Haley sees growth even in stunning defeat

Todd Haley's Chiefs gave up 21 points in the fourth quarter in a tough loss to the Texans. AP Photo/Bill Haber

HOUSTON -- Head coach Todd Haley believes in making weekly strides as he tries to raise the Kansas City Chiefs from the bottom of the NFL.

Believe it or not, amid a terrible collapse Sunday in Reliant Stadium, strides were made.

Haley said his team was in major anguish after seeing the explosive Houston offense score 21 points in the fourth quarter to beat a green Kansas City team, 35-31. The Texans won the game on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Matt Schaub to receiver Andre Johnson with 28 seconds remaining. The Chiefs had led 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter.

It’s all part of the Chiefs’ growing phase, Haley believes.

“What’s critical is to understand is we’re not there yet,” Haley said. “We are in still actually in the foundation stage … We’re going to come on the road and we’re going to win these big games and I think it’s going to be sooner rather than later. We’re obviously just not there yet … We have a lot of guys in deep, deep pain and that’s why I’m encouraged.”

The mouth-smashing defeat dropped the Chiefs to 3-2 after they started the season 3-0. They were the last team with an undefeated record this season. They still remain in first place in the AFC West. However, they could have taken another big step away from the four-time defending AFC West champion San Diego Chargers, now 2-4, after losing to the St. Louis Rams.

Kansas City has a chance to get well soon. Next Sunday the Chiefs return to the New Arrowhead Stadium for the first time since Week 3 when they play host to Jacksonville . They have a home game against Buffalo in Week 8 before visiting Oakland in Week 9. The Chiefs’ schedule is very manageable in the final 11 weeks. They play just two 2009 playoff teams -- San Diego and Arizona -- the rest of the way.

In two road losses to the Colts and Texans, the Chiefs have played hard. It should be a good sign moving forward this season.

The Chiefs battled the Colts hard in a 19-9 loss and their defense often confused Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Kansas City beat up the Texans on both sides of the ball much of the game before falling apart.

Still, it was impossible to find satisfaction in the Kansas City locker room Sunday. It was as quiet as any locker room I‘ve been in after a playoff loss.

“Obviously, everyone’s extremely disappointed,” Kansas City safety Jon McGraw said. “This is a tough one to stomach.”

While this loss kept Kansas City from stretching its lead in a tight AFC West, it could end up being a positive turning point for a young team that should continue to improve. They learned that they have to play a full game and was hardened by a match they know they had already won.

Here are other key aspects of the game:

The final scoring drive: Trailing 31-28 with 2:22 to play, Houston took over on a punt on its own 20.

The Texans' offense cruised down the field as it had all second half. That wasn’t the case for the first three quarters for the Texans, who had five first downs, 115 yards and seven points in the first half. But Houston dominated the fourth quarter.

It was clear the Texans were not looking to tie the game with a field goal and to go to overtime. The Texans zipped down the field in nine plays, culminating in the Johnson touchdown.

“We did enough things in that game to keep us from winning," Haley said. “What a game.”

Offense can’t make a key play: Kansas City made a lot of big plays on offense. After converting on 1-of-10 third downs last week, it made 9-of-16 third downs Sunday.

However, the Chiefs couldn’t make their biggest play of the game.

Kansas City took over on its own 33 with 3:25 to play after Houston scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 31-28. On third down and two from the Chiefs' own 41 with 2:36 to play, quarterback Matt Cassel couldn’t connect with rookie tight end Tony Moeaki on a deep route down the Kansas City sideline.

Had the Chiefs converted the first down, they likely would have been able to run out the clock.

“That was the play I wanted,” Haley said. “That was the first option. We just couldn’t make that last play. It’s another step we have to take.”

Offense shows growth: While the Chiefs’ defense was schooled late, their offense showed signs that it can move the ball both on the ground and in the air consistently.

The Chiefs’ run offense continued to shine. Thomas Jones had 100 yards rushing on 19 carries and Jamaal Charles added 93 yards on 16 carries. Kansas City had 228 yards rushing on 38 attempts.

After struggling at Indianapolis, Cassel and receiver Dwayne Bowe each had fine games. Cassel completed 20 of 29 passes for 201 yards. He threw three touchdown passes and he wasn’t intercepted. Bowe had six catches for 108 and he caught two touchdown passes.

It’s all part of the process, Haley said.

“We did a heck of a job trying to keep it alive as long as we did,” Haley said.