KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It took a desperation heave on the final play of the first half for the Kansas City Chiefs to finally score a touchdown on offense last week.
A weight off their shoulders? Sure. The momentum-shifting play that ultimately led to a much-needed victory? Absolutely. A sign that things have finally turned around? Hardly.
If the Chiefs want to beat the New York Jets on Sunday and remain in the hunt for a playoff berth, however faint their hopes may be, then they know they'll need to be able to score touchdowns in a more conventional fashion — especially against a rugged defense led by Darrelle Revis and Co.
"We know we can move the ball. We've done that. It's just a matter of everyone staying focused for 70 plays on Sunday," quarterback Tyler Palko said. "That's pretty much the biggest focal point we emphasize on offense, staying focused for 70 plays."
Of course, focus is only part of the equation.
Execution is another.
The Chiefs had gone 12 quarters, 33 possessions and nearly 3 hours' worth of game time since they had last scored a touchdown. As the first half came to a close against Chicago last weekend, it didn't look any different as the offense got close to field-goal range.
When the Chiefs ran out of time, coach Todd Haley elected to throw it up for grabs rather than try a 55-yard field goal. The Bears' Brian Urlacher tried to bat it down in the end zone, even though it appeared he had a chance to make the interception, and the ball bounced right to Dexter McCluster. The shifty back with some of the best hands on the team managed to pull it in for the improbable score.
Haley could merely smile this week whenever the subject was broached, but Palko said he only saw the play once on video, when the team went through its regular post-game film study.
Palko knows that the Chiefs need to score touchdowns off time-consuming drives, the kind that they churned out last year, when they had the league's best running back. Their defense has been carrying them lately, and it's time the offense put together a performance that helps them out.
"It's been just a couple mistakes at the wrong time that have overshadowed some good things offensively," Palko said. "That's the way football goes, but we can't afford to have mistakes."
The margin for error is much too small.
Kansas City's offense remains among the worst in the league in the statistical categories that are most important. Palko looked better against the Bears but still struggles with the speed of the game. The Chiefs still haven't been able to get big plays downfield to wide receivers Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston and Jon Baldwin, their first-round draft pick who has shown potential.
Breaston said that the trouble shouldn't be traced to any one individual, or even to the Chiefs. Not entirely, anyway. He pointed out that Kansas City has faced some of the league's best defenses the past few weeks, starting with a road game against New England and including the Steelers and Bears. Next up are the Jets.
"We've been playing some pretty good defenses," he said. "We just have to execute better when we're moving down field, and score points when we get into the red zone."
Haley said that the Chiefs may be willing to get creative on offense to break out of their morass. That could include utilizing Palko's running ability more or putting McCluster in situations that allow him to use his speed and hands out of the backfield.
"I was excited by the game by Dexter last week," Haley said. "When we envisioned how he's going to play and contribute, I thought it was a good capsule or picture of it. You have about, what, nine touches out of the backfield and caught a bunch of balls?"
He caught one big ball, that desperation touchdown toss, along with three other shorter tosses, and he finished with nine carries for 61 yards.
"The real advantage with guys like that is the mismatches that are created when the defense looks at him and says, 'There's a running back,'" Haley said. "Even last week he made a couple plays, the defense switched into a sub group even though there's only two receivers on the field, and that's what it's all about. You gain the advantage."
Kansas City's certainly willing to take any advantage it can get.
"Throughout the beginning of last week, we were kind of timid," Palko said, "and we caught our stride the end of the week and we headed into Chicago with a lot of confidence. I think it'll be the same this week, just understanding the offense and tying up loose ends."