One of the most fun seasons in recent Chiefs history died here in the cool air on Saturday, from a list of maladies including but not limited to injuries, missed opportunities, and Rob Gronkowski.
This was always a possibility, the Chiefs being shown as undermanned and losing — 27-20, in this case in the divisional round — but this is not the kind of heartbreaking, self-esteem-challenging playoff loss Chiefs fans have sadly grown to know so well. They lost a playoff game to a better team, on the road. They missed some chances that could have made it closer, perhaps even turned the outcome, but they would’ve needed to play a near perfect game and that’s no way to go through the playoffs.
I thought Alex Smith played better than his raw stats would indicate, with some particularly good throws on third downs, and the way he led the touchdown drive toward the end of the third quarter. The escape and long pass to Jason Avant is one of the best plays he’s made with the Chiefs.
The Chiefs’ success this season — and, yes, still, success — is built on solid ground but in need of more. The offensive line could be better, and even with Jamaal Charles (presumably) being back close to full strength next year, they could use another playmaker on offense. They also have some interesting decisions in free agency, perhaps most notably Sean Smith.
The Chiefs made a lot of progress this season, winning a playoff game and climbing above the mediocrity they’ve known for so long, but to make sure this is more than temporary they need to close the gap between them and the AFC’s best.
Anyway, here are some random game notes:
Yeah, that clock management at the end of the game was bizarre. In a career marked by criticism over clock management, that was a tour de force for Andy Reid.
The missed opportunities were all over the place, and made the Chiefs’ performance here a significant separation from their 11 straight wins. They did not force a turnover, something they did in each of those wins, and in particular missed a few chances for interceptions. Dee Ford had an opportunity to sack Tom Brady on the Pats’ first drive, but Brady sidestepped him and the Patriots ended up with a touchdown. It was that kind of game, is what I’m saying.
All that time spent talking about injuries to Rob Gronkowski and Jeremy Maclin, and it was Justin Houston (and, to a lesser extent, Tamba Hali) slowed. Houston’s virtual absence really was a game changer for the Chiefs, because it meant very little pass rush, which meant the Patriots could block differently and attack differently. Less of a threat from the outside — Dee Ford, the replacement, was repeatedly knocked on his hind parts in pass rushes — meant more attention to the inside, which is where the Chiefs’ biggest advantage might otherwise have been.
That said, Maclin was clearly playing at less than full strength, which was obviously another big deal. The Patriots (predictably) put much of their defensive focus on Travis Kelce, meaning the Chiefs had to get plays from a hobbled Maclin, or someone like Albert Wilson, Chris Conley, or Jason Avant.
That said, if that’s how you react when Danny Amendola cheap shots one of your punt coverage gunners, giving up a 98-yard touchdown drive, you don’t have much of a case to win a playoff game.
The first half was largely about missed opportunities. The Chiefs defense didn’t finish on third downs, Sean Smith didn’t make what would’ve been a very good reaction catch on a deflection, the offense got nothing out of a drive it started on New England’s 36, and the Patriots got a touchdown out of a drive they started on their own 2.
Knile Davis’ fumble on the Chiefs’ first drive after halftime was a nice reminder why he hadn’t been playing.
We all probably have different opinions on this, but when Eric Berry jumped a route that wasn’t there, and Rob Gronkowski glided by him for an easy touchdown, that was the moment I knew the Chiefs were going to lose.
And then the Chiefs put together that great drive that included big catches by Jason Avant, that somewhat ridiculous escape and throw by Alex Smith, and the touchdown to Albert Wilson, just in case I almost forgot I don’t know anything.
Thanks for reading, the column will be up soon, with (hopefully) more coherent thoughts.