Scorn is inescapably attached to the field goal in football. Other than the last-second sort, they are things you are “forced to settle for” and seldom a worthy goal in themselves.
Touchdowns, you celebrate. Field goals, well, you shrug or nod.
Make them, and you’ve got a darned OK consolation prize. Miss them, and, well, you “can’t even” make a field goal.
So it is that the Chiefs’ Cairo Santos on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium could smash through seven field goals in a single game, one fewer than the NFL record, and have his fine feat stand solely for futility.
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In a 36-21 loss in which the Chiefs amassed 461 yards, held the ball for 36 minutes 53 seconds and were forced to punt just once, Santos’ terrific day — nary a miss and two from 51 yards — epitomized the squandered effort that left the Chiefs in the doldrums of a 1-3 start to what largely was projected as a playoff season.
This was a day that might have been memorable for Alex Smith reasserting himself despite a still-ridiculous level of harassment (five sacks tells only part of the story) as he threw for a career-best 386 yards.
Or with a turn or two, it might have become a game known for the Chiefs rallying despite a handful of whopping gains by the Bengals on Chiefs coverage breakdowns enabled by their incredible disappearing pass rush.
(With zero sacks on Sunday and only one against Green Bay, evidently Pass Rush City has been annexed by Past Laurels County.)
Instead, this game will be best-remembered by the almost cartoonish spectacle of the offense trudging off the field to be replaced by the eager field-goal unit.
“There was a big drive by the defense on that drive to hold them to a field goal,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, and who knows to which of the seven he was referring?
The real problem with this, of course, isn’t the field goals themselves.
It’s the circumstances that led to the Chiefs having to resign themselves to those points that conjure the sad trombone soundtrack.
Penalties and sacks and a disastrous reverse call repeatedly repelled the Chiefs on their routine ventures across midfield, and they were oh-for-three in the red zone while the Bengals were four-for-four.
“Frustrating: You’re not going to beat good football teams not converting in the end zone,” said Chiefs receiver Jeremy Maclin, whose 11-catch, 148-yard day also was eclipsed by the result. “You can’t have it. So we better get it figured out, and get it figured out fast.”
One maddening sequence in particular will linger, because it speaks to how the three-pointer dominated and dynamited the Chiefs’ day, and to the conservative stance by coach Andy Reid that can be particularly exasperating in defeat.
With 2:46 left in the first half and his team trailing 14-9 after a reprieve from Cincinnati (Mike Nugent’s 44-yard field-goal attempt clanked off the left upright), Reid called for Jamaal Charles to run over left tackle.
Charles went 24 yards to the Cincinnati 26, at which point Reid instructed the offense to let the clock run down 10-15 seconds to the 2 minute warning.
OK, you don’t want the Bengals to get it back with much time on the clock.
But then, despite also having two timeouts left in hand, the Chiefs in stupefying fashion managed to run three plays for nine yards in the next 1:51.
Now, it’s true that there was some officiating confusion with the clock after Maclin’s 11-yard reception on fourth and 12.
“Man, I don’t know what was going on,” Maclin said. “First of all, they marked the first down, then they didn’t, then they measured it. I don’t know what was going on.”
Just the same, it was ruled short and enough time was put back on the clock for Santos to kick a 34-yard field goal.
Meanwhile, the real issue here was that so much time was frittered away before that flurry because of two runs, a pass-interference call on Maclin, and a delay of game after a timeout due to a mixup in alignments and an apparent miscommunication with referees.
As Smith explained it, the TV broadcast dictates whether it’s a 30-second timeout or a longer one, and no official let it be known this was a 30-second one.
“Common practice out of the timeout is that they’ll give you a 10-second heads-up as a quarterback to make sure you’ll call the play so you don’t have a situation like that,” Smith said. “I thought that was a bit ridiculous.”
But hovering over all this was a sense that the Chiefs were just playing for three to begin with there, a perhaps practical but certainly tedious approach that contributes to a perception that Reid is so risk-averse as to handcuff his team.
For his part, Reid suggested otherwise as he addressed the series.
At least he tried to.
“You don’t want to give the ball back, but at the same time you want to make sure you score,” said Reid, who notably spoke more expansively at this postgame news conference than he had in his terse session after the Green Bay loss. “There were some opportunities to shoot it potentially into the end zone. It didn’t work, and that’s not what took place. That should be plenty of time.
“When it works, it’s a beautiful thing, and when it doesn’t, it doesn’t look very good.”
So the Chiefs don’t look very good right now, enough so that it’s easy to forget it’s a young season waiting to be shaped and that the three teams that have beaten the Chiefs are 12-0.
“I’ve been on this team when we’ve won nine in a row,” cornerback Sean Smith said. “I know 1-3 doesn’t sound pretty right now, but you can’t tell me this team is not capable of putting together a nice run.”
But you also can’t say it is now, either, not until Alex Smith gets a semblance of protection, the defense is energized back on the attack instead of backpedaling and the kicker isn’t the most valuable player in the game.