KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — This Midwestern city best known for its barbecue, bebop jazz and, for most of the past three decades, bad baseball has exploded into a sea of blue as long-suffering Royals fans suddenly find their team at the center of the sports universe.
Kansas City’s improbable playoff run stoked a community pride that has blue-clad strangers giving high-fives on the street while police officers thank residents on social media for abstaining from crime – at least on days when the team is playing.
Twenty-nine years after the Royals beat St. Louis in the 1985 World Series, a whole new generation of Kansas City fans is learning how to celebrate winning baseball for the first time.
Sporting goods stores are seeing team gear flying off the shelves, while sports bars around town shook Wednesday afternoon as the Royals won the AL pennant smack dab in the middle of happy hour.
“We’re all so excited we can hardly stand it,” a beaming Gail Locascio said Thursday morning as she sifted through Royals window decals at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Merriam, Kansas.
The 61-year-old Overland Park, Kansas, resident was loading up on T-shirts to send to her two sons, longtime Royals fans who have moved away from the area. Her youngest son, Keith, lives in Hawaii and was surprised by his wife on Wednesday when she gave him tickets to Game 4 of the World Series in San Francisco.
That’s one reason she’s rooting for the Giants to win the National League pennant, which they did Thursday night.
A mile up the road in Mission, Kansas, dozens of people milled around half-empty racks of blue T-shirts at a Kansas Sampler apparel store that opened nearly three hours earlier than normal on Thursday.
Nicole Green, a manager at the store, said 10 to 15 people were already waiting outside when she got to work at 6:45 a.m. Though the store usually opens at 10 a.m., Green said customers were allowed inside at 7:15 a.m. to wait for the first shipment of shirts, which arrived soon afterward.
“We were waiting, and we invited them to come in and wait with us,” Green said.
In the Kansas City suburb of Raymore, Missouri, two trash collectors were surprised when they showed up at John Keesee’s home on Wednesday morning and found two brand-new Royals jerseys hanging from one of the trash containers.
Keesee, an Alabama native who goes by “Bubba John,” said he knew the men didn’t have Royals shirts and he wanted to thank them for serving him so well the past few years.
“They’re real good to me,” said Keesee, a 56-year-old golf pro who also owns a business, Bubba John Seafood, which transports seafood from Alabama to Kansas City. “With my seafood business, my trash is trashy, but they never miss a day.”
Kansas City Mayor Sly James’ office is urging people to illuminate their homes and businesses in blue, much like the new owners of the historic downtown Power and Light Building did last weekend.
Rodney Pullen, who works for Northpoint Development, said the idea of cloaking the top of the city’s original skyscraper in blue came up last Thursday. He spent the weekend at the top of the dormant, 36-story structure installing 500 light bulbs encased in a blue, heat-resistant gel.
“We thought it would be really cool to make it blue for the boys coming home from Baltimore,” he said.
The city, which also identifies itself as the City of Fountains, has turned six of its most popular fountains a deep blue and has plans to bottle some of that water, the mayor’s office said.
“The mayor is absolutely thrilled that the hometown team is in the World Series and is so proud that our team has now become America’s team,” the mayor’s spokeswoman, Joni Wickham, said Thursday.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jonathan Quick and Brian Elliott both remembered their similar goaltending duel on the same ice sheet 2 1/2 years ago, when they played 65 scoreless minutes of tense hockey.
Quick topped Elliott in a shootout again Thursday night, and the Los Angeles goalie took home a record along with the win.
Quick tied the Kings mark with his 32nd career shutout, making 43 saves and stopping all three St. Louis shootout attempts in a 1-0 victory over the Blues.
He carried the Kings to their third straight win, making saves with his glove, blocker and mask to keep it scoreless. Los Angeles expects such routine brilliance from a two-time Stanley Cup champion who showed his usual aversion to personal attention after his latest record-tying feat.
“It’s two points,” Quick said. “It’s more about wins than shutouts when we go out there.”
Jeff Carter scored the only shootout goal for the defending champions against Elliott, who stopped 17 shots in his 26th career shutout for the Blues.
Oddly enough, Los Angeles and St. Louis played a 1-0 shootout game at Staples Center three seasons ago. Quick made 35 saves, and Elliott had 37.
“That doesn’t happen often, and it’s happened twice here,” Elliott said. “It’s kind of the way we match up, I guess. We’ve got to take that next step, but when you get 40-plus shots on a good team in their building, you can take a lot of positives away from that. You’re going to win a lot of games if you do that.”
Quick matched Rogie Vachon’s franchise record for shutouts, reaching the mark in 50 fewer games than Vachon needed during the 1970s. Quick already became the Kings’ leader in victories last season on the way to his second Stanley Cup ring.
“What a game to do it in, the way he played,” Los Angeles center Jarret Stoll said. “We all had a hug for him when he came in the room. We all know how great of a goalie he is.”
Carter scored in the first shootout round, and Quick stopped T.J. Oshie, Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko to wrap up the Kings’ fifth straight home win over St. Louis.
“He played good, but there were some shots that we missed,” Oshie said of his U.S. Olympic teammate. “The net was wide open in overtime there. I’ve got to slide that in. Never even got to touch it.”
The Blues had the past four days off before opening their road schedule with a three-game West Coast trip, and they controlled long stretches against the Kings with their fresh legs and skill-laden roster.
Elliott also was outstanding against a Kings team that had scored 10 goals in its last two games, stopping everything except Carter’s vicious wrist shot to the stick side.
“We tried him enough on the glove side, and he was on it,” Carter said.
The season’s first meeting between the two title contenders featured plenty of tight-checking hockey. Both clubs struggled to create consistent scoring chances, with Kings coach Darryl Sutter shuffling his lines – even breaking up That 70s Line, Carter’s high-scoring trio with youngsters Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli.
“Just trying to get some energy, a little bit different look,” Sutter said.
Quick’s mask was dislodged and Steen lost his helmet during a prolonged scuffle midway through the second period when Steen hacked at the puck in Quick’s midsection.
Elliott broke his stick on a poke-check during a Kings power play midway through the third period, but played more than two minutes using defenseman Jay Bouwmeester’s stick when the Blues couldn’t control the puck.
Shortly after Quick made a spectacular glove save on a short-range shot by Bouwmeester in the waning minutes of regulation, he stopped a shot by David Backes with his head.
“Those few chances in tight, got to find a way to put those past Jonathan Quick,” said Backes, another American Olympian. “He’s an all-world goalie, no question, but we’ve got all-world players in here. Got to find a way to put some of those in, myself included.”
NOTES: Los Angeles F Marian Gaborik missed his second straight game with a lower-body injury, and Andy Andreoff played in his second NHL game. … Kings D Jake Muzzin still hasn’t played this season while recovering from an upper-body injury, although he got a $20 million contract extension Wednesday. … St. Louis’ road trip continues this weekend at Arizona and Anaheim.
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The San Diego Chargers’ streak of facing inexperienced quarterbacks ends Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs and Alex Smith.
San Diego has faced two rookies and a second-year pro in its last three games, wins over the Jaguars, Jets and Raiders.
Michael Vick, a 14-year veteran, took over in relief of Geno Smith in the second half of New York’s 31-0 loss to San Diego. Otherwise the Chargers saw rookies in Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles and Oakland’s Derek Carr.
They know they’re getting something different in Smith, a 10-year veteran who is having a solid season serving as a complement to the AFC’s second-best running attack. He’s completed 63 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns with four interceptions.
“They are explosive and Alex is playing at a high level,” said Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano. “He’s confident in his throws.
“You hear all the things about him managing the game and then you put the tape on and you see how his completion percentage is up there, there’s not a lot of interceptions, and he’s putting it where they need to catch it.”
The Chargers, winners of five straight, might have caught a break in Sunday’s game against the Raiders. With Carr not being sacked or hit, the Chargers edged the Raiders, 31-28.
Against Smith, the Chargers will need to bring some pressure. Which is a chore considering Smith’s mobility.
“He is always looking down field to extend the play,” Pagano said. “He is a guy who when he doesn’t like what he sees, has the ability to run with it and he is going to run with it. He has that ability to go create first downs with his legs. You have to deal with that.”
As well as running back Jamaal Charles and a receiving corps that features Dwayne Bowe.
“From an experience standpoint, I think this is one of the most explosive offenses,” Pagano said. “With the weapons they have across the board it is a tremendous challenge.
“It’s about us going out and executing and doing what we have to do as a defensive unit.”
The Chargers have just two sacks in their last eight quarters and 15 on the year. Linebacker Dwight Freeney has a team-high two but hasn’t registered one since Week 3 in Buffalo.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The memories come back in bits and pieces, and for that he can be forgiven. After all, 29 years have passed since he was standing on the hillside, watching everything unfold.
It was a blowout, Dayton Moore says, the deciding game of the 1985 World Series. Darryl Motley homered off John Tudor in the second inning. Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar, known for his volatile temper, got tossed by umpire Don Denkinger later in the game.
More than anything, though, Moore remembers the way Kansas City celebrated.
“Just the joy and the atmosphere,” he said almost wistfully. “Actually, it was very similar to what we experienced during the playoff games here, a lot of energy. A lot of fun.”
Nearly three decades after the Royals won their only World Series, they’re headed back to baseball’s biggest stage. And the kid who grew up cheering for them in his hometown of Wichita, Kansas, and couldn’t score a ticket to Game 7 of the ’85 Fall Classic – instead watching from beyond the outfield fence – is the general manager responsible for making it happen.
“It’s what it’s all about, from a baseball standpoint,” Moore said Thursday, less than 24 hours clinching the AL pennant with a 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
“The things that have happened around the city, the joy we’ve brought to people’s lives, that’s special,” Moore said. “It’s what athletics is all about. That’s why we do what we do. We love to compete. We love to win. But this is what attracted us to the game as little kids.”
The Royals will open the World Series on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium against San Francisco. This time, Moore’s sure to have a decent seat.
The way he pulled off one of the game’s great turnarounds is a testament to perseverance, to patience and savvy and good business sense. It took tricky trades, wise draft choices and the kind of commitment to a rebuilding job that is rarely seen in professional sports these days.
In a win-now era, Moore spent eight long years rebuilding.
There were pitfalls along the way, lousy contracts given to Gil Meche and Jose Guillen that proved to be a waste of precious money. There were misfires on managers. There were failed young prospects that were rushed to the majors or never even got there.
Slowly, though, things started to turn around. Young hitters such as Alex Gordon and Billy Butler figured things out. First-round draft picks Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas matriculated to the big leagues. Shrewd signings in free agency and smart scouting of international prospects such as Salvador Perez and Kelvin Herrera began to pay dividends.
Then the two big trades that would make or break Moore’s tenure in Kansas City.
The first: shipping disgruntled Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke to Milwaukee for a package of prospects that included Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain, the ALCS MVP this year. The second: sending baseball’s top prospect, Wil Myers, and several other young talents to Tampa Bay for starting pitcher James Shields and dominant reliever Wade Davis.
“I think that was when Dayton really put us over the top,” said Gordon, the starting left fielder. “He did a great job of finding guys, developing them and turning it into this.”
He also managed to do it with significant financial limitations.
In a game of massive revenue disparity, the small-market Royals set a franchise record with just over $97 million in payroll this season. But the Dodgers still doled out $255 million, and the Angels – whom the Royals swept out of the playoffs – spent more than $163 million.
“Dayton has all the assets you want in a general manager,” Royals owner David Glass said this week. “He’s a great talent evaluator. A great leader. He has absolute integrity. He’s very intense. He’s as good as it gets as far as general managers are concerned, in my opinion.”
That’s why his name is now surfacing for other jobs.
The biggest opening in baseball happens to be in Atlanta, where Frank Wren was fired and interim GM John Hart declined an offer for the full-time job. Moore got his start in the Braves organization as a scout, and learned the ins and outs of the front office from their longtime general manager John Schuerholz – coincidentally, the GM of the Royals from 1982-90.
Glass, who hired Moore away from Atlanta in 2006, said he wouldn’t stand in the way of him leaving. But Glass also said that he would do everything in his power to get him to stay.
Given the long and complex history that Moore has with the Royals, from his days watching from the grassy hillside outside the ballpark to now occupying one of the suits reserved for the general manager, it might take quite the offer to lure him away.
Especially given how much fun he’s had along the way.
“It’s an unbelievable blessing to be where we are right now,” Moore said. “We knew this was a great fan base and if we could put a product on the field, they would support it. Hopefully we’ve grown the game in this area and brought a lot of joy to peoples’ lives.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — When the final out was made on another improbable night, and the Kansas City Royals were headed back to the World Series, Ned Yost stood in the dugout and watched.
He watched as a bunch of young players he’s nurtured for years celebrated. He watched as veterans and journeymen and baseball vagabonds piled onto the infield. And he watched as a fan base that has so often criticized him relished a moment 29 years in the making.
“These kids, from the minute you saw them, you knew they were going to be special,” Yost said. “Their goal was to get here and win a championship, and today they accomplished that.”
Led by a dynamic defense, an opportunistic offense and one of the best bullpens in the game, the Royals swept aside the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night. With another tight win, 2-1, the Royals captured their first the American League championship since 1985.
That was also the last time they were in the playoffs.
“It’s hard to explain,” said outfielder Lorenzo Cain, whose clutch hits and dramatic grabs earned him the series MVP award. “We’re clicking at the right moment right now.”
Now, the Royals will carry an 11-game playoff win streak into the World Series, one shy of the major league record. That includes their first eight this season, something that had never been done in postseason history. Kansas City beat Oakland in a 12-inning wild-card thriller to start things off, then swept the Los Angeles Angels in the Division Series.
The Fall Classic will begin Tuesday in Kansas City between the Royals and the winner of the NLCS between the Giants and Cardinals. Coincidentally, it was St. Louis that fell to the Royals in seven drama-filled games during the ’85 World Series.
“I don’t think we’re done yet,” designated hitter Billy Butler said.
After the Royals held the Orioles to three hits in Game 3, Jason Vargas and their bullpen held them to four Wednesday night. Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis got the game to Greg Holland, who matched Dennis Eckersley’s record with his fourth save of the best-of-seven series.
Holland got J.J. Hardy to ground out to third base for the final out, and the Royals spilled onto the infield in a wild celebration. Fireworks shot over the crown-shaped scoreboard in center field, and a blue-clad sellout crowd that included Royals greats George Brett and Brett Saberhagen let out a roar while cars on nearby Interstate 70 honked their horns.
“That’s what you dream of as a kid,” Holland said. “Punch your ticket to the World Series, especially before your home crowd. These fans have been waiting a long time. They deserve it.”
The Orioles, meanwhile, will limp into the offseason after a 96-win season having been swept for the first time in franchise history, a stretch of 21 postseason series.
“I think it’s not what we didn’t do. It’s more what they did,” said the Orioles’ Ryan Flaherty, whose home run represented their lone run. “We played good baseball.”
Making his first start in nearly two weeks, Vargas shut down the vaunted Orioles lineup in Game 4. The only damage he allowed came in the third inning, when Flaherty went deep.
By that point, the Royals had already manufactured a pair of runs.
Alcides Escobar singled off Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez to open the game, and Nori Aoki was drilled on the right knee a couple pitches later. Yost then opted to bunt with Cain, one of his hottest hitters, to advance both of the runners.
It was a questionable decision so early in the game. But like almost every unorthodox move that Yost has made, it worked out perfectly – for Cain’s first career sacrifice.
Eric Hosmer followed with a chopping grounder, and first baseman Steve Pearce went home with it. Escobar slid safely and the ball bounded away from catcher Caleb Joseph, allowing Aoki to follow his teammate home and giving the scrappy, small-ball Royals a 2-0 lead.
After that, it was up to their defense and bullpen.
Escobar turned a pair of double plays early in the game to help Vargas escape jams, and Gordon made a spectacular catch while crashing into the left-field wall to rob Hardy of extra bases leading off the fifth inning. In the sixth, second baseman Omar Infante was in perfect position to snag Nelson Cruz’s line drive and leave runners on the corners.
Herrera breezed through the seventh and Davis handled the eighth, just as they have all season, and Holland slammed the door on his fourth save of the series.
And set off of a raucous celebration that had been 29 years in the making.
In the midst of it all was Yost, the often-criticized Royals manager who has guided a collection of budding young stars to baseball’s grandest stage. In doing so, Yost became the first manager in major league history to win his first eight postseason games.
Now, just four more wins stand in the way of an improbable World Series championship.
“These guys are willing to play selfless baseball where all they’re concentrating on is winning the game,” Yost said. “Nobody is looking to be a hero right now, they’re just looking to win a ballgame, and they’ve done a tremendous job.”
STREAKS AND STATS
The Royals are the seventh team to record a best-of-seven sweep in a league championship series. … The 1976 Reds and 2007 Rockies each won seven straight games to start a postseason. … Hosmer has 13 hits this postseason, fifth-most by a Royals hitter. Willie Wilson had 20 in the 1985 postseason. … Both games at Kauffman Stadium were played in less than 3 hours.
Kansas City did well this season against both potential World Series opponents.
The Royals swept a three-game series from the visiting Giants in August, beating Madison Bumgarner, Tim Hudson and Tim Lincecum. KC hasn’t played at San Francisco since 2005.
The Royals went 3-1 against St. Louis, sweeping two games at Busch Stadium and splitting back at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals: The Royals are in the World Series for the third time in franchise history. “It’s been incredible to watch,” said Saberhagen, one of the star pitchers on the `85 title team.
Orioles: It’s on to the offseason for a team that overcame a series of injuries (Matt Wieters, Manny Machado) and suspensions (Chris Davis) to reach the ALCS. Baltimore still has not made it back to the World Series since 1983.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A team known for doing all the little things right is suddenly throwing away some big postseason games.
First baseman Matt Adams made back-to-back errant throws to key a three-run sixth inning for San Francisco, and the sloppy St. Louis Cardinals lost 6-4 to the Giants on Wednesday night to fall into a 3-1 hole in the NL Championship Series.
“We came out ready to play and things happen,” Adams said. “Just got to make the throws.”
St. Louis will try to avoid elimination in Game 5 on Thursday night, facing the same deficit the Giants came back from against the Cardinals in the 2012 NLCS. Adam Wainwright will start for the Cardinals, and left-hander Madison Bumgarner will go for the Giants.
Games 6 and 7, if necessary, would be in St. Louis.
Those plans are on hold now. A day after reliever Randy Choate’s wild throw to first on Gregor Blanco’s bunt allowed the Giants to score the winning run in the 10th inning, the Cardinals crumbled under pressure again.
St. Louis led 4-1 in the third and looked ready to even the best-of-seven series. Instead, San Francisco scored twice in the third and took advantage of the Cardinals’ miscues late.
Left-hander Marco Gonzales walked Juan Perez and gave up a single to Brandon Crawford to start the sixth. After pinch-hitter Matt Duffy’s sacrifice bunt, Blanco hit a hard chopper to Adams playing in at first base.
Adams couldn’t quite grip the ball and get his feet set, and he skipped his throw in the dirt to catcher Tony Cruz trying to nab Perez at the plate. On the next play, Adams fielded a grounder by Joe Panik and stepped on first, then turned and threw well wide of second trying to get a double play, pulling shortstop Jhonny Peralta off the bag.
With Peralta stumbling to make the catch, Crawford scored the go-ahead run from third.
“That’s not really the play we want,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
Buster Posey followed with an RBI single to give the Giants a 6-4 lead, and the Cardinals never recovered.
On the first play, Adams said he had a “good chance” to get Panik out if he made an on-target throw. On the second, he said he should’ve just stepped on first and checked Crawford at third.
“They were both fast runners, so I was trying to get the ball out as quickly as possible and make the throw,” Adams said.
St. Louis ranked fourth in the NL and eighth in the majors for the fewest errors this season with 88, but has seen its slick-fielding ways fade under October’s bright lights.
“They’ve made mistakes the last two games and we’ve been making them pay for it,” Perez said. “You don’t expect them to make so many mistakes, but we’ve got to keep making them pay for it by putting runners on base and making things happen.”
Defense has been a concern for the Cardinals since catcher and leader Yadier Molina strained a muscle in his left side in Game 2, and Matheny’s infield hasn’t looked quite as imposing since. A.J. Pierzynski started behind the plate for the second straight game before Cruz took over later.
Hunter Pence stole second in the fifth, beating Pierzynski’s throw. Blanco’s hard-hit fly to center also bounced off Jon Jay’s glove for a double in the first, leading to a run for San Francisco.
“I think that when the ball’s rolling your way like that, there’s not much you can do on the defensive side,” said Gonzales, who was charged with three runs and the loss. “You just got to try to roll with the punches and punch back.”
Matheny said Molina would’ve entered the game at catcher had the Cardinals extended the game in the ninth, when Daniel Descalso pinch-hit for Cruz. Descalso popped out to Crawford at shortstop.
Cardinals: Wainwright has allowed eight earned runs and 17 hits in nine innings this postseason. He blamed mechanical woes and not a chronic elbow issue after losing Game 1 to San Francisco and insists he has worked everything out.
Giants: Bumgarner gave up just four hits in 7 2-3 innings in the Giants’ 3-0 win in Game 1 at St. Louis. He also pitched a four-hitter in San Francisco’s 8-0 win in the wild-card game at Pittsburgh before taking the loss in Game 3 of the Division Series against Washington.
ST. LOUIS (AP) — In three NFL seasons, Janoris Jenkins has been a big-play cornerback for the St. Louis Rams, returning four interceptions and a fumble recovery for touchdowns.
He loses his share, too.
“You’re going to make plays and you’re going to give up plays,” Jenkins said Wednesday after practice. “I mean, however they come baby, they’re just going to come.”
Getting scalded on Brandon Lloyd’s 80-yard touchdown catch against the 49ers last week was the latest example of give and take.
Two weeks earlier, Jenkins scored on a 25-yard interception return to put the Rams (1-4) up 21-0 against Dallas but had a 33-yard interference penalty on the Cowboys’ go-ahead drive and shared blame with safety Rodney McLeod for allowing Dez Bryant to get at least a 20-yard cushion on a 68-yard touchdown reception.
Coach Jeff Fisher remains supportive, disagreeing with the notion Jenkins is a risk-reward player and noting that he has been able to shake off the setbacks and get back to work.
“It’s a hard position to play in this league,” Fisher said. “He doesn’t make mistakes on purpose. I have concern about his play or his production at this point.”
Jenkins was a second-round pick in 2012, part of the payout from the Robert Griffin III trade with the Redskins. After very effective year as understudy to Cortland Finnegan, he was the Rams’ top cornerback last season.
It’s been a wild ride. His six career picks have largely been cancelled out.
Jenkins made an immediate splash as a rookie out of North Alabama in 2012 with 150 yards in returns on four interceptions, three for scores. He added a fourth score on a fumble recovery that year.
“They make plays and we make plays, so you’ve just got to put it behind you because everybody’s going to make a play,” he said. “It’s just when the play is going to be made and how it’s going to be made.”
Jenkins said he’s not concerned that the Seahawks (3-2) will try to entice him this week. Last year, he had an apparent fumble recovery return for touchdown negated against Seattle because the whistle had blown.
“I’ll be glad, it don’t matter,” Jenkins said. “I just know on that particular play I was doing the wrong thing. I was doing my own thing and it won’t happen again.”
Fisher deflected blame somewhat on Lloyd’s back-breaking play, saying a three-deep zone had been called. Though Jenkins ended up with no backup, it was his decision to bite on Lloyd’s early fake.
Jenkins left the Edward Jones Dome without speaking to reporters Monday but said he hadn’t been “running from y’all.”
Jenkins was up on the line before the snap, show a man-for-man look, then quickly backed off. And after biting on the fake near the first down marker, the player known around Rams Park as “Jack Rabbit” could not catch up the last 40 yards.
The play with 14 seconds left in the half cut the Rams’ lead to 14-10. San Francisco headed to the locker room feeling confident and it had to be deflating for the Rams, who are 0-3 at home.
“I mean, we know where we’ve got to pick it up and we know where we’ve got to go from here,” Jenkins said. “Basically, just eliminate the big plays over our head and we’ll be OK.”
Beginning a short week off the Monday night loss, the Rams had a light abbreviated workout. Fisher said the staff quickly caught up on game-planning.
“It’s amazing if you have a long week, then you take every second,” Fisher said. “Long weeks are harder because you find more things to do.”
Players thought it helped playing a familiar opponent.
“I think the good thing is schematically they’re a pretty simple group,” Davis said. “The challenge is they’re really god at it.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The sight of quarterbacks feasting on the Chiefs’ defense left an impression throughout the final seven games of the 2013 regular season.
The Chiefs allowed an average of 306 yards passing per game, and finished 25th in the NFL in pass defense last year. That doesn’t include Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck’s 443 yards passing in the playoffs.
The swirling Midwest winds blew in a change from a season ago. The Chiefs are currently ranked seventh in the NFL against the pass.
Quarterbacks, including Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, have not had their way against the Chiefs’ defense through five games. The second half of the 2013 season was the needed catalyst for improvement.
“It motivated us a lot because as a secondary you don’t want to get too much involved with what everybody is saying,” defensive back Ron Parker said. “You just want to worry about the team and us only. There was talk out there about our secondary; we hear that. We just take it in and act like we don’t hear it.”
Parker, who has started three straight games for strong safety Eric Berry (ankle), has played a large role on the back end of coverage.
The Chiefs have allowed just 11 passes of 20-plus yards entering Week Seven. That’s a far cry from the 63 plays of 20-plus yards the Chiefs allowed in 2013.
“This year we try to focus on keeping everything in front of us and not give up the home run ball,” Parker said. “If we give up something short, just make the tackle, no YAC (yards after the catch). The first five games I think we’re doing a good job of keeping everything in front of us.”
The Chiefs’ five-game performance has the full attention of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who faces Kansas City on Sunday.
Rivers said he used to account for former Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers whenever he played the Chiefs. Flowers plays for the Chargers now.
Now Rivers pays attention to the entire secondary.
“I think (No.) 21 (cornerback Sean Smith) is long,” Rivers said. “He likes to get his hands on you. He made a great interception in that New England game and we know he likes to be physical at the line of scrimmage.
“Eric Berry hasn’t been in there in a while; he’s a guy, a Pro Bowl player that you respect. As a whole, I look at (No.) 39 (free safety Husain Abdullah), (No.) 31 (cornerback Marcus Cooper), (No.) 38 (Parker) has been active in there. It’s a group that is playing well together.”
Smith said the entire secondary made a conscious effort to improve throughout the offseason.
“We’re definitely communicating more leading up to the game, which is big,” Smith said. “We took it upon ourselves to watch a little more film as a unit, so that way we all see the same thing and get each other’s mindset on the same page.”
The Chiefs could have Berry on the field Sunday. Though he was limited in practice Wednesday, he seemed on track to return barring a setback.
Still, Smith said how the Chiefs played without Berry is indicative of the talent in the secondary.
“Ron has shown amazing physicality back there at safety,” Smith said, “And I didn’t know he had that because he’s a corner, but he did that. Husain brought toughness and leadership out there. Everybody is showing a little bit of Eric Berry in a sense out there on the field. I think that’s been big for us.”
Sunday’s game isn’t just an AFC West rivalry game, but a contest featuring strength against strength.
Rivers has topped 300 yards passing in two of the past three games, and he tormented the Chiefs in Week 12 last season with 392 yards passing and three touchdowns.
Smith acknowledged Rivers poses a challenge. But the sixth-year cornerback said he and his teammates won’t change how they approach the game regardless of opponent.
“We understand the scheme,” Smith said. “We’re a tight-man team. We have a great pass play rush up front. Just keep your eyes on your work and play with good technique, and if you see something, communicate.”
RENTON, Wash. (AP) — It’s often forgotten that Bobby Wagner was not the first rookie to start at middle linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks since Pete Carroll took over.
A year before Wagner’s arrival in 2012, K.J. Wright started his first NFL game at middle linebacker due to an injury. Because of his size and versatility, Wright has always remained Seattle’s security blanket should something happen at the position.
So it’s little surprise that with Wagner out for at least a couple of weeks following a turf toe injury suffered last week, it will be Wright starting in his place on Sunday when the Seahawks visit St. Louis.
“I’ve done it before. It’s something that’s not new to me at all,” Wright said Wednesday. “I hate to see Bobby go down but guys have to step up and I believe we’ll handle it just fine.”
Wagner is the latest injury blow for the Super Bowl champions. Starting center Max Unger (foot) and starting tight end Zach Miller (ankle surgery) have already been ruled out for this week. Miller will miss his third straight game and Unger his second.
The one piece of possibly positive injury news is that cornerback Byron Maxwell could return sooner than expected from a calf strain suffered in Sunday’s loss to Dallas. Carroll said Maxwell will be evaluated daily but he wasn’t ready to rule him out for this week.
“He’s made a big jump and we’ll see. We’ll go day-by-day and see what happens,” Carroll said. “It’s an unusual strain that he has but he has shocked the guys with how quickly he’s bounced back by this point.”
Wagner was hurt in the second quarter last Sunday. He returned in the second half but was noticeably slower moving around the field. Rather than move Wright to the middle mid-game, the Seahawks used undrafted rookie Brock Coyle to bridge the second quarter until Wagner could return.
With a full week to prepare and outside linebackers Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin both healthy, it made more sense for the Seahawks to move Wright to the middle. Carroll did not have an exact timeframe for Wagner’s return, but said he would not need surgery.
“Malcolm is a legitimate starter on our team. Bruce is back raring to go and playing good football. K.J. is one of our favored guys because of all of his versatility that he has,” Carroll said. “We maintain leadership and a voice in the huddle so we’re very fortunate we have this depth and (linebackers coach Ken Norton) has done a great job to keep these guys rotating. So in the event that you have to do something we have a really classy guy stepping in who really knows what he’s doing.”
Smith, the Super Bowl MVP, was in for 25 plays against Dallas after not playing at all defensively the previous week against Washington. Smith had offseason ankle surgery and missed part of training camp during his recovery.
Wright started the first game of his career back in 2011 at middle linebacker because of an injury to starter David Hawthorne. He filled in for two games last season when Wagner was out with a high-ankle sprain.
Wright said there is little difference between the two positions, other than the need to call the plays.
“He has great instincts,” Carroll said. “He has unusual body type for that positon but his mind and his savvy and his instincts are well beyond any restrictions. He can play anywhere.”
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Maty Mauk was frustrated.
After losing 34-0 to Georgia – the only time the Missouri quarterback can ever remember being shut out – he hosted an hours-long meeting at his house with his receivers. The agenda: how to get back on track.
“It’s not about anybody else,” Mauk recalled telling them. “It’s about us. If we go out there and we’re executing, that’s what’s going to get our offense going. And that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Problems abounded last weekend. The offense only gained 147 yards on 43 plays. Mauk threw four interceptions and lost a fumble while being forced to often scramble out of a collapsing pocket. Receivers watched passes deflect off their hands and ran the wrong routes. Rushing attempts averaged just 2.3 yards.
“It’s not any one thing at any time,” offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. “It just seems like it’s been a combination of things. And it seems like they all kind of stacked up really badly on Saturday.”
Both Henson and coach Gary Pinkel hinted at simplifying the playbook as a way to improve execution. Missouri (4-2, 1-1) ranks last in the Southeastern Conference with 10.5 points per game and 213.5 total yards per game against league opponents.
It’s still early, though, and Pinkel insisted that Mauk is the starting quarterback moving forward.
“My biggest thing is for him to believe in himself, because he’s done it before,” Pinkel said of the sophomore, who led the country with 13 total touchdowns through three games (12 passing, one rushing) but has added just two more through the air along with five picks. “We’ve seen him do it on big stages. He’ll look back at this as an experience that really helped him.”
Not to say there aren’t some technical details Mauk needs work on. He can be elusive outside the pocket, but his scrambling makes it difficult to convert plays down the field. Henson said he hopes the quarterback trusts his offensive line to be there to protect him.
“He should have all the confidence in the world in us,” left tackle Mitch Morse said. “But if it’s lacking, I don’t blame him. If you (allow) too much pressure on a quarterback, no matter how good they are, it’s going to be in the back of their mind.”
After a day of reviewing Saturday’s loss and identifying mistakes, Pinkel hoped his team would get “amnesia” and forget about Georgia as it prepares for Florida (3-2, 2-2). The Tigers hope to recover on the road, where they have won seven consecutive games.
Missouri also expects to be healthy again at receiver with the return of Darius White, who missed the last two games with a strained groin. Pinkel said last week the senior was likely to play against the Bulldogs before trainers ruled him out.
White has 15 catches for 230 yards and three touchdowns, giving Mauk another experienced target. Without White on the field, opponents have limited seniors Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt to a combined 10 receptions for 129 yards.
A win this week would help Missouri keep pace in the SEC East standings and provide some positive “mojo,” as Sasser says, heading into the Oct. 25 matchup with last-place Vanderbilt.
In order to win either game, though, the Tigers must improve upon their average time of possession, which was 20 minutes in their last two games.
“It’s frustrating, but that’s adversity,” Mauk said. “It’s how you fight back. I think our guys are ready to go. Yeah, people are upset, but it’s going to be a different week for us. And we’re going to come out fighting.”