Are the Kansas City Chiefs for real?

Jamaal Charles has a chance to have a breakout year in Kansas City. AP Photo/Ed Zurga

Were the Kansas City Chiefs a one-night wonder? Are they an undermanned team that caught breaks and won by the benefit of a special night? Or was the Chiefs’ 21-14 win over the San Diego Chargers a sign of things to come? Was this a coming of age for a team that hadn't played on Monday night for six years?

Now that the euphoria of Kansas City’s stunning win over four-time defending AFC West champion San Diego has subsided, it is time to examine what it all means.

Kansas City was explosive on offense and special teams and made huge plays on defense -- including a thrilling stand in the final seconds that left San Diego stranded at the 6-yard line with 39 seconds to go.

Time will tell if Kansas City, which won 10 games in the past three seasons combined, will be improved. The Chiefs, who are alone in first place in the AFC West for the first time since Week 7 of 2007, have a good chance to improve to 2-0 Sunday when they play Cleveland.

“I was really impressed with Kansas City against San Diego,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “There were some good signs.”

Here are five reasons why we think the Chiefs could show that Week 1 was not a fluke and why they can make major strides this season.

Todd Haley has them believing: The second-year coach often said during the offseason that the players have bought in and this year is much easier than last year. These are now Haley’s players. The Chiefs weeded out those who didn’t want to play for his regime and Haley has brought in key players who believe in his philosophy.

"This is a well-coached team,” rookie sparkplug Dexter McCluster said. “We want to perform well for them.”

The defense: This was a weak spot last year and not much was done to improve it during the offseason other than drafting safety Eric Berry at No. 5 and hiring former New England defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel in the same role. The unit didn’t look good until the third preseason game. But Monday night, the Kansas City defense matured.

The front three was excellent in a rotation led by 2008 No. 5 overall pick Glenn Dorsey. He was very disruptive all night long and forced San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers to make a bad pass on the Chargers’ final play. Tyson Jackson, the No. 3 overall pick in 2009 who is dealing with a knee injury, also played well. So did linebacker Derrick Johnson, who was in Haley’s doghouse last year. Johnson had a game-high 12 tackles and was all over the field. The Kansas City secondary also played very well against San Diego’s strong offense. If the Chiefs' defense can keep up this spirited play and continue to swarm in both the running and passing games, it will be much improved. If these players keep it up, the unit will be good enough to lead Kansas City to wins.

Team speed: After Monday night’s game, I had the chance to chat with Haley. I mentioned how impressive the team’s speed was.

“That was the whole idea,” Haley said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to get.”

The draft plan of general manager Scott Pioli was to find playmakers, and he succeeded.

McCluster's 94-yard punt return for a score, a team record, was impressive. Fellow second-round pick Javier Arenas is also a dynamic return man. He had two nice returns Monday night that were overshadowed by McCluster’s touchdown. These two players will drive opposing special-teams coaches crazy with their two-headed return possibilities.

“Kansas City has some guys who can move with the ball,” Williamson said. “There is some explosiveness there that wasn’t present in the past. That’s a huge difference.”

The running game: Speaking of speed, running back Jamaal Charles didn’t get cheated, either. He can do things with the ball in his hands few running backs can. Charles put two nasty cut moves on San Diego safety Eric Weddle during a 56-yard touchdown run. If he can stay healthy, Charles has potential to have a Chris Johnson-type impact on his team.

Charles had 1,120 yards last season in a limited role and he had 11 carries for 92 yards against San Diego. Expect Charles’ carries to increase as the season goes on.

Combine Charles with veteran Thomas Jones, who had 39 yards on 11 carries against San Diego, and the Chiefs have potentially one of the league’s most varied and dangerous running games. If the Chiefs run and play defense the way they did Monday night, there will be many victories in the Heartland this fall.

The schedule: The Chiefs’ upset win over San Diego could spark a run. After the playing the Browns, the Chiefs have another winnable home game against San Francisco. The Chiefs may be able to start the season 3-0. After a bye, the schedule toughens with back-to-back road games against the Colts and the Texans. But the opposition isn’t all that tough after that stretch. Nine of the Chiefs’ final 11 games are against teams that did not make the playoffs in 2009. Kansas City might make some noise in the AFC West, especially if they can continue playing the way they did Monday night.