Nevertheless, a comfortable victory would probably do a world of good for the spirit of a squad that hasn't beaten a winning team in nine weeks.

The defense that was revamped over the offseason and seemed to be significantly improved during a 9-0 start has stumbled badly. After getting ripped for 45 points at Denver and at Minnesota, the Chiefs rank 30th in the league with an average yield of almost 365 yards.

Their run defense is dead last at more than 150 yards per game, with an average yield per rush of a whopping 5.3 yards.

Keeping hope alive is a powerful offense that last week had seven members selected for the Pro Bowl and is leading the NFL with a scoring average of 30.2 points. Another strength is the offensive line, which hopes to mark its 32nd straight game of starting the same five players -- something not done since the San Diego Chargers of 1971-73 had the same guys start 40 in a row.

But what can be done to repair such a leaky defense in one regular-season finale and one bye week?

"Nothing," said coach Dick Vermeil. "We can tweak things and game-plan things and sort of anticipate tendencies and defense-specific formations. But it's our same coaches and our same people. Everybody in this room has seen them better than they were last Saturday."

The defensive players, as well as their coach, are all becoming a bit testy about their problems.

"You're only as good as the game you play that day," Vermeil said. "When we played out here against Buffalo (a 38-5 win) and did well, nobody asked me about it. I think we're good enough to win any football game we play and any playoff game if we play extremely well."

Holmes goes into the game with 25 touchdowns rushing, tying the NFL record Emmitt Smith set in 1995. He's one away from the single-season touchdown record Marshall Faulk established in 2000.

No matter what else the Chiefs are attempting to accomplish, Vermeil will be tempted to give Holmes every possible chance.

"First we've got to get down there," he said. "I think Priest Holmes has earned the right to break the record. I'd like for him to finish this season with an NFL record."

The Bears, who lost five of their first six, are out to finish the season by winning five of their last six. Rookie quarterback Rex Grossman will make his third NFL start and first on the road.

Whether a win and a .500 record would save coach Dick Jauron's job is unknown.

"I just worry about the next game and we know the next game is against a very, very talented football team," said Jauron, who is 35-45 with only one winning season. "But I think our team has gotten progressively better as we've gone along. They've done a great job in terms of preparation. Their attitude has been outstanding."

Jauron seems to be popular with his players.

"We love playing for him," said linebacker Brian Urlacher. "I would hate to see him go, especially the way we've finished out the year. Everyone on this team plays hard for him. We respect him. He respects us. We started off so bad, right away rumors started flying he was going to get fired no matter what."

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