The key plays, stats and grades from the KC Chiefs’ 22-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Player of the game: Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was nails when it mattered, completing 19 of 31 passes for 205 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also caught his own pass for a 6-yard touchdown.
Reason to hope: Another gut-punch loss like this will likely require some changes on both sides of the ball, and possibly the coaching. The Chiefs have lost in the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion far too many times since Andy Reid arrived.
Reason to mope: This is the kind of loss that can change the direction of the regime. Reid has done a lot of winning here, but he’ll need to be at his best to hold a frustrated locker room together and keep everybody on board with the vision in 2018.
Looking ahead: The season is over, and the Chiefs will look to fortify the defense through the draft and free agency. A new quarterback could also be in place in 2018, provided the Chiefs find some suitors for Alex Smith, who is coming off a career year.
Rushing offense: Entering the game, the Titans’ run defense ranked fourth in the NFL, allowing 88 yards per contest. Kareem Hunt finished with 42 yards and a touchdown in 11 carries, an average of 3.8 yards per run. The Chiefs rushed for 69 yards against a stout front, an average of 4.3 yards per rush. That’s not bad, considering the Titans’ skill at stopping the run, but it wasn’t good enough.
Passing offense: Entering the game, the Titans’ pass defense ranked 25th in the NFL, allowing 239.2 yards per contest. Quarterback Alex Smith completed 24 for 33 passes for 264 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 116.2. Statistically, Smith was fine, but he was sacked four times, and the Chiefs’ inability to beat the Titans through the air via the pass in the second half ultimately did them in.
Rushing defense: Entering the game, the Titans’ run offense ranked 15th in the NFL, rushing for 114.6 yards per contest. Derrick Henry finished with 156 yards and a touchdown in 23 carries, an average of 6.8 yards per run. He also sealed the game with a 22-yard gain in the fourth quarter. As a team, the Chiefs surrendered 202 yards in 31 carries, an average of 6.5 yards per. Horrific.
Passing defense: Entering the game, the Titans’ pass offense ranked 29th in the NFL, passing for 199.4 yards per contest. Mariota completed 19 of 31 passes for 205 yards, two touchdown and an interception. He finished with a passer rating of 88.8, was sacked twice and hit three times. The Chiefs fared okay against the Titans’ middling passing game, notching a red-zone pick, but their inability to stop them when it matters cost them in the end.
Special teams: Cornerback Keith Reaser was whistled for unnecessary roughness on a first-quarter punt return, and an unnecessary roughness penalty on Ukeme Eligwe negated a drive-extending running-into-the-kicker penalty. Reaser redeemed himself by recovering the ensuing punt, which was muffed, but kicker Harrison Butker’s 48-yard miss was costly. The Chiefs generated a 29-yard kick return and their coverage units didn’t surrender much, but at the end of the day these guys had to perform better than they did.
Coaching: The Chiefs should be beyond this kind of crippling, devastating loss at this point. This defeat was every bit as crippling and devastating as their 45-44 loss to Indianapolis in the 2013 season, largely because it came at home and Reid is now five years into his tenure. It’s true the Chiefs didn’t catch any breaks in the second half, but mentally tough teams make their own breaks, especially against teams they are more talented than. By now, the offense should be beyond going into a shell in the second half, and the defense should be beyond cracking under pressure and surrendering 18-point leads in “gotta-have-it games.” Reid accepted responsibility for this after the game, so I’m going to give him the blame for this, thought it must be said we’ve also seen the Chiefs’ surrender far too many rushing yards in a playoff game for anyone’s liking. Expect Reid and general manager Brett Veach to explore upgrades across all levels of the organization in the wake of a loss like this.