The key plays, stats and grades from the Chiefs’ 19-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Player of the game: It’s hard for kickers to get into this space, but there aren’t many great candidates this week, and former Chief Ryan Succop’s game-winning 53-yard field goal in 1-degree weather was clutch.
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Reason to hope: The Chiefs continued their knack for forcing turnovers; they lost Sunday despite finishing plus-2 in the takeaway department. They also have a chance of winning the division and earning a first-round bye, despite the loss.
Reason to mope: The offense couldn’t run the ball when it needed to — something that was a stated priority for the Chiefs going forward — and the unit, in general, failed to be productive in the second half once again. This marked the third straight game the Chiefs’ offense failed to record a second-half touchdown.
Looking ahead: The Chiefs, 10-4, will play host to the archrival Denver Broncos in a prime-time showdown on Christmas night. The Broncos are 8-6 after losing 16-3 to the New England Patriots on Sunday. They fell to the Chiefs in overtime 30-27 when they last met, on Nov. 27.
Rushing offense: The Titans entered with the league’s third-best rushing defense (86.6 yards per game), and the Chiefs still rushed for a very-solid 158 yards. Tyreek Hill broke off a 68-yard touchdown run on a well-designed, well-executed handoff, but he never got another touch. Quarterback Alex Smith also scored on a 10-yard scramble, and Spencer Ware rushed 18 times for 70 yards (a 3.9-yard average) against a very good run defense. But the Chiefs were also stuffed on two consecutive running plays from the Titans’ 1, leading to a turnover on downs, and it must be said that an NFL offensive line should be able to get a single yard in two attempts just shy of the goal line. The Chiefs were also stuffed later on third and 2 when they needed a first down to ice the game. Those two moments outweigh a very good statistical game that would have been worth an “A” with a different outcome.
Passing offense: Smith seemed to rekindle his connection with Jeremy Maclin, with the two hooking up six times for 82 yards. Smith, however, did not have a good statistical day against a team that entered with the league’s 31st-ranked pass defense (274.9 yards per game). He completed only 15 of 28 passes for 163 yards, and he also had a brutal red-zone interception intended for Maclin midway through the third quarter. Star tight end Travis Kelce only had three catches for 41 yards, while Hill was targeted three times but didn’t have a catch. The pass protection was okay; Smith was only sacked once. The weather made it tough to throw, but this was a poor performance overall.
Rushing defense: The Chiefs struggled mightily in this area without star inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, who is out for the season because of a torn Achilles tendon. The Titans came out attacking his replacement, D.J. Alexander, early and often. But the Chiefs’ struggles were a team effort as the ground-oriented Titans — who entered as the league’s third-best rushing team (144.5 yards per game) — seemed to consistently find yards, even when the Chiefs had more men in the box. The Titans gained 148 yards in 29 carries for a too-high 5.1 average as the Chiefs struggled with their gap integrity. But at the end of the game, the Titans moved the ball through the air, not the ground, sparing this group an “F.”
Passing defense: The Chiefs forced three turnovers on passing plays, recovering two fumbles and getting a one-handed interception from Ron Parker in the third quarter. That should have been enough to win, and might have been worth an “A” with a different outcome. But while quarterback Marcus Mariota’s stat line wasn’t terribly impressive — he completed 19 of 33 passes for 241 yards while committing two turnovers — he did surpass the Titans’ per-game average (227.1, 25th in the NFL), and he also accounted for 122 of the Titans’ 128 yards on their final two drives to key the comeback victory. That keeps a pass defense that has been saving the Chiefs’ tails all year from earning anything more than a “C” on Sunday.
Special teams: Hill muffed his first punt but recovered, and nothing else really happened in the return game for either squad. Kicker Cairo Santos connected on a 34-yard field goal late in the first half, but it was a quiet day overall from special-teams coach Dave Toub’s units against a team that is below average on kick- and punt coverage.
Coaching: There were some creative offensive play calls mixed in Sunday, but Hill and Kelce only received one combined touch after halftime, and the Chiefs’ offense again flailed in the second half of a close game. The defensive play calling was fine most of the day, though the unit collapsed late after carrying the weight all game. Some of Andy Reid’s game-management decisions also didn’t work. The thwarted fourth-and-goal stands out, but the decisions to ice kicker Ryan Succop and not challenge De’Anthony Thomas’ possible touchdown (in hopes of the spot being overruled) backfired. Coaches are judged on results, and that — plus Reid’s well-established penchant for accepting full blame for losses — contributes to this grade. This is not an embarrassing loss like, say, the Steelers’ destruction two months ago; Tennessee is a physical team that played in elements that suit their style of play and could very well be headed to the playoffs. But it did shine an ongoing spotlight on some trouble spots for the Chiefs as they ponder their potential playoff path.