With quarterback Alex Smith suddenly surging from a sluggish start to the best season of his NFL career, with running back Jamaal Charles further ascending into superstardom, the Chiefs had hoarded 101 points in their previous two games.
And they seemed poised for a similar scoring spree against Indianapolis on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium when Charles barged 31 yards for a touchdown less than four minutes into the game.
“Marching down the way we did,” Smith said, “it felt like things were going to be kind of the way they’ve been.”
So maybe the Chiefs just sagged in what crumbled into a 23-7 loss. Or maybe Indianapolis out of nowhere became really good on defense after giving up 133 points in its last four road games.
“We certainly didn’t match their emotion and execution today,” said Smith, who a week after having a “perfect game” with a 158.3 passer rating dipped to a 41.3 and committed three turnovers.
He added, “I don’t know if we thought they were going to lay down or lay over or what.”
Or maybe it was a sort of mulligan stew of miscues that wouldn’t necessarily converge again with a do-over. And for now, anyway, a rematch against the Colts is exactly what shapes up in the AFC wild-card playoff game in two weeks.
Whatever really happened, it diminishes any concrete conviction that the Chiefs offense and Smith are beyond concern.
Especially considering the Chiefs entered the day with much to play for: They were still in contention to win the AFC West, and they knew they were taking on their most likely first playoff opponent.
But for all it meant, the Chiefs showed only that they were capable of an uninspired overall effort and that their repertoire still features an offensive clunker.
In this case, weeks removed from managing just 80 points in four games, they gave the ball away a season-high four times and mustered just 228 yards after the fool’s gold of the opening drive.
As he is prone to, coach Andy Reid tried to protect his players, blaming himself for play-calling that “wasn’t putting the guys in the position I needed to.”
And to be sure, this was an entire approach that was out of sync.
Charles rushed for 106 yards on just 13 carries, meaning he was averaging more than 6 yards even without the 31-yard TD. Couldn’t he have carried the ball more?
Receivers had a hard time getting open, perhaps explaining some of Smith’s forced attempts as he connected on just 16 of 29 passes for 153 yards.
And Smith didn’t seem to get much chance to go downfield, either because receivers couldn’t shake free, play selection or sheer harassment: He was sacked four times and rushed repeatedly.
The Colts disrupted the Chiefs’ passing game by mixing coverages, pressures and personnel, said Smith, who acknowledged the Chiefs didn’t stretch the field as much as they had been until they had to.
“You’re trying to pick your shots to take shots,” he said.
But this day also was a regression for Smith, who came into the game with a career-high 23 TD passes, career bests of 3,160 passing yards and 384 rushing yards and just six interceptions.
For all the relatively gaudy numbers he’s been assembling as he’s exerted what Reid considers essential leadership of this team, Smith still has one prime directive:
First, do no harm.
As he has most of the season, he has to stay above the chaos around him -- not be susceptible to it as he was on Sunday.
It’s hard to blame Smith for the first interception he threw, the one that came with Robert Mathis crunching his arm as he released, and that set up Donald Brown’s 51-yard TD run two plays later.
But if you had to diagram the very play that Smith can’t mishandle, it was the underthrown ball intended for a well-covered Anthony Fasano in the end zone from the Indianapolis 15-yard line with 10:02 left.
Of course Smith was eager to make a play, as he was in the futile final minutes when he got “careless” and fumbled one away.
But that interception lingers.
After all, it was second down and time to exercise discretion, not desperation, and go to the next play. A TD there and a two-point conversion would have made it a one-possession game and changed the dynamic to put the onus on the Colts.
“I kind of lost vision and didn’t get it out there,” Smith said. “I was trying to give him the chance to go up and make a play, but it was just underthrown, a poor pass.”
Smith’s gracious, poised pocket presence with the news media is a reminder of his character and what makes him a respected leader. Believe he means it when he says this “stings” and he’ll learn from it.
That and what he’s done most of the season is why Smith figures to respond well next week at San Diego and do the things he’s wired to do first and foremost even as he’s expanded his game.
But now you can’t just assume it, not any more than that the Chiefs would score heaps more after their first touchdown on Sunday.