The last time the Chiefs played here at night, they were penalized for celebrating a touchdown that didn’t count. This time, they at least had the sense not to celebrate another score called back on penalty, and now, 39 words into this column, we have run out of positive things to say.
The Chiefs were embarrassed, humiliated and smushed like a bug on a windshield. They were beaten thoroughly on offense, defense and special teams. They were beaten in both gameplan and execution, beaten at the line of scrimmage and beaten at the skill positions, and if the rules of football allowed other ways for a team to be beaten, the Chiefs probably would’ve been beaten at those, too.
The Chiefs flopped around like a beached trout in a 43-14 loss to the Steelers in a nationally televised, standalone event. That means the maximum number of people possible watched a team that claims to be a Super Bowl contender play the franchise’s most inept game of football since 2012.
“It’s going to test our character a little bit,” linebacker Tamba Hali said. “I’ve never been part of this before.”
Hali has been with the Chiefs through enough dark valleys that he’s worn worse blowouts before — 10 times, actually, in part because Scott Pioli used to run the franchise — but maybe he means a tail-whipping with a team he expected to be better than this. And the Chiefs should be better than this. They still can be better than this. There are no excuses.
“You can tell a lot about a team’s character by what you can do after adversity,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “We’re tested. So let’s see if we can handle the challenge.”
This was a failure on every level. Chiefs coach Andy Reid had no Plan B when the screen passes — the same ones his protege Doug Pederson used to whip the Steelers last week — didn’t work. Like, literally. No Plan B. They appeared to run the exact same play five times in the first half, for a total of maybe six yards.
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton again showed little creativity with blitzes, and his defense was disorganized and overwhelmed. Alex Smith threw a terrible interception, both in idea (his intended receiver was on the ground) and execution (the pass hit Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward in the hands, deflecting to linebacker Jarvis Jones and setting up an easy touchdown). On another snap, Smith appeared to be tackled by the slippery grass.
Spencer Ware, who apparently had never lost a fumble in his life before three weeks ago, has now done it three games in a row. A ball clanged off Ross Travis’ hands on fourth down in the end zone. Knile Davis had one kickoff return all the way to the 2-yard line. Not the Steelers’ 2. The Chiefs’ 2. He had the ball as far as the 10 or so at one point, but then ran backward, because it was exactly that kind of night.
They gave up touchdowns on three of the Steelers’ first 12 plays, but they weren’t just bad. They were also sour at times, getting into a silly shoving match after giving up their fifth touchdown of the night.
Look, this was uglier than rat corpse, but by itself does not necessarily mean an anticipated season is doomed.
The Steelers lost by 31 last week, and some smart people still think of them as a Super Bowl contender. The Chiefs benched Peyton Manning in a blowout at Mile High last year, and the Broncos still won the Super Bowl. The 2014 Patriots were blow’d out at Arrowhead Stadium — the night before the wild card game, by the way — and won the Super Bowl.
Sometimes gunfighters get shot.
The problem is the 2016 Chiefs have taken way too many bullets.
We are now a quarter of the way through the season and the Chiefs are too often showing themselves to be unimposing on offense, unreliable on defense, and unworthy of confidence on special teams.
They have won twice: once after falling behind by 21 points at home to a team nobody thinks will make the playoffs, and the other with the help of one of the all-time quarterback meltdowns in league history. Jets coach Todd Bowles used the s-word or one of its derivatives six times in his postgame press conference, and Reid could’ve doubled that total to describe the performance of everyone from the head coach on down.
“This is my responsibility,” Reid said. “We clearly didn’t play well enough, didn’t coach well enough.”
The Chiefs still have good parts, and you can comfort yourself with some flattering advanced metrics, but they are too experienced and Reid has been in charge far too long to look this lost.
The Broncos are undefeated with a defense that looks every bit as good as Ray Lewis’ best groups in Baltimore. The Raiders are dynamic, and have three road wins already. The Chiefs have a terrific comeback against the mediocre Chargers, and a nice little home win against a team that quit at some point in the third quarter.
They also have problems virtually everywhere on the field. This was set up in every conceivable way to be the best season of Smith’s career, but instead he’s played terribly twice already. He’s a quarterback who needs help, and at the moment is not being helped by the offensive line, or the play calling, which is sort of the starters’ kit to go a full 11 quarters with just one offensive touchdown.
The secondary is thin, and D.J. White was brutally exposed on one series. The pass rush still needs work, and at this point, it looks like far more problems than even a healthy Justin Houston can fix.
“They win Super Bowls here,” Hali said. “So for us to take that step, we’ve got to be able to beat teams like this.”
The Chiefs are off next week, and if we can quickly move past the jokes about them being off this week too, maybe the schedule can work in their favor. Reid’s stellar record out of bye weeks (now 15-2) is an annual storyline in Kansas City, but there is more to do now than merely gameplan for the Raiders.
Because the truth is the Chiefs are fortunate to be 2-2. Nothing they thought they could accomplish before this season is impossible — they started 1-5 a year ago, you surely remember — but this season will die before Thanksgiving if the Chiefs don’t make major improvements all over the field.
This doesn’t have to be another letdown, in other words. But it’s the only possible outcome if the Chiefs play their next 12 games the way they’ve played their first four.