For the first time in weeks, the Chiefs opened a game hot.
On their first two drives against the New York Jets on Sunday, quarterback Alex Smith was dealing, tight end Travis Kelce was roaming free and all was well in Chiefs Kingdom as the Chiefs jumped out to a 14-point lead against a sub-.500 team.
Would it last? Of course not.
For the sixth time in seven games, the deteriorating Chiefs were unable to pair a strong offensive performance with a stout defensive effort. And the Jets’ 23rd-ranked offense proceeded to carve up the Chiefs’ defense and propel New York to a 38-31 victory at MetLife Stadium.
“It’s certainly not where we thought we’d be after a 5-0 start, but that’s the NFL,” said Smith, whose Chiefs now sit 6-6. “Every team can get you in this league on any day .... we’ve had some games were I think both sides, offense and defense, really felt like they weren’t holding up their end for each other.”
Indeed. Because while the Chiefs’ offense finally broke out of its three-game stretch of ineffectiveness — more on that later — the defense, which played well enough to win in recent losses to the Giants (12-9) and Bills (16-10), picked a grand time to slump back to its old ways. The Chiefs failed to rush the passer enough (five quarterback hits but zero sacks) or get off the field on third down. The Jets went 13 for 20 in such situations and controlled the ball for nearly 43 minutes, compared to just 17 for the Chiefs.
“We’ve got to do a better job getting off the field when given the opportunity,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We had a lot of third-and-long situations that we couldn’t get off the field. Time of possession, that was a factor in today’s game.”
The defense’s inability to contain journeyman quarterback Josh McCown (26 of 36, 331 yards and a touchdown) and receivers Jermaine Kearse (nine catches, 167 yards) and Robby Anderson (eight catches, 107 yards) opened up a middling running game that rushed for 159 yards on 47 carries –– an average of just 3.4 yards per carry –– but provided enough balance to be dangerous as the Jets improved to 5-7.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs lost another game in a season that is rapidly falling off a cliff, though it should be noted that for the first time in weeks, the offense, and particularly the quarterback, did enough to win.
In the Chiefs’ previous three games, all losses, Alex Smith’s passer rating (79.4) was on par with such struggling quarterbacks as the Giants’ Eli Manning and Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles.
In an attempt to shake things up before the game, Reid ceded some of the playcalling duties to offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, and Smith, who finished 19 of 33 for 366 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions, was killing it early. His first pass was a completion to receiver Demarcus Robinson for 10 yards, his second was a completion to Kelce for 32 yards, and after another completion to receiver Tyreek Hill for 11 yards, Smith connected with Kelce again for a 22-yard touchdown throw.
The drive took just two minutes, 38 seconds.
“I saw some good things there,” Reid said of Smith. “We had some explosive plays, which I thought were important. We were lacking those.”
And the Chiefs would score even faster on their next possession, when Smith found a wide-open Kelce in the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown that took just six seconds. Both those touchdown throws came against the type of zone coverages that had vexed the Chiefs in previous weeks.
“We got some good looks with him matched up on some guys that we felt good about,” Smith said of Kelce. “I’m going to be honest, there aren’t that many matchups that aren’t favorable. He just has that type of ability.”
At that point, the Chiefs led 14-0 only five minutes into the game, but the Jets would respond as they began to attack the Chiefs’ toothless defense. Running back Bilal Powell capped a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive with a 1-yard plunge on their next drive, and McCown finished an eight-play, 68-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak to tie the game at 14-14 before the end of the first quarter.
Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker redeemed a missed 38-yard field goal off the right upright — his first miss in 24 tries, and only his second of the season — but redeemed himself with a 36-yarder midway through the quarter.
Still, the Jets took a 21-17 lead into halftime when McCown completed another scoring drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to running back Matt Forte, and extended their lead to 24-17 with a field goal right after halftime.
That’s when Smith finally started making teams pay up top for not helping on receiver Tyreek Hill. On the first play of their next drive, Smith aired out a deep throw to Hill, who ran under it for a 79-yard touchdown that tied the game.
The Jets added a pair of field goals and the Chiefs found themselves in a 30-24 hole early in the fourth. But Smith promptly went back to Hill, who had a few steps on a corner on a post route and hauled in a 40-yard score to put the Chiefs ahead 31-30.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, that gave the Jets the ball back on a day in which they were essentially unstoppable due to the Chiefs’ proclivity for miscues.
McCown promptly converted two third downs. The Chiefs managed to hold firm at third-and-goal at their own 7, only for a personal foul penalty to be assessed on defensive tackle Bennie Logan for hitting a defenseless player — the snapper. That nullified the go-ahead field goal and gave the Jets a new set of downs in front of the goal line.
“I honestly can't tell you what happened because I did the same thing the field goal before, and it was nothing,” Logan explained. “I did it this time, and running into the snapper, that’s what they called. I couldn't tell you (why).”
The Chiefs kept battling, and even seemed to get off the field on third-and-goal from the 4 when Frank Zombo forced an incompletion by hitting McCown. But that was waived off on a holding penalty against cornerback Steven Nelson, who mugged tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the end zone to give the Jets yet another fresh set of down at the Chiefs’ 2 with 2:33 left.
From there, the Chiefs opted to use the rest of their timeouts in an effort to save time on the clock. But McCown eventually scored from a yard out to take a 36-31 lead.
The Chiefs forced an incompletion on the two-point conversion, but their commitment to bad football and untimely penalties continued as Nelson was whistled for a hold that nullified the stop and gave the Jets another crack at it. In frustration, cornerback Marcus Peters — dead serious — picked up the flag and threw into the stands.
Peters walked off to the locker room as the Jets succeeded in tacking on the two-point conversion with a short run by Elijah McGuire.
“He was not disqualified –– he thought he was,” Reid said. “I don’t know what was said to him or not said to him, but he thought he was. That’s why he came back out.”
Even after all of that, the Chiefs got the ball back down 38-31 with 2:15 left — still plenty of time to drive down the field and tie the game. And it looked like they might do just that, especially when Smith connected with Hill for a 40-yard gain on third-and-10 from their own 37.
But three plays later, the Chiefs found themselves in a fourth-and-6 at the Jets’ 19. Smith’s pass sailed incomplete — there wasn’t a receiver in the immediate vicinity — ending the comeback bid and cementing yet another loss.
“The offense did some good things,” Reid said. “But again, when you have the ball in your hands at the end of the game, you’ve got to score.”