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Winless Chiefs seeking answers

September 18, 2012

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— The running game has disappeared. Matt Cassel looks completely lost. The defense has struggled to stop anybody, and even the special teams are looking anything but special.

The Kansas City Chiefs are winless through two games — two demoralizing, one-sided losses to begin the year — and now visit the Saints to start off a brutal stretch that should decide whether the season is still salvageable.

“I don’t know if it’s a must-win, but we’ll look at it as a must-win because we want to win it,” Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said Monday. “We won’t fall off the Earth if we lose, but I won’t tell them that because I want there to be a sense of urgency.”

There’s certainly a sense of urgency.

The Chiefs follow their trip to New Orleans with games against San Diego and Baltimore, two teams looking like contenders, and then visit Tampa Bay before an already useful bye week.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the biggest problem, perhaps because there are so many of them.

Jamaal Charles dinged up his left knee, the same one that required reconstructive surgery last season, in Sunday’s 35-17 loss to Buffalo. The former Pro Bowl running back only carried six times for three yards, and was also ineffective in a season-opening, 40-24 loss to the Falcons.

Crennel said Charles is expected to play against the Saints.

Even so, Peyton Hillis has been underwhelming after signing as a free agent, and a retooled offensive line has been plowed under regularly.

The pedestrian running game has put increased pressure on Cassel, who was already under fire after a miserable 2011 season cut short by a hand injury sustained in Week 10 against Denver.

Cassel threw for more than 300 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo, but most of them were meaningless — the Chiefs were in a 35-3 hole late in the third quarter. And a good chunk of his 258 yards the previous week against Atlanta came with Kansas City trailing big in the second half.

It would help Cassel to have somebody open down field.

Former first-round pick Jon Baldwin didn’t catch a pass in the opener, and then made more news for jawing with Buffalo defensive backs than with his play.

Dwayne Bowe, who skipped the offseason and part of training camp because he was upset with being franchised, had a nice game statistically against the Bills. But most of his catches — and both TDs — came when the game was decided, and then he pointed to the name on the back of his jersey after scoring late in a lopsided loss. Not exactly the kind of team-first mentality easily embraced by a struggling team.

“I’m not going to minimize our problems. I’m not going to say, ‘Everything will be OK if we just fix this.’ It’s not, and the longer we do that, the longer it’s going to take to get the problem fixed,” said right tackle Eric Winston, who signed as a free agent in the offseason.

“Everybody needs to step up. Everybody needs to play better,” he said. “If everyone takes that kind of attitude, everyone takes that hard look at themselves, then we’ll get better. But until we do that, I’m not going to say this guy or that guy needs to get better.”

The Chiefs played the opener without Pro Bowl linebacker Tamba Hali, suspended for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, and top cornerback Brandon Flowers.

Both were back against Buffalo; both were non factors.

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