The Chiefs’ current reality would be unthinkable if it did not fit so neatly into what the franchise has been about for nearly 50 years. Letdown after letdown after momentary promise leads to letdown.
The premise would be laughable if it were not so agonizing. The best team in the NFL to a reliable and freefalling loser, all tightly wrapped into the same season.
The failures would be simpler to address and trust would be easier to grant if a team five years in the making with a coach in his 19th season did not provide such a diverse and at times darkly comedic collective of ineptitude. Offense one week, defense the next, with stupid penalties and stupider mistakes.
This group should be better, in theory, but instead the 2017 Chiefs are among the NFL’s greatest disappointments because the men who swear they’re better than this repeatedly make liars of themselves and fools of anyone who believes.
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This team once talked about winning the Super Bowl, and people once heard that without laughing, but a 38-31 loss to the Jets here on Sunday sticks out from past failures only for its creativity.
Good teams find ways to win, bad teams find ways to lose, and so far this group has alternatively lost because it couldn’t stop the run (Steelers), couldn’t stop the pass (Raiders), couldn’t do much of anything except a potato-sack dance (Cowboys), couldn’t score against a team that had quit (Giants), couldn’t score against a team that gave up 101 points the two weeks before (Bills), and couldn’t keep Josh McCown from looking like John Elway and Jermaine Kearse from looking like Jerry Rice (Jets).
Ugh. It’s even worse when packed into one paragraph.
“Hats off to the Jets, but they got a little help from the refs at the end,” tight end Travis Kelce said.
Well, great, add that to the list of new. Complaining about the refs is the ballad of the loser, and by this point, it’s only appropriate for the Chiefs to start singing that friendly old tune.
This team is a mess, but we knew that after the Giants loss. This team is in freefall, but we knew that after the Bills loss.
So losing to a truly bad team — like the Chiefs, the Jets had lost five of six — is more confirmation than news, but the details are particularly gruesome.
Alex Smith played well, finally, with 366 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 70 yard touchdown run. He biffed the last drive, so hang on to that if you’re committed to Smith being the only problem, but if you watched this fiasco and insist on blaming him or the offense you are both lying to yourself and minimizing the team’s issues.
Because this isn’t getting fixed with a new quarterback, isn’t getting fixed with a new play caller, isn’t getting fixed with Darrelle Revis, isn’t getting fixed with any singular solution.
Andy Reid has worked five years to build this team, finally with the speed and versatility and experience to best complement his scheme, and a confident defense with talent at every level, and the result at the moment is closer to the dysfunction he inherited than the Super Bowl champion he envisioned.
The Jets had nine possessions and scored on seven, remarkable efficiency for a group that entered with points on just 31.4 percent of its possessions — 23rd in the league. They could not do it by themselves, though, so if they’re honest in their self-scout of this game they’ll thank the Chiefs for being weak at the point of attack, missing basic tackles and making infuriatingly timed penalties.
Those penalties. The single most costly was Bennie Logan getting called for unnecessary roughness on a field goal with just under 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter. The kick would’ve given the Jets a 33-31 lead, but the Chiefs would’ve had ample time (with two timeouts) to set up a winning field goal with an offense that was rolling.
The call was strange, too. Reid asked for an explanation, and was told Logan struck the snapper in the head.
“I honestly can’t tell you what happened because I did the same thing the field goal before, and it was nothing,” Logan said. “I did it this time, and, ‘Running into the snapper.’ That’s what they called. I couldn’t tell you.”
Maybe it was the right call, maybe not. But even if it was wrong, the Chiefs’ defense had a third and 4 with 2:39 left (holding on Steven Nelson) and a third and 1 with 2:20 left (McCown touchdown).
Another penalty on Nelson on the two-point conversion, as well as a blank-brained penalty on Marcus Peters for throwing the flag into the stands, just made it all worse. Peters and Nelson did not talk to reporters.
“It’s about us staying together,” defensive lineman Chris Jones said. “We have to push each other, we have to get better. We have to stay together.”
They have stuck together, at least so far, but on the field that’s been easiest to see as a collective effort to find new ways to lose.
This team was once 5-0, the consensus best team in the NFL, and it’s now 6-6 without an apparent clue. During their descent they have lost twice while allowing 16 points or fewer, and twice while scoring 30 points or more.
There was a general belief that if it didn’t work out this season, the Chiefs had a good enough roster to give Patrick Mahomes a chance next year and use their extra cap space for minor improvements. It is becoming more and more obvious that this group has major holes all over the roster and with scheme on both sides of the ball, the nightmare scenario where the Chiefs stink and don’t even get a higher first-round pick for their trouble becoming more and more likely.
One of the stated priorities of this team is now to avoid a mutiny, a divided locker room, which is sort of like looking for a meal that won’t make you sick. But toward that goal, maybe it helps that everyone has had a hand in this. The defense can’t blame the offense, and the offense can’t blame the defense.
If that’s among the most hopeful things you can say about a team, maybe it’s time to stop saying anything about that team.