Todd Haley is focused on the future but drawing inspiration from the past.
The Chiefs coach, whose 0-1 team visits the Lions on Sunday, is at a pivotal moment in his career. His team needs to make a better showing than it did in a 41-7 loss to the Bills in its opener and must do so without second-year safety Eric Berry, one of its best players. He's done for the season with a knee injury.
Haley spoke to his team before Wednesday's practice and, for inspiration, invoked two up-from-the-rubble teams: the 1989 Steelers and 1999 Jets. Both of those teams overcame big setbacks to go further than anyone could have imagined.
"I was a little nervous before that talk," Haley conceded in a phone interview. "You have to organize your thoughts and talk it through pretty clearly when you're talking to them, especially about those Steelers, because you're talking about something that happened when these players were infants mostly."
The Chiefs, who won 10 games and the AFC West last season, weren't the only playoff team to stumble. The Falcons, Steelers and Colts were stomped in their openers, but at least each of those teams plays at home Sunday. (The Seahawks lost, too, and they were a playoff team, but how much can be expected of a team that reached the 2010 postseason with a 7-9 record?)
"The Steelers feel like we do; they got trounced and they lost a player they really need," Haley said, referring to injured tackle Willie Colon. "Indianapolis feels like we do; they got trounced and they've lost their quarterback. Atlanta, Seattle … how do they respond? We're in that category."
The Chiefs have to hit the road to face the up-and-coming Lions, who are fresh off beating the Buccaneers in Tampa. That's a tall order, even though the Lions have been awful for most of the past decade.
Haley has a personal connection to both the '89 Steelers and '99 Jets. His father, Dick Haley, was the Steelers' longtime personnel director and was still with the franchise in '89 when the team lost its first two games, 51-0 at home and 41-10. The Steelers regrouped to finish 9-7 — with Chuck Noll winning NFL coach of the year for the only time — and won a playoff game before losing to the Broncos.
"If you're not careful, a devastating loss can drag you down," Haley said. "The Steelers didn't let 51-0 do that to them."
Dwight Stone, a receiver from that Steelers team, called Haley this week with some words of encouragement. Stone also played for the '99 Jets — Haley was the receivers coach — when the Jets lost quarterback Vinny Testaverde in their opener and wound up losing six of seven. That team regrouped, too, winning seven of its final nine to finish 8-8 and narrowly miss the postseason.
That Jets team, Haley said, spent too much time trying to find the ideal replacement for Testaverde rather than trusting the player they had in backup quarterback Ray Lucas. Once the team turned to Lucas, it began to string together victories.
The way Haley sees it, losing Berry has the Chiefs in a similar situation.
"I don't think you can ever count on saying you're going to replace Eric Berry with the next Eric Berry," Haley said about the first Chiefs rookie to make the Pro Bowl since the late Derrick Thomas in 1989. Berry played about 1,100 snaps last season, more than any of his teammates.
"It has to be a collective effort to replace a guy who gives you that many snaps and that much production," Haley said. "But I think that's what good coaches are for. You have to find the solution."
"We had wanted all along Steve Smith back and that was the objective, that was the hope and the expectation," Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said.
However, Gilbride said he feels good about Stokley "because he's an intelligent guy who has shown the quickness that you need …"
Stokley is also very familiar with Giants quarterback Eli Manning, having worked for years alongside Eli and Peyton Manning at their summer passing academy. The 35-year-old Stokley and Peyton Manning have been close friends for years. The Giants need a reliable slot receiver, someone who might have helped in Washington on Sunday when the team converted just one of 10 third downs.
Those are grizzled veterans compared with the quarterback the Packers will face Sunday in Carolina. Cam Newton is 22.
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Kansas City Chiefs
- New York Jets
- New York Giants
- Buffalo Bills
- Detroit Lions
- Green Bay Packers
- Eric Berry
- Oakland Raiders
- Seattle Seahawks
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Steve Smith (wide receiver, born 1985)
- Peyton Manning
- Super Bowl
- NFL Pro Bowl
- AFC West
- Atlanta Falcons
- Denver Broncos