If you scanned the Kansas City Chiefs' visitors locker room before Saturday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts, you’d probably find a slew of half-finished sandwiches, half-baked plays in Andy Reid’s playbook, half-cooked chicken pink on the insides and return tickets back to Kansas City International Airport scheduled for a halftime departure.
The Kansas City Chiefs are one of the most emo teams in league history. They’re a living breathing testament to the axiom about the finish having more weight than the start. When Kansas City was 9-0, the defense was touted as its strong suit. Alex Smith was the punching bag for millions of football fans who abhorred his conservative decision-making and affinity for check down throws.
The NFL’s easiest schedule over the first half of the season allowed KC to rebound from a perilous two-win season. Over the second half of the season, KFC became a more appropriate moniker for the Chiefs as they were cooked in the second half of the season while crawling to a 2-5 finish down the stretch.
On Saturday, Andrew Luck pushed Kansas City to the brink and the Leaning Tower of KC toppled over.
It’s now been 20 years since the Chiefs have won a playoff game and this heartbreaking loss marked the third time they’ve lost to Indianapolis throughout that eight-game playoff losing streak. The last time they celebrated in the postseason, Joe Montana, the Comeback Kid was atrophying in old age. Yet, he found enough usefulness left in those creaky old joints to lead Kansas City to the 1994 AFC Championship.
If he hadn’t been concussed early in their loss to the Bills, a Super Bowl could have further upgraded his and Marty Schottenheimer’s legacies.
Ultimately, injuries piled up against the Colts. Alex Smith’s four touchdown passes in the first 34 minutes had Kansas City on Cloud 9 holstering a 38-10 lead. It was a pair of second half incompletions by Smith that ultimately allowed the bottom to fall out of their prodigious lead. In the second half of their 44-45 loss, the Chiefs were outscored 35-7. Of the eight postseason losses since 1994, this one had to be the most torturous.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Smith overthrew running back Cyrus Gray streaking along the sidelines towards the end zone on a route that he had never practiced with Gray before. Perhaps Jamaal Charles could have caught up with it, and Gray was off on the timing. Unfortunately, Charles was in the locker room after being diagnosed with a concussion, the Chiefs stiffened up in the second half as their Bizarro-Alex Smith shriveled up down the stretch.
“The tough part is all week with so many reps and obviously with Jamaal getting all of those, it’s just something we have never repped with Cyrus, but still got to hit it though. You don’t get many opportunities like that,” a crestfallen Smith said after the game.
With Charles out, running out the clock with the ground game was not a viable option.
On the final play, a fourth and 11, Smith led Dwayne Bowe too far out of bounds on a fly route along the sidelines that would have put them in prime position for a game-winning field goal.
It wasn’t all on Smith though. Kansas City’s iron defense turned softer than putty after playing like the league’s best in the first half of the season. On November 23, the Chiefs were second in points allowed and the only team since the 1977 Atlanta Falcons to hold every single opponent in their first nine games below 17 points. On Saturday, they dubiously squandered the second-largest lead in NFL playoff history.
The Chiefs corralled 35 sacks in their first nine games, then compiled just thirteen sacks in the final seven, six of which came in a bloodbath against Washington.
Everyone remembers Joe Montana’s role in the Chiefs final playoff victory in an entire generation. However, Derrick Thomas’ preternatural pass rushing instincts pressured opposing quarterbacks into making bad decisions.
Outside linebacker Justin Houston was the missile launching himself into opposing backfields for the Chiefs. However, after securing 11 sacks in 11 games, Houston missed the final five games of the season. His absence has been credited for the decline of the Chiefs defense. That’s revisionist history. The defense collapsed long before Houston went down.
Instead the script flipped as Smith and Charles were being counted on to win games while the defense took went from averaging 12 points a game during the first nine weeks to 27 per thereafter.
On Saturday, it was Smith left all alone to get the job done. Smith’s made a litany of clutch throws in his career, but there’s only so much a quarterback can do when his defense packs it in after the first half.