The excuses are right there on a platter with butter and an assortment of dipping sauces for the hungry folks looking to devour some assurance.
Short week. On the road. The Raiders were dangerous after losing their first 10 games. The rain muddied the field. The Chiefs were tired and sore after beating the Seahawks last week, or maybe they were distracted and apathetic with the Broncos coming to Arrowhead Stadium next. Maybe they fell in the end because they spent so much energy coming back.
That all sounds so much better than the truth: the Chiefs weren’t as prepared, explosive or plainly good as the sorry Raiders, and deserved their 24-20 loss in a cold rain and in front of a lot of empty seats at O.co Coliseum on Thursday night.
Good on the Chiefs for admitting that, too.
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“They played better football,” linebacker Tamba Hali said of the Raiders. “You have to give credit to that team. They wanted to win this game, and they found a way to do it.”
Football people like to say that you get what you deserve in this league, and the Chiefs just became the first win of a pathetic season for their division rivals. That unexplainable fact of not giving up a rushing touchdown all year is buried, and hard, Latavius Murray scoring on two runs in the first half.
They fought back hard, which is what a team with playoff expectations should do, but lost in the last 2 minutes on a penalty and then blown coverage by defensive back Ron Parker, who is showing a remarkable knack for being in on seemingly every big play for the Chiefs’ defense — good and bad.
A lot of the focus will probably be on Parker — a better safety than cornerback, unless he’s covering Sammy Watkins — but this is about much more than one player. The Chiefs have won seven games this season as a team, and they just lost to the league’s worst franchise as a team.
And a lot of the focus will be on the excuses, even as the Chiefs players — to their credit — didn’t attempt to pretend that the short week or muddy field had anything to do with this loss.
“No,” tight end Travis Kelce said. “Nothing at all.”
One of the best parts of this surprising Chiefs season has been the trajectory, a steady and encouraging rise from a limp blowout loss in the season opener to a muscly win over the reigning Super Bowl champs last week.
The whole thing has built momentum, a little at a time each week, from at least one misguided soul writing off their playoff chances after an 0-2 start to a game for (temporary) sole possession of first place in the AFC West.
That’s all gone now, because as awful as the Titans loss seemed at the time and as perplexing as it now looks in hindsight, getting whipped on a prime-time national broadcast by a rival that had gone more than a year without a win is the worst.
Now, none of us are as bad as our worst moments, and the 2014 Chiefs are not the exception. Just like the Titans game didn’t define the Chiefs’ next nine games, this debacle doesn’t have to define the last five (plus playoffs). The Chiefs will still play the Broncos on “Sunday Night Football” on Nov. 30, and a win would tie them in the standings (though the Broncos currently hold the tiebreaker based on division records).
Strange games happen in the NFL. Last week, the Jets beat the Steelers. The Raiders were unlikely to go 0-16.
But none of that excuses what the Chiefs put on film here. You can lose, but still appear engaged. You can lose, but still show yourselves to be well-prepared. You can lose, but still play with energy.
The Chiefs did precious little of any of that. The offensive line was consistently pushed back, and the defensive line rarely pushed forward. The Chiefs’ defense is built on pressuring the quarterback, and even against what’s a bad offensive line by reputation — though Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is difficult to sack — struggled to generate any real pass rush.
Wasn’t just the guys up front, either. Sean Smith got sucked inside and the lost the ball carrier on Murray’s first touchdown, and the whole defense whiffed on the second.
There had been a lot of talk about the Chiefs not giving up a rushing touchdown all season, and the Raiders having a historically inept running game, but, well, it’s probably best to pretend none of that really happened after the Raiders went for 179 yards on 30 carries.
Andy Reid deserves reasoned criticism here, too. He and his assistants are as much a part of the Chiefs being in position to make the playoffs as anyone, but especially in the first half, had nothing for the Raiders.
The screen passes that destroyed the Raiders last year were stuffed, the Chiefs probably went away from the run too much (especially early), and there weren’t many, if any, moments of the play-calling putting a receiver open or a running back in space with only one defender to beat. The Chiefs’ rise this year has been built in large part on those plays.
Now, again, one awful night does not have to define the Chiefs’ season. Beating the Broncos would go a long way toward washing this away, and toward that end it’s worth noting that the Chiefs have beaten all three teams that have beaten the Broncos this season.
If the Chiefs can get to at least 10-6 — three wins out of the next five — they would have the wild-card tie breaker over the Dolphins, Bills, and perhaps Steelers and Chargers.
This is still a playoff team.
Or, at least, it can be.
Making good on that possibility may depend in part on facing the reality of this harsh loss, and not giving into the temptation of writing it off as some fluke.