Game Balls: Chiefs vs. Bears

The Kansas City Chiefs snapped a four-game losing streak on Sunday with a 10-3 victory over the Chicago Bears.  The win keeps the the Chiefs slim playoff hopes alive with four games remaining in the 2011 season.

Tyler Palko started his third straight game for the Chiefs and he continued to show that he doesn’t belong in the NFL.  Despite his shortcomings, Kansas City was able to do just enough to squeak by a Chicago team dealing with just as many serious injuries.

Already starting backup QB Caleb Hanie, the Bears lost star RB Matt Forte early in the game to a knee injury after a low hit from Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson.  Combine Hanie’s Palko-like struggles and losing their biggest weapon on offense and the Bears offense was no match for the suddenly red-hot Chiefs defense.

Kansas City attempted to kick off the Kyle Orton era by replacing Palko at the beginning of the second quarter.  The Chiefs offense attempted a flea flicker — which fell short — and Orton was hit hard as he released the ball, dislocating a finger on his throwing hand.  Just like that Orton’s day was done and back came Palko for the rest of the game.

Though he finally got through a game without turning the ball over, Palko had at least two passes that should have been picked off by the Bears defense.  He did, however, manage to get the ball into the end zone on the Chiefs biggest play on offense.  That was at the end of the first half, when a Hail Mary from Palko’s arm was batted down by Chicago S Chris Conte and into the lap of Chiefs RB Dexter McCluster who was lying on the ground.

The crazy finish to the half provided the difference in the game thanks to a near-shutout from the Chiefs defense.

With all this in mind, here are the three players that stood out most for a Chiefs team that can still dream of making a return to the playoffs.

Offense: Dexter McCluster

It wasn’t just that the shifty running back was in the right place at the right time, McCluster proved to be the only Chiefs player on offense capable of a big play all day.  Including what turned out to be the game winner, he caught four passes for 46 yards.

McCluster was also the Chiefs leading rusher with 61 yards on 9 carries, including a 32-yard scamper that helped lead to Ryan Succop’s third quarter field goal.  He might be a poor man’s version of Jamaal Charles, but his big play ability is something this offense is starved for and should keep him on the field for more snaps than more traditional running backs Thomas Jones or Jackie Battle who are mediocre at best.

Defense: Justin Houston

Talk about a kid that just keeps getting better.  For the third straight week, the rookie has turned in a breakout game.  This time he put those other games to shame with three sacks (he had two all year previously) to go along with seven tackles (three for a loss) and a pass defensed.

The Chiefs thought they had a chance to get something special when they selected Houston in the third round of April’s draft, but it’s hard to imagine they thought it would pay off like this so quickly.

After searching non-stop for an answer opposite Tamba Hali, it appears that search can come to an end.  As the linebacker continues to improve, look for Hali and the rest of the Chiefs pass rush to look a lot more like the unit that sacked Hanie seven times.  It’s amazing what happens when it’s not a one man show.

Special Teams: Dustin Colquitt

Forget about the normal punting stats.  Because most weeks you wouldn’t get too excited about an average barely over 40 yards per punt, but when you face the best returner in the league things are far from normal.

Thanks to a mostly inept offense, Colquitt was forced into duty 11 (!!) times and only allowed Hester to return three of those.  One was a bad kick that the explosive returner took back for 44 yards, but when you can keep him out of the end zone and in general make him a non-factor when kicking that many times, it’s quite the feat.

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