Here's what happened to the Green Bay Packers, everyone's Super Bowl darlings at midseason, on a nasty, overcast Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium:
The Kansas City Chiefs beat them 27-20 in a game that wasn't that close. You could even say that they wrote the textbook on how to handle the Pack, which is fine if you've got the players. Kansas City does—plenty of them.
On defense K.C. attacked the Packers' tackles, both of whom have been struggling, with an exotic assortment of blitzes and stunts off a brand-new formation. The secondary showed no respect for Green Bay's banged-up receiving corps, jamming the wideouts tight and forcing Brett Favre to throw to his running backs.
On offense the Chiefs did the unexpected, opening with a 69-yard bomb to Sean LaChapelle, their slowest wideout, before settling into a running game aimed at defensive ends Reggie White and Sean Jones. Once their ground game was taken seriously, they burned the Pack with play-action passes.
The Chiefs also got some help from the zebras. Bob McElwee's officiating crew let the K.C. secondary get away with murder downfield, jamming and roughing up people. O.K., that's the Chiefs' style. But then the refs did a number on Doug Evans, a Green Bay cornerback. Evans had perfect coverage on Tamarick Vanover, his body positioned so well that Vanover had to climb his back to knock down a near interception. Line judge Byron Boston flagged Evans for interference anyway, and Evans got tossed for making contact with Boston.
Going into the game, Packers coach Mike Holmgren was worried that rookie left tackle John Michels couldn't handle K.C.'s speed-rushing sackmaster, Derrick Thomas. Holmgren set up his offense to minimize the matchup. Thomas normally lines up as a strongside linebacker, over the tight end, in the base defense. In the long yardage nickel and dime, when the enemy has three or four wideouts on the field, he goes to right end as a pass rusher. Holmgren decided to stick with his base offense, with one or two tight ends, even in long yardage situations, to keep Thomas over the tight end.
The Chiefs played along for a while, then switched. They put up a three-man line against the Packers' base, with Thomas as the middle linebacker, stunting and looping. They attacked Michels with Thomas plus a second blitzing linebacker. They blitzed from all directions. Never had they shown this kind of wildness. Thomas got two sacks, one on an inside rush against Michels, another when he rushed wide and guard Aaron Taylor tried to pick him up, which is like trying to grab a moth with a catcher's mitt.
And while the Packers' offense was struggling, the Chiefs were piling up points, starting with a field goal generated by Steve Bono's surprise bomb on their opening play. Bono is a quarterback who hears two voices. Offensive coordinator Paul Hackett, who once coached Joe Montana, whispers, "Dare to be bold." Head coach Marty Schottenheimer has a different credo: "Don't screw it up." On the opening play Bono obeyed the muse of boldness.
"The play was supposed to be a crossing pattern to Chris Penn," Hackett said, "but just before Steve went out, I told him, 'Give Sean a look deep. You just might catch them.' "
After that came the ground game. It was between the tackles at first, then it moved to the perimeters, attacking Jones, who has a sore ankle, and White, who, at 34, can no longer go hard on every snap but refuses to leave the field for a series.