KANSAS CITY, Mo. When all you've got in the fridge is a pack of bologna, a loaf of bread and a 4-month-old jar of mayo, it's a little tough to make filet mignon.
The NFL is a filet mignon league. Roddy White and Julio Jones are filet mignon receivers. Tony Gonzalez is the filet mignon of tight ends.
You're trotting out Jacques Reeves.
Matt Ryan is a filet mignon quarterback.
You're trotting out Andy Studebaker.
Todd McClure is a filet mignon center.
You're trotting out Dontari Poe.
Sure, you could lump together the bologna, the mayo and the bread, mix it up, throw your hands in the air, and declare it filet mignon. And you know what? It's probably going to taste an awful lot like Falcons 40, Chiefs 24.
"I don't feel like we were short-handed," noted Travis Daniels, one of the many Kansas City reserves pushed into action during the season-opener at Arrowhead Stadium. "Because we (were) out there with 11, and they had 11 it wasn't 10-on-11 or anything like that."
Technically, it wasn't. It only felt that way.
The Falcons scored on their first eight possessions. Atlanta had zipped and slashed its way to 20 points by the half and 34 points after three quarters. Its first punt came with roughly three minutes left in the contest, by which time most of the 71,180 in the crowd were safely in their cars, or listening to Lady Antebellum, or whatever one does to burn Sunday's images from their collective, scarred psyches.
"It wasn't pretty," cornerback Stanford Routt groused. "It was ugly."
And like most NFL debacles, this one was a team effort. Oh, talk radio will obsess over the failings of quarterback Matt Cassel, who'd actually matched Ryan, dart for dart, until midway through the third quarter, when the law of averages decided it might be good for a giggle to reach over and shiv the poor fella in the kidney. For one half, Cassel was brilliant (10-for-12 passing, 123 yards); the next, he was catatonic (11-for-21 passing, two interceptions, one lost fumble). He is who he is. Complaining about Matt Cassel is like complaining about parking meters. You put your coins in the slot and hope for the best.
No, Sunday's train-wreck the second time in as many years the franchise has surrendered at least 40 points at home to open the season goes higher than that. It goes higher than Cassel, higher than offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, higher than coach Romeo Crennel, even if cases can be made that all of them are out of their respective depths.
No, it goes to the man who designed the ark, the man who to paraphrase Bill Parcells bought the groceries in the first place. If you're going to give a game ball for Sunday's angst, you have to pass it to Scott Pioli.
That said, let's be clear on a couple things, first off: the fact pass-rushing specialist Tamba Hali was suspended for violation of the league's substance abuse policy was not the fault of the Chiefs' general manager. Nor was Pioli responsible for the freakish run of injuries on defense that started with cornerback Brandon Flowers back on July 31 and ran all the way to linebacker Jovan Belcher's sore groin muscle this past Wednesday.
But when karma deals you a lousy hand, how do you respond? What's the fallback? Who's Plan B? Or C?
Take Reeves, a good guy with a compelling personal narrative; after two solid seasons with Houston in '08 and '09, he tended to his ailing mother rather than play NFL ball in the fall of '10 and 11. He was signed to play sporadically, but the loss of Flowers and understudy Jalil Brown forced him up the depth chart. But the fact he WAS out there, on an island, being torched by Jones (six catches, 108 yards, two scores)? That's on Pioli.
That Studebaker and a cast of thousands were running around trying to replicate Hali's prodigious gifts? Pioli.
Cassel thinking he's Sonny Jurgensen? Pioli.
The Chiefs being 14.5 million under the 2012 salary cap, according to ProFootballTalk.com, yet not having more than two reliable cornerbacks on the ENTIRE roster, of which only one was active Sunday? Pioli. One man, one vision.
Also, one game. One week. That's the good news.
"It's not a sprint," safety Eric Berry quipped, "it's a marathon."
And some of the problems from the first leg of the race would seem to be fixable. Hali is back from NFL purgatory soon, and all it took was a single tilt to make everyone realize how vital the big lug is to the overall picture. Given a few days, Flowers may be one step closer to playing; Johnson, who's been bothered by ankle issues, may be one week healthier.
"We've got to go back home and look at yourself in the mirror everybody, including myself," Johnson said. " What can I do to help this team win?' It's about winning. It's about winning by three points, or winning by four points. Somehow, we have to contribute to helping this team win."
They're not good enough to win by going minus-3 in the turnover battle. They're not good enough to win when the average opponent drive starts at the opposition's 44-yard line. Over the first three quarters of the contest, the Chiefs forced the Falcons into a 3rd-and-7 or-more scenario just three times; Atlanta converted first downs on two of those occasions, averaging 17 yards per play. That's not going to fly, either, long-term.
Theoretically, those things are fixable, too. You'd think. At least, you'd hope.
"It's a lot easier on everybody if we can get ahead and try to hold that lead," tight end Kevin Boss observed, "instead of playing catch-up."
Because we also saw firsthand what happens when Cassel puts pressure on himself to think he has to score every time the offense has the ball. The Falcons affirmed that this isn't an arsenal, even when it's right, that's ideally designed to win shootouts. In that respect, the Chiefs are closer to the Steelers than they are to the Patriots, despite Pioli's bloodlines. Except the Steelers have a defense that can actually get people off the field when they have to.
"Hopefully, it will take a week (to improve)," Crennel said. "But if it doesn't take a week, it will take two weeks. But we're going to work to get them better, no matter how long it takes."
Buckle up, kids. Because if Sunday was any indication, this might take a little longer than we thought.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org