My heart still hasn’t stopped pounding. Coming into this week, I was sure that the Kansas City Chiefs would rebound in championship fashion and defeat the San Diego Chargers at home in Arrowhead Stadium. In fact, I believe I’ve said repeatedly this year, “the Chiefs WON’T lose at home this year.”
Damn, was I wrong.
The Chiefs came into this game tied for first place with the Denver Broncos; don’t let that second place/fifth seed stuff fool you. That doesn’t count until the season is over and it most definitely is not over. Yet.
The Chiefs walked into this game tied for first place, but they head back to their locker room firmly in second. Barring a Denver Broncos loss tonight to the New England Patriots, the Chiefs will be in second place next week when the Broncos come into Arrowhead.
The hype all week has been “which Chargers team will show up in K.C.?” Kris Kilduff and I actually mused over that exact same mantra on AA Radio this week. Even more importantly, we tried to figure out which Phillip Rivers would show up?
I guess the answer became clear in the last 82 seconds of the fourth quarter. The Phillip Rivers that wins football games.
Still, how did it even get to that point? How did the Chiefs defense — who only allowed 27 against the high flying Broncos offense — allow the Chargers to not only score 41, but a touchdown to win the game with just 24 seconds left on the clock?
The first thing we learned from this game is that even though linebacker Derrick Johnson may be the heart of this Chiefs defense, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are the soul.
It is possible to fight a man with one hand tied behind your back. However, when you try to fight with both of them handcuffed, you look like a drunk on a Friday night.
Losing Hali hurt the Chiefs for sure. Though it’s likely we won’t know the extent of the injury to his ankle until at least tomorrow, the result for this game wasn’t good. Hali didn’t return. And for a guy who makes his living on moving around and getting to the quarterback, an injury to his ankle is huge—no matter the severity. When teams play the Chiefs, Hali is the man they game plan for on the defensive side of the ball.
As if that didn’t hurt enough, a couple of series later, the Chiefs leading sack machine, Justin Houston, appeared to have his right arm bent awkwardly backwards, and went down. Where as Hali appeared to be in just a little bit of pain as he got up and gingerly walked on his ankle, Houston was down and in serious pain on the ground for a good amount of time.
When half of your pass rush is out, that’s not good. Especially when your team that started the season so well in that department has only recorded one sack in the last three games.When both members of the sack leading duo in the NFL are lost though, it spells certain disaster.
That’s exactly what happened.
Even while Hali and Houston weren’t getting to the quarterback, they were providing pressure, forcing the quarterback to get the ball out quickly. This allowed the Chiefs secondary to shine because they weren’t forced to cover receivers for several seconds on each play. The longer a play takes, the harder it is for the coverage, because the receiver knows where he’s going. The defense can only react.
With no pass rush, the secondary was really picked on today and it showed. Rivers ended up completing 27 of his 39 passes for 392 yards and three touchdowns. He did this without throwing an interception. Largely, he was allowed to do it unmolested, even though the Chiefs broke their two game sack-less streak late in the fourth quarter with Eric Berry getting to Rivers. For all the good it did. On the very next play, the Chargers quarterback threw the game winning touchdown.
Even before H2 (Hali and Houston) went down, the Chiefs defense hasn’t looked the same as it did the first seven games of this season. Yes, the Chiefs have been attacking and up until last week they have been winning, but it hasn’t looked the same. Where Andy Reid’s offense has continually opened unseen pages of the playbook, it almost appears if Bob Sutton’s defense has reached the end of their story.
That doesn’t bode well for this Chiefs team moving forward.
The defense has been their identity. It’s been what has won them games more often than not.
Today, it lost them a game. It lost them a game in a big way.
While the Chiefs defense has been the biggest bright spot on this young team who — at Week 12 — has now lost as many games as it won last year, the offense has been the “red headed step child.” Everyone has been down on the offense. After all, running back Jamaal Charles has accounted for 37 percent of the Chiefs total production and when one person owns over two thirds of the offense, that’s not good.
Most of all though, the highest criticism has come against Alex Smith.
Smith, who came to the Chiefs in the off season via a trade with the San Francisco 49ers, was never believed to be Mr. Right. H was more of Mr. Right Now. However, there were reasons to be excited about Smith. Last season, prior to being replaced by Colin Kaepernick after a week 10 concussion, Smith had the highest completion percentage in the NFL at a tad over 70 percent. Though he would never wow the crowds with his “big arm” or huge stats, Smith promised to be a solid QB for the Chiefs. At the very least he would be a damn sight better than Matt Cassell or Brady Quinn, who led the Chiefs under center last season.
However, Smith has failed to shine. Yes, he’s had some decent games. He started well against the Jacksonville Jaguars and played well against the New York Giants. But, he hasn’t shown the accuracy he had last season. As the season has progressed, it would seem the Chiefs search for a quarterback would have to continue.
However, to say the Chiefs offensive woes were entirely Smith’s fault would not only be unfair, it would be inaccurate and just plain silly.
One would only have to watch the tape of the Chiefs first loss of the season last week to the Broncos on Sunday Night Football to see that the receivers are just as much to blame for the Chiefs less-than-inspiring offensive production.
However, this week Smith did what he should have been doing all season. He put this team on his back and did everything he could to win.
That’s the second thing we learned about this team today.
Alex Smith can and will play quarterback as good as anybody. Smith completed 26 of his 38 passes for 294 yards and three touchdowns. He led scoring drives every single time he needed to.
The biggest complaint against Smith this season is he won’t — or can’t — throw the deep ball. Today, Smith hit on ten plays for over 15 yards including a scoring strike of 32 yards. Smith can air out the ball when he needs to. Perhaps the biggest knock against Smith the last couple of games is the fact that he holds onto the ball entirely too long. Often, the result of this is a sack, which happened three times on the day. Unfortunately, in the Reid offense, there’s not a lot of separation from the defensive backs and if receivers don’t immediately get open, chances are, they won’t.
The question has been asked time and time again this season, if the Chiefs are down late in the game, can Alex Smith carry them to a victory? Can Alex Smith win in a shootout? What happens if the defense has a bad day? Can Smith and the Chiefs offense do what needs to be done?
The answer, it would seem, would be no. Without absolutely no help from the defense, Smith wasn’t able to secure the victory. Though he did everything he could. He even did what he normally doesn’t do, trying to get the win. He made a mistake with the football and threw an interception. Detractors could blame this loss on him. After all, that interception led to a Chargers touchdown. Still, with the Chiefs defense that has been around all season, that shouldn’t have been a problem for them. They should have created a turn over of their own at some point. They didn’t.
Smith did everything he could in this game and it still wasn’t quite enough.
Is that okay, though?
The Chiefs were the worst team in the league last year. They’re not even supposed to be here right now. This shouldn’t even be an issue. They should be 6-5, at best.
Yet, here they are, 9-2 with all the expectations that go along with being in that position.
Is the season over? Not hardly. Right now, the race in the AFC playoff picture is to 11 wins. The first team there will secure a playoff spot. The Chiefs are two games from that point.
Yes Denver is coming into Arrowhead next week to play this injured Chiefs team only two weeks removed from handing them their first loss, which then led to their second loss. But it’s the NFL…
The Chargers beat this Chiefs this weekend, but the Miami Dolphins beat the Carolina Panthers, the St. Louis Rams beat the Chicago Bears and while I type this, the Arizona Cardinals are pounding the Indianapolis Colts (the only team to beat the Broncos mind you) up and down the field.
The bottom line is, until it’s over, it’s not over. The Chiefs have had a rough couple of weeks, but these losses will define how this team performs moving forward.
We learned a lot about this Chiefs team today in the loss to the Chargers.
But I think we’ll learn the most about them in the weeks ahead, leading up to the playoffs. Because if the offense that showed up today pairs with the defense we saw at the beginning of the season, this team will truly be unbeatable.