To the extent there really is such a thing, the Chiefs’ game Thursday night at Oakland was teeming with about every conceivable trapping of a so-called trap game.
Shoot, look up the definition, and you might already see an entry that reads something like this:
When Team A edges the defending Super Bowl champion in an all-consuming game on Sunday … then has to play a winless team halfway across the country four days later … with Team A’s next game looming against the other Super Bowl team that it just tied for the lead in its division.
See: Chiefs at Raiders on Nov. 20, 2014.
So maybe you anticipated at least a struggle coming at the O.co Coliseum, where the Chiefs started sluggishly and then just got slugged 24-20 to fall to 7-4 as the Raiders ended their 16-game losing streak and won for the first time in 11 games this season.
Then again, here’s the thing about this trap game concept:
It’s something between a myth and a crutch.
Because A) how can it be a trap if everyone talks about it being a trap? And B) every NFL coach and player knows, or should know, that you have to bring it every game to win.
That helps explain why there have been plenty of crummy NFL teams over the last 50-plus year … but only three that went winless. The Chiefs themselves already had been just 1-3 against teams that had been 0-10 or worse.
That’s why that “any given Sunday” stuff has made its way into popular culture, even if it turns out it can apply to any given Thursday, too.
Even against troubled teams like Oakland, which played with a pride bordering on fury as the Chiefs sauntered along through the first 30 minutes before coming to life just long enough to make a game of it.
If the Chiefs were paying attention, they knew Oakland indeed had been winless but not quite hapless: After all, the Raiders had lost five of their games by a total of a mere 28 points.
So this had nothing do with being snared in some shocking surprise, as if the Chiefs unwittingly stumbled into it and had no say or choice in dealing with it.
This had only to do with a team not being ready to play in the first half and couldn’t overcome it in the second.
“They played better than us; they wanted it more than we wanted it … and they found a way to do it,” linebacker Tamba Hali said in a somber Chiefs locker room.
How else to account for an offense that scored on its first two possessions last week against Seattle, a team that had 35 points in the first half here last year, mustering just three points in the half … and those thanks only to a gift-wrapped fumbled punt recovered at the Oakland 10?
How else to explain the instant and spectacular collapse of the Chiefs’ season-long defensive point of pride — no rushing touchdowns against them?
It was one thing when Latavius Murray, he of the 54 career rushing yards entering the game, swooped in for an 11-yard TD.
It was another when he skedaddled 90 yards, the longest run ever allowed by the Chiefs.
Who knows what more damage he might have done if he hadn’t been knocked out of the game with a concussion before halftime?
Kudos to the Chiefs for the second-half rally to take a 20-17 lead, of course, a character test they responded to before their final drive fizzled.
“We came out in the first half and were sloppy,” Hali said. “We came out in the second half and showed the type of team we can be.”
But that was all hollow by game’s end.
Blame the coaching staff for not having the team ready.
Blame the players for not having it together.
Especially during a short week that they all had to understand would require completely impeccable preparation.
Now, you can make the case that the Thursday night game setup is a false test, particularly for the traveling team.
Seems like someone could figure out a way that both teams always are coming off bye weeks.
Just the same, they play it every week.
So … also no surprise.
For all that went wrong here, this clunker most likely just a disappointing anomaly. One of those days.
Trouble is, the Chiefs already bungled one game they’d want, if not downright need, back: the 26-10 opening loss to Tennessee, 2-8.
Trouble is, they’ve got no assurance of making the playoffs, and their margin for error just got considerably smaller.
So instead of entering their showdown with Denver at Arrowhead Stadium surging, they’ll go into it with a good body of work bookended by curious lapses that leave you wondering about them just as they seemed to have emerged.
Call it a trap if you want, but that’s not why the Chiefs lost.
And no one needs to understand that better than they do.
“You’ve got to learn from these types of games,” Hali said. “They happen.”
Said quarterback Alex Smith: “We’ve got to handle this the right way. We’ve got to build from it, as weird as that is to say.”