When things go south in the NFL, they really go south.
The reeling Chiefs are discovering this the hard way, as they experienced a little bit of everything — a key fumble, too many penalties, late heartbreak and a pair of key injuries — in a 16-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday before a crowd of 52,480 at TCF Bank Stadium.
“The turnovers, the mistakes, the penalties ... I’ve been a part of it before,” outside linebacker Tamba Hali said. “When you’re called for (penalties), when you give the ball to them, it’s hard to win.”
The Chiefs, who lost their fifth game in a row, also dropped to 1-5 — a stunning development during a season that began with high hopes, as two key veterans — Hali and defensive end Mike DeVito — took pay cuts to remain with the team in hopes of winning a Super Bowl.
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But now, the Chiefs are on pace to finish with three wins.
“When I’ve been through a team that was 1-5 or a team that wasn’t in the winning column in the middle of the season, that team was supposed to be like that, kind of,” said inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, who has been on four Chiefs teams with Hali that won four games or less. “But this team is different, it’s a different 1-5. Don’t get me wrong. You are what your record says you are.
“(But) this is one of the best rosters I’ve (been a part of). And that’s the crazy thing about the NFL ... we’re scratching our heads like everybody else now.”
Early on, there were indications that this game — unlike their previous four — might just be different, as the Vikings drove to the Chiefs’ 9-yard line on their first possession until Chiefs defensive end Allen Bailey took over.
Bailey racked up a tackle for loss, a sack and a pressure on three straight plays, with the latter culminating in an interception by safety Ron Parker that ended the threat, at least briefly.
After the Chiefs’ offense went three-and-out, the Vikings mounted another threat, again driving to the Chiefs’ 6-yard line. But the defense again stood tall, and forced the Vikings to kick a 24-yard field goal.
That gave the Vikings a 3-0 lead, but for a Chiefs team that entered the game allowing 37 first-quarter points this year (the second-most in the NFL) ,it was an encouraging development. Problem was, the offense couldn’t get anything going, as the Jamaal Charles-less unit only managed two first downs on its first three possessions.
The score remained 3-0 heading into the second quarter, which brought more of the same misery for the Chiefs’ offense, which mustered only 51 total yards by the break.
The Vikings, on the other hand, racked up 193 yards by halftime, but many of them (171) came through the air, as the Chiefs did a good job limiting Adrian Peterson, who finished the game with only 60 yards in 26 carries.
Still, the Vikings were able to mount a scoring drive with a little help from the Chiefs. Five plays after a third-down roughing-the-passer penalty on cornerback Steven Nelson kept the drive going — one of eight penalties for 95 yards the Chiefs were whistled for Sunday — quarterback Teddy Bridgewater found tight end Kyle Rudolph over the middle for a 4-yard touchdown. That gave the Vikings a 10-0 lead going into halftime, and the Vikings extended the lead to 13 with another Walsh field goal to start the third.
But something funny started happening — the Chiefs’ dormant offense started moving the football. In the third quarter alone, Alex Smith completed 9 of 12 passes for 120 yards, and though they blew a scoring chance at the Vikings’ 7-yard line when running back Charcandrick West was stuffed on fourth-and-1, there was a sense they finally had some life.
“I felt like we were in a ton of rhythm there in the second half,” Smith said. “I felt we were moving the ball, we were executing, so I was confident at that point.”
Some of those good vibes was stunted by injuries to starters Jeremy Maclin and Mike DeVito, who each left the game with concussions and did not return, but kicker Cairo Santos got the Chiefs on the board with a 48-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, and rookie corner Marcus Peters swung the momentum the Chiefs’ way when he peeled off a vertical route on one receiver, drove a out route to another receiver and beat the man to the spot for the interception.
“To me, we needed a play,” said Peters, who jogged up the sideline and — no joke — handed the ball to Chiefs coach Andy Reid once he was out of bounds. “We needed to get the ball back in his hands so we could go down there and put some points on the board, generate some stuff for us. That’s all that was about.”
And wouldn’t you know it? Reid did that a few plays later as he caught the Vikings in a blitz and dialed up a perfectly-timed screen pass to receiver Albert Wilson, who sprinted 42 yards untouched for a touchdown that cut the deficit to 13-10 with 8:55 left.
The Vikings added a 45-yard field goal in response, but after a series of heartbreaking losses — particularly to Denver and Chicago come to mind — the stage was set still set for the Chiefs to dish out a little heartbreak of their own. The scenario seemed even more plausible when Smith found tight end Travis Kelce for a big 37-yard gain that gave them the ball at the Vikings’ 43 with five minutes left.
But disaster struck on the very next play, as West fumbled — left tackle Donald Stephenson mistakenly punched the ball out of his hands on a running back — and the Vikings recovered.
“Yeah, I saw that Donald Stephenson hit it out,” Reid said. “He was trying to make a play and ended up punching it out. The bottom line is you have to hang onto it no matter who it is, particularly at that point in the game.”
The defense held firm, giving the Chiefs the ball back with 2:46 left. But four straight Smith passes fell incomplete, and the Vikings, who got the ball back at the two-minute warning, were able to run out the clock since the Chiefs had already used all their timeouts.
A depressing finish, for another depressing loss in what is quickly becoming a depressing season. But the Chiefs are trying to stay positive.
“I think the bottom line is, we’re going to play next Sunday,” Smith said. “There’s going to be a game. We’re going to be out there, we’re going to put it on the line, and it’s going to be on national TV. We’re going to be playing.
“As bad as it is, you want to sulk, but there’s no time for any of that. You have to go, it keeps going. The ball keeps moving.”