A once-proud and plundering Chiefs defense under Andy Reid has dissolved into this: a lumbering, tentative, rudderless mess.
Now, it just brings chaos upon itself instead of creating it for opponents.
Those vital signs dominate the autopsy of the Chiefs’ 38-31 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, a game that downgrades the Chiefs from worrisome slump into a trajectory toward collapse after a 5-0 start that seems long ago and far away.
The weight of all that is why safety Ron Parker sat afterward for long minutes at his locker, head down, even as most others were on the move to get showered and get out.
Their sixth loss in seven games left them in a three-way tie for first place (or is it third place?) in an AFC West race they once led by three games.
This funk includes two losses in this stadium to New York teams that were 1-9 and 4-7 entering the games.
If you can’t make it here, you might not be able to make it anywhere.
“This (stuff) hurts, bro; this loss hurt,” Parker said, scanning through the reasons and stressing a couple. “Everybody else is looking to somebody else to make plays and not ourselves, man, and that’s killing us right now.”
He added, “That’s not us. Our DNA is not what we are putting out there for people to look at.”
He was referring to the identity this group has known in the recent past.
Trouble is, it’s an identity in crisis when you can’t get pressure on 38-year-old Josh McCown and he can scorch you for 331 passing yards and “scramble” for a first down on third and 10.
Something has gone very wrong, something for which there seems to be far more questions than answers in this blurry blend of ineffective schemes, step-behind misplays, tame line play, inconsistent tackling and an overall absence of urgency.
Add it all up, and you allow 488 yards and 30 first downs and 13 of 20 third-down conversions (!) without mustering a sack or generating a turnover.
Those issues were well-encapsulated in the game-winning drive by the Jets, but that sequence also exposed – or reiterated, really – a fundamental aspect of all this: a void in leadership and discipline.
What would become a 14-play, 75-yard drive hinged not just on a 51-yard pass from McCown to Jermaine Kearse (via Steven Nelson’s whiffed tackle) to the 5-yard-line but on the fact the Jets would get to run 10 plays after getting there because of penalties.
“We’re fighting and fighting and fighting so hard, and you think you’ve got ‘em stopped,” said Steven Terrell, who momentarily staved off a touchdown by chasing down Kearse.
When the Jets went for a two-point conversion, the Chiefs kindly indulged them with two more — Nelson’s second holding penalty of the drive and an unsportsmanlike conduct on Marcus Peters for heaving the flag into the stands.
Given a reprieve, the Jets’ Elijah McGuire rushed in to make it 38-31 with 2 minutes, 15 seconds left.
But it was what happened after that makes you wonder what’s going on here: Evidently simply assuming he’d been ejected, Peters walked the length of the field toward the locker room, exchanging a hand slap with New York’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins, his former college teammate at Washington, along the way.
Reid was cryptic after the game about his own understanding in the moment about what had happened, basically saying Peters left because he thought he was disqualified and came back out (without socks on) when he realized he wasn’t.
Maybe that was minor in the big scheme of things, but along with the flurry of penalties and breakdowns with the game on the line it speaks to a key aspect of this dysfunction junction.
With supreme leader Eric Berry out for the season with an injury, just who are the guys holding others accountable and, for that matter, together?
Is much-admired linebacker Justin Houston, who declined to be interviewed after the game, still trying to assume that role?
Is equally respected linebacker Derrick Johnson, the longest-tenured Chief along with punter Dustin Colquitt, able to get the attention of this group?
If so, it sure doesn’t show.
What about defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, and Reid? What are they figuring out, or changing, and are they being heard?
Hard to know.
Because something has fizzled out for this defense, which actually played well enough to win the last two games but has been a vulnerability most of the last few months while having little resemblance to the one that used to routinely tilt games with turnovers or sacks.
Now, the Chiefs have recovered one fumble since Oct. 30 and have just one interception and three sacks in their last four games — including none of any of these against the Jets.
So, the Chiefs are left hoping they can stabilize and not become the seventh team in NFL history to start 5-0 and miss the playoffs, with these rousing words as their rallying cry:
“As bad as it seems right now, it could always be worse,” Terrell said. “We’re still in the race. You’ve just got to keep fighting and leave the past behind.”
That’s one upside.
Another is this: If the Chiefs do scrape their way into the playoffs now, they certainly won’t be burdened by expectations — not with no answers for the defense’s distress signals.