VAHE GREGORIAN

Defense lets Chiefs down at the worst possible time

Updated: 2014-01-06T04:53:41Z

By VAHE GREGORIAN

The Kansas City Star

— In the aftermath of the monumental cave-in Saturday by the Chiefs that amazingly will eclipse the worst of what had already been a legendary near-generation of playoff futility, there was no way around this misery.

But for that matter, no one in the numb and glum Chiefs locker room in Lucas Oil Stadium seemed to really be seeking any escape or charity or even the mercy of looking at the bigger picture.

The blunt reality of the moment loomed too large as it was all setting in: The Chiefs really had led by 28 points in their AFC first-round playoff game at Indianapolis, a lead that had seemed virtually untouchable, then gradually let it erode and trickle away in an unfathomable 45-44 loss.

“When you get these opportunities, you don’t know how often they come, when your next one’s going to be, if at all,” said quarterback Alex Smith, who had the best game of his NFL career … for naught.

Clearly still processing the shock, coach Andy Reid suggested he hadn’t quite known what to tell his team afterward … but maybe didn’t have to find the words.

“Sometimes the game speaks for itself,” he said, “so you don’t have to say a whole lot.”

As for his own explanation of what happened, Reid said it succinctly and well amid other thoughts.

“There’s a point,” he said, “where you have to stop the bleeding.”

He apparently didn’t mean that literally, although he could have on a day that three Chiefs starters were knocked out of the game because of concussions and other injuries that left players strewn over the field all day.

That included star running back Jamaal Charles, who was conked out of the game on the Chiefs’ first series, and later receiver Donnie Avery, who left because of a concussion after he had a 79-yard touchdown reception, and later yet Charles’ replacement, Knile Davis, lost because of a knee injury.

But the tattered fife and drum corps on offense hardly was the issue, considering the Chiefs amassed 44 points with Smith throwing for a career-best 378 yards and four touchdown passes, both Chiefs single-game playoff records.

He also ran for 57 yards in eight carries during a game that made a sort of cruel irony of some prevailing early-season perceptions that Smith was a mere caretaker who didn’t have the arm or stuff to win playoff games for the Chiefs.

Yes, Smith had a few plays he’ll have to compartmentalize later, particularly his overthrow to a wide-open Cyrus Gray for what would have been a pivotal touchdown.

But further tilting the early-season read on this team, this loss ultimately was on a defense that through the first nine games of the season generally made mayhem and was looked at as the key cog to any hopes the Chiefs had of making a dent in the postseason.

Remember how no team scored more than 17 points on the Chiefs in that span?

Well, that asset eventually became a liability that saved its worst for last as the Chiefs gave up a season-high 45 points when it mattered most.

Not including a 45-10 win over a Washington team that wanted to hide instead of play, the Chiefs never held another team to as few as 17 points and, in fact, gave up an average of more than 32 points each time out since Nov. 3.

A few things had to disintegrate to make that happen, but nothing was more apparent than the impact of a diminished pass rush that had been on a berserk sack pace with 35 in the first seven games.

Somewhere along the line, people figured out to get rid of the ball quicker. And Justin Houston was hurt for five games. And a secondary that had seemed fine when quarterbacks were on their heels became suspect at best, as Andrew Luck’s 443 passing yards illuminated again on Saturday.

There’s no one fix for that, just like there’s no one way to explain the freakish affair on Saturday.

Maybe it would have gone differently had the Chiefs opted to go for it on fourth and goal at the Indianapolis 1 in the first half, for instance.

Then again … they still had a 38-10 lead and chances to add to it.

But this much is undeniable.

“Had the game won, big-time,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said, adding, “Defensively, we just dropped the ball. Dropped the ball completely.”

Johnson said players were imploring others all along to play to the end, to play four quarters and to not let up.

“Guess we let up,” he said softly.

And terrific turnaround season notwithstanding, let down Chiefs fans in an entirely new way.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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