by Jordy McElroy
It doesn’t take 20/20 hindsight to see the damage the Kansas City Chiefs caused to their playoff hopes in Sunday’s jaw-dropping 35-32 upset loss to the Tennessee Titans. Coach Andy Reid stood in the center of it all, as he rightfully should, absorbing all of the blame, while his players stayed behind in the showers scrubbing away the stink from their most demoralizing loss of the season.
They boarded the team bus to the sounds of country music and the celebratory cheers from a city living week-to-week with Ryan Tannehill as its starting quarterback.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have arguably the best quarterback in football, a plethora of video game-like offensive weapons, an offensive play-calling genius at head coach and the fourth-ranked sack defense in the league.
And it still wasn’t enough.
On a day when quarterback Patrick Mahomes returned and threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns, it still wasn’t enough to beat a team that would be lucky enough to earn a Wild Card spot in the playoffs.
The brunt of the credit goes to Tannehill’s fearless play behind center and Titans coach Mike Vrabel’s gutsy play-calling. Then there’s the backbreaking part of the blame that falls squarely on the Chiefs for a mistake-filled outing that should have been a slam-dunk victory. Not even Mahomes’ magical performance could save them from the countless self-inflicted wounds that brought the once perceived AFC juggernaut to its knees.
There was the second-quarter fumble by running back Damien Williams that resulted in a free touchdown for the Titans off a scoop-and-score. Then there were the two special teams blunders in fourth-quarter field goal situations: One came off a bad snap that was ultimately thrown away by holder Dustin Colquitt, while the other was blocked by the Titans to ice the game.
Those miscues came on an afternoon when the Chiefs’ defense gave up 188 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 8.2 yards per carry to Titans bruising running back Derrick Henry.
Then there was Reid’s baffling play-calling on a drive that should have ended the game. On a 3rd and 2 on the Titans’ 24-yard line, with a 32-27 lead and 1:48 left in the game, the Chiefs attempted a screen pass to backup tight end Blake Bell that was quickly snuffed out by the Titans defense.
Never mind the fact that Mahomes has the best tight end in football, Travis Kelce, and the most dynamic receiver in the league, Tyreek Hill. For whatever reason, Reid got too cute by opting to go away from his two best playmakers, and the Titans made him pay for it.
He must have been trying his hardest for an appearance on ESPN’s “C’Mon Man” segment because he was back at it again on the next drive, after the Titans answered with what was ultimately the game-winning touchdown. The veteran coach inexplicably called a timeout during the two-point conversion attempt, turning a steep hill into a mountain to climb for Mahomes and the offense.
Bad decisions and even worse time management might have put the final dagger in the Chiefs’ bid for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
That’s assuming the playoffs are still even a certainty.
The Chiefs get a desperate Los Angeles Chargers team on the road next week before taking on the overachieving Oakland Raiders, who now sit only one game out of first place in the AFC West. Then there is the long-awaited trip to Foxborough for the 2018 AFC Championship rematch with the New England Patriots. They also have a road game against the Chicago Bears and another meeting with the Chargers to close out the season.
There is too much offensive talent to completely count the Chiefs out for going on a late run and finishing the season out strong, but it would be equally as naïve to think they’ll simply stroll through a hellacious schedule and waltz right into the playoffs.
The Chiefs are in more trouble right now than they’d care to admit. Even if they did make the playoffs, Mahomes would now have to go to Foxborough or M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore (or maybe even both) to get to Super Bowl LIV—another steep hill turned into a daunting mountain to climb.