Kansas City, Mo. Cleveland's dominating 33-14 upset of the New York Giants on Monday night provides a sobering reminder how perilous the road can be when a team that hasn't lost travels to a team that's barely won.
The Giants were 4-0, but the Browns, with only one victory, whipped the visiting Super Bowl champs up and down the Dawg Pound.
Now, six days later, the Tennessee Titans (5-0) head for Kansas City (1-4), which learned Thursday it'll be further weakened by the loss of Larry Johnson. For violating unspecified team rules, the two-time Pro Bowl running back has been benched, leaving Kolby Smith and Jamaal Charles, with 117 yards rushing between them, to face a Tennessee defense ranked No. 5 overall.
Even before coach Herm Edwards' announcement, the Titans, the NFL's last unbeaten team, were heavy favorites as both teams come off their bye week. This one, for a franchise which has never even been 5-0 let alone 6-0, has all the earmarks of a classic trap game.
"Certainly Kansas City hasn't had the best record so far," said Titans quarterback Kerry Collins. "But to think it's just going to be a cakewalk for us is crazy. We've got to be ready to play. No question about it."
Linebacker David Thornton knows people are making the assumption "that we could relax and go out there and they're going to lay down for us."
"That's not the case at all," he added. "This is professional football, and they're going to prepare to go out and win the football game. They're going to look at their chances and think, 'Hey we still have a chance to be a playoff contender."'
It's doubtful the rookie-laden Chiefs will be thinking that. The youngest team in the league was blown out by Carolina and Atlanta and thoroughly whipped in the only win that Oakland has managed.
They had been energized knowing quarterback Brodie Croyle would return this week after sitting out four games because of a separated shoulder. But then they were rudely reminded of their place in the world when Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez spent the bye week trying to get traded to a contender, admitting he would like a chance for a Super Bowl run before his career runs out in another year or two.
When the Chiefs failed to make a deal, the 32-year-old Gonzalez called a players-only meeting to assure his teammates that he meant no offense.
"These guys are going to be good in the future, and we can be good this year," Gonzalez said, straining to be as diplomatic as possible.
"But it takes guys about three years to really get in that groove. That's how long it took me."
Veteran cornerback Patrick Surtain said Gonzalez removed any hint of ill feelings.
"We know what Tony brings to the table. It was good that he addressed the team, especially with us being so young," Surtain said.
Said Gonzalez, "It's business as usual."
But for the troubled Chiefs, business as usual lasted only one day before the Johnson bombshell dropped.
Last year, with Johnson sidelined by a broken foot and Smith starting at running back, the Chiefs lost their last eight games.
Now Smith and rookie Charles will spell Johnson, who had 198 yards on Sept. 28 against Denver in K.C.'s only victory since Oct. 21, 2007.