There was a time, not all that long ago, when the Chiefs had the most dynamic offense in football.
Kareem Hunt, the rookie running back who could not be tackled, was a budding superstar. Alex Smith, the quarterback who refused to go down without a fight, was an MVP candidate. Andy Reid, the West Coast guru, had incorporated more new tricks into his old playbook to form one of the most inventive offenses in football.
That was only six weeks ago, when the Chiefs were 5-0 and the toast of the NFL. At the time, few could have seen that the old joke about the NFL standing for “not for long” would also come to apply to the Chiefs’ offense.
That much certainly became clear Sunday, when the Chiefs’ offense again came out flat in a 16-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills in front of an announced crowd of 74,929 at Arrowhead Stadium.
With the defeat, the Chiefs fell to 6-5. It was their fifth loss in six games. And once again, much of the blame could be put on an offense that failed to establish the ground game — the Chiefs finished with 55 rushing yards in 19 attempts, an anemic 2.9 yards per carry — or punish teams through the air. Smith completed just 23 of 36 passes for 199 yards, one touchdown and a crucial, back-breaking interception against the zone coverages that have plagued them consistently of late.
“Certainly frustrated, for sure,” Smith said. “A little shock there, no doubt. Felt like we were going to bounce back, come back and get back into rhythm on offense. From the get go, we didn’t do that.”
Indeed. For as badly as things ended for the Chiefs — more on that later — things started out just as poorly for Reid’s offense, which went three-and-out on its first drive. Let’s just say it would not be the last time that happened.
“We expect better of ourselves,” said Reid. He acknowledged everyone on the team needs to do better, and said it’s his responsibility to make sure they do so.
The Bills, meanwhile, needed four possessions to get on the board. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor guided a nine-play, 58-yard scoring drive that was capped by an 11-yard touchdown throw — which Taylor made on the run, while scrambling to his left — to receiver Zay Jones in the corner of the end zone. That staked the Bills to a 7-0 lead shortly before the end of the first quarter.
“I thought Tyrod used his feet at times, and then we had some critical third-down conversions on some drives,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said of Taylor, who completed 19 of 29 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown.
The Chiefs responded with another miserable drive — one more three-and-out — and the Bills added a 34-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka to push their lead to 10-0 early in the second quarter.
The Chiefs were spared a further deficit when Hauschka pushed his next field goal, a 52-yard attempt, wide right. They seemed to gain some momentum from the miss, as they promptly picked up their first first down of the game — dead serious — via a 28-yard catch by Demetrius Harris. But the drive quickly stalled, and kicker Harrison Butker kicked a 45-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 10-3 shortly after the two-minute warning.
Taylor, however, wasn’t done yet. He promptly guided the Bills 38 yards in a minute and 40 seconds to set up a 56-yard field goal by Hauschka that gave Buffalo a 13-3 halftime lead.
By that point, the stats told the story. The Chiefs had been outgained 199 yards to 57, and they’d also failed to convert a single third down in six attempts. They’d punted five times and gained only one first down.
“Situational football was big,” McDermott said.
What’s more, the Chiefs’ premier offensive weapons were being held in check, as running Kareem Hunt, tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Tyreek Hill were on the way to middling performances. While Hunt finished with 17 yards on 11 carries against a defense that had yielded an average of 213 rushing yards in its previous three games, the Bills also managed to keep Kelce (39 yards on three catches) and Hill (41 on seven) in check.
“We definitely concentrated on them,” Bills linebacker Matt Milano said of Kelce and Hill. “We game-planned them during the week.”
A role player ended the offensive drought in the third quarter. The Chiefs got the ball to open the half and marched 85 yards in nine plays. The scoring play was a 19-yard touchdown throw from Smith to receiver Albert Wilson, who caught a short pass along the left side of the field and dodged between defenders for a touchdown that cut the deficit to three.
It was the Chiefs’ first offensive touchdown in eight quarters, and one might think the team would find a way to take some momentum from that. But the Bills, as they did all day, responded. A 33-yard pass from Taylor to tight end Charles Clay set up Hauschka’s third field goal of the game, a 49-yarder that made the score 16-10 midway through the third quarter.
From there, the defenses took control. On their next four drives, the Chiefs scraped out a mere 59 yards, while the Bills –– who rushed for 104 yards but a meager 2.8 yards-per-carry average –– gained 37 on their next four.
The Chiefs’ offense got one last chance at redemption when the defense forced a Bills punt that gave them the ball at their own 14 with 2:28 left. Hope started to rise when Smith guided the Chiefs to the Bills’ 36 via an 8-yard scramble, four completions and a 15-yard unnecessary-roughness penalty on Bills cornerback and Fort Osage High grad E.J. Gaines.
“Great opportunity to win the game,” Smith said.
But in an end befitting another abominable offensive performance, Smith’s third-and-8 pass to receiver Tyreek Hill in Buffalo territory was intercepted by Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White, who returned it 66 yards to the Chiefs’ 10 with a little over a minute left.
“Miscommunication on that last throw between me and Tyreek,” Smith said.
The Chiefs, who had no timeouts left, were done, and the fans knew it. The boos rained down from a home crowd weary of another dismal showing after such a promising start to the season.
The only bright spot is that the Chiefs entered the game with a 1 1/2 -game lead over the Chargers in the AFC West and still hold a full-game advantage despite the loss. But one has to wonder how long that will last, given the Chiefs’ performance of late on offense, Sunday’s included.
“We need to get one win,” inside linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “However we can get it, we need to get it because it doesn’t look good right now.”