KANSAS CITY — Trent Green’s 2006 season ended much the way it began, with Kansas City’s aging quarterback lying helpless on the turf.
In between, Larry Johnson carried the ball more times than anybody else in NFL history, Damon Huard proved himself worthy and Lamar Hunt lost his long battle with prostate cancer.
The death of their popular founder, a pivotal figure in the development of the modern NFL, will no doubt prove more far-reaching than anything else in a year of painful transition and personal loss.
Will his gentle hands-off approach to running the team disappear now that son Clark is in charge? And what about Clark’s sister and two brothers, who also each own a quarter of the team?
For two years, Clark has been the Chiefs’ chairman of the board, gradually getting more involved. Will his siblings now join him in running the franchise?
Will they have their father’s patience with a management team in place since 1989 but without a postseason victory in 13 years?
And what about the Chiefs’ famously loyal and always-hopeful fans? Even though Kansas City hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1993 season and made only two fruitless trips to the postseason since 1998, Arrowhead Stadium fills up week after week, year after year.
The Chiefs’ streak of 133 consecutive sellouts seems all the more remarkable considering they are saddled with one of the league’s longest playoff victory droughts.
If attendance begins to flag, so might the Hunt family’s patience.
To prevent that, Herm Edwards will probably need to do better than the checkered 9-8 record his first season as head coach produced.
And it won’t help that the Chiefs and their fans are headed into an offseason stinging from one of the most embarrassing playoff performances in modern times, a game where Indianapolis’ league-worst run defense held Kansas City’s proud run offense to a meager 44 yards.
Johnson, the outspoken iron man who set a record with 416 carries and finished runnerup in the NFL rushing derby, was held to a paltry 32 yards on 13 carries. It was so bad, that at one point in the third quarter, the Chiefs had 21 total yards and the Colts had 22 first downs.
Their starting wide receivers combined for zero catches. Even Tony Gonzalez, their
eight-time Pro Bowl tight end, dropped two of Green’s harried, hurried throws.
Green missed eight games recovering from a severe concussion he suffered in the season opener, a blow that knocked him unconscious. When a long, careful rehab came to an end and he stepped back onto the field, he never looked as sharp or consistent as he had been in five successful seasons where he made 80 straight starts.
In fact, he went into the playoff game with nine interceptions and seven touchdown passes, and then proceeded to throw one more touchdown pass and commit three more turnovers.
He was also sacked four times, a victim of an offensive line that figures to have a nearly complete makeover next season.
Probably retired after 12 straight Pro Bowl seasons is right guard Will Shields, who has carefully kept his plans to himself. Starting tackles John Welbourn and Jordan Black, particularly Black on the left side, have been found wanting.
Backup Damon Huard was 5-3 in Green’s absence and Edwards might have made a mistake taking the ball out of his hands and giving it to Green.
Nevertheless, Green will be 37 next season and Huard 34. Unless rookie Brodie Croyle makes a quick career getaway, quarterback will be a major issue the next few years,
What to do with Gonzalez will be another head-scratcher for general manager Carl Peterson. Now 30, Gonzalez is a free agent and probably due for a huge contract if the Chiefs decide to retain him. Peterson has said he will franchise Gonzalez a second straight time if he has to.
Edwards’ vow to upgrade the defense paid dividends. Ends Tamba Hali and Jared Allen look like they’re in place for years to come. Rookie safeties Jarrad Page and Bernard Pollard will probably displace veterans Greg Wesley and Sammy Knight.
It’s probably not smart to bet against Peterson in this oncoming time of offensive retooling. His teams have never captured a Super Bowl, but he’s always managed to avoid the 3-13, 4-14 disasters most other franchises have had to endure in the past 18 years.