Even in the giddy aftermath of the Chiefs’ 33-27 overtime victory over San Diego last week, a skeptic could wonder if the story of the season-opener was the most prolific rally in franchise history … or the ineptitude that relegated them to that plight to begin with.
The truth was it was some of both.
Still, it was logical to figure that in finding their mojo late in that game, in getting away with a dud beginning, that they wouldn’t submit to such a slouching start again Sunday at Houston.
And, hey, in a sense they didn’t.
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Because this time, it was an entire game’s worth of exasperating offensive play in a 19-12 loss to the Texans.
The offense wasn’t so much not ready at the outset as it was not prepared at all.
Though at least you can’t say the players weren’t prepared to embrace blame afterward.
“You never take credit away from what somebody does, but we self-destructed,” said receiver Jeremy Maclin, who dropped two passes and later added, “I was just bad, man.”
Center Mitch Morse, mad at himself for firing a high snap over quarterback Alex Smith’s head that set up Houston’s first touchdown, called it “self-inflicted wounds.”
Running back Spencer Ware, who suffered the first lost fumble he could ever remember, called that unacceptable and synopsized it all.
“I mean, they made some plays,” he said, “and some of those plays they made were because of us.”
So this offensive fizzle is on the players, and of course it’s on the coaches: Andy Reid reminded of that with his patented post-loss stance of “I’m the head coach, that’s on me” to correct mistakes, which also were too plentiful on defense and special teams.
In the end, though, it’s not so much about who gets the blame as how it’s going to get fixed and when?
This isn’t about one day; it’s about an emerging pattern that would be more worrisome if not for what currently looks like a blip late against the Chargers.
If that seems harsh this early in the season, well, how else to account for no first-half touchdowns in two games … and mustering zero touchdowns on Sunday after scoring four in 22 minutes, 54 seconds to close out the Chargers game?
If that sounds pessimistic, you can’t otherwise reconcile that the Chiefs committed three turnovers, allowed four sacks and further sabotaged themselves with six offensive penalties — including three deflating holding calls and back-to-back false starts late in the fourth quarter.
A week after playing perhaps his finest game as a Chief, Smith barely completed 50 percent of his passes (20 of 37).
That was because one way or another, amid errant passes and drops (including his gorgeous throw to Demetrius Harris that was ruled incomplete) and obvious miscommunications, he was misaligned with his receiving corps.
Even with star receiver Maclin, with whom he usually seems to enjoy a certain telepathy.
Maclin did catch six passes, but he was targeted 15 times and the nine incompletions came via a variety of disconnects: He uncharacteristically failed to hold those two he should have caught, and at least twice he wasn’t quite where Smith thought he would be.
The play that most dramatically spoke to that was a high sideline pass Smith threw to Maclin, who leaped with one hand and nearly reeled in what would have been a remarkable catch.
“I’m thinking one thing, he kind of rolls out (into another),” Smith said.
To be clear, Smith said this without assessing who was right or wrong.
It also was in the context of noting his struggles Sunday came from both inaccuracy and regrettable decisions in which he wished he’d “gone there” or “seen that.”
So, what will we see next as the Chiefs prepare to play host to the New York Jets on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium?
The good news is that so much of this seems correctable, or at least improvable — which makes the loss all the more exasperating but perhaps makes the rest of the season less ominous.
Maclin won’t drop many more passes all season, Ware won’t fumble much and the Morse misfire is another rarity.
At least some of those penalties can get cleaned up, Reid’s past suggests, and you can expect the turnovers to get trimmed, too.
Star back Jamaal Charles might finally be back next week, and soon so will the two injured offensive line starters (Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Parker Ehinger) the Chiefs were without Sunday.
“We see what kind of quarterback Alex is if we give him time,” Morse said. “That’s our job … to come back and not let this define us as an offensive line.”
That doesn’t mean the Chiefs don’t have some constraints built-in.
For instance, by contrast with Houston’s dazzling receiving corps it’s clear the Chiefs still don’t have enough juice around Maclin as they wait for young players to develop.
Still, they found ways around that last season, just as they found their way out of a 1-5 chasm to win their first playoff game in 22 years.
But not by being sloppy and having “absolutely zero rhythm,” as Smith put it, on a day his side of the ball just wasn’t ready.
“Even when there were opportunities there,” Smith said, “it felt like we didn’t even do our part.”