Kansas City, Mo. — Just as the Kansas City Chiefs were running out of the tunnel onto the field this past Sunday, a horse used in pre-game ceremonies did what horses do.
Right on the 12-yard line. While many in the crowd roared, a man in a bright red shirt came running out and cleaned up the mess.
A few minutes later, Jamaal Charles fumbled the opening kickoff and the New York Giants grabbed a quick 7-0 lead in a game that suggests the guy trailing the horse and Chiefs coach Todd Haley have something in common.
Haley is also trying to clean up a mess as quickly as possible.
The Chiefs are 2-29 going back to 2007 and last in the NFL in third-down conversions. The problems here run deep.
“We are 0-0 as far as I’m concerned, and that’s what we’ve got to do as a team,” Haley said Monday, a day after the 27-16 loss that kept the Chiefs winless at 0-4 with Dallas coming in next week.
“We’ve got to understand the second quarter of the season begins today,” Haley added. “It’s all even, and that’s the only way we can think. That’s the way I think our team is going to think and that’s how we’re going to prepare.”
The defense seems to have improved a bit from last year’s 2-14 debacle with the addition of linebacker Mike Vrabel, who came over from New England along with quarterback Matt Cassel.
But a killer for the offense game after game has been an inability to convert on third down. It’s a statistic in which the Chiefs rank dead last among the 32 NFL teams.
They have converted just nine of 51 third downs, less than 18 percent. While being dominated in the past two weeks, they’ve been a combined 2 for 26 — 0 for 11 against Philadelphia and 2 for 15 on Sunday against the Giants.
“Third downs, they are all determined based off first and second down,” said wide receiver Bobby Wade. “Our first and second downs have to be a lot better. Coach reiterated that to us last week and I’m sure it will be an emphasis this week.”
Haley had thought progress was being made.
“On fourth down, we were 75 percent, which I factor into the equation,” he said. “At least we were reasonable counting those. But that doesn’t help you on third down. We put an emphasis on it last week. ... “I thought we did an excellent job in practice in that area. It didn’t translate to the game. We’ve just got to keep chopping wood.”
With an offensive line that’s been struggling and a quarterback who’s been missing open receivers, the Chiefs have managed only 986 total yards in four games. Only Oakland is worse.
Holding the near-helpless Oakland offense under 200 yards in the second week has kept Kansas City from being last in the NFL in total defense. Instead, they’re 28th, giving up a total of 1,516 yards.
A frustrated Vrabel, who played on three Super Bowl winners for New England, said the Chiefs are still struggling to find their identity.
“We have to become a team,” he said. “When we are playing a complementary-style game, that is when we can be successful. Now it seems like we are just putting plays together. It doesn’t look like a team. Sometimes we get caught up in one play or the next as opposed to the big picture of how we need to play each week to win.”
Another problem may be the fact so many players are being subtracted and added to the roster every week. Ryan O’Callaghan, signed off the street on Sept. 7, started at right tackle against the Giants, the fourth different starter at the position since the beginning of the preseason.
“I thought he was a bright spot,” said Haley. “Not perfect by any means.”
Vrabel has told his younger and less experienced teammates not to worry about the constant roster turnover.
“We can’t be concerned with who is coming or coming out,” he said. “You have to worry about yourself and the job you are doing. That is the business. They are searching for guys who are going to help us win, and that is going to go on throughout the year.”