One play rarely decides the outcome of a game. But in games loaded with emotion and surrounded by historical significance for a franchise and a fan base, there’s often the play.
For now, and likely until the Kansas City Chiefs finally get over the hump and return to the Super Bowl, Dee Ford will be on the wrong end of that play.
Ford lined up offsides on third-and-10, and that penalty wiped away Charvarius Ward’s interception of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady — an interception that would have sealed a four-point win for the Chiefs, and their first Super Bowl appearance since 1970.
Instead, the Patriots went on to score the go-ahead touchdown, and they eventually won 37-31 in overtime.
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“That was an opportunity for the whole city of Kansas City to make history,” Ford said. “It is what it is at the end of the day. I’ll take it on the chest, and I’m going to use it as motivation. Sloppy football on my end at the end of the day, whether it’s six inches, however many inches I was offside.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid referenced multiple times that his team was this close in the game, with his thumb and index finger no more than a couple inches apart during his end-of-season news conference on Monday. Later, Reid said they were a couple of inches and an interception they had in their hands away from a trip to Atlanta.
Reid lauded Ford for having had a tremendous season and lamented that officials on the field didn’t give the outside linebacker — or his coaches — a heads-up that Ford was approaching a penalty for lining up in the neutral zone. That’s fairly common in such situations. But Reid did not dispute the validity of the penalty.
“He did have a great season,” Reid said. “He was doing everything possible to try to get to the quarterback. Like I said, it wasn’t but by a few inches. I thought it was legitimate. He was — it looked like on the angle of our camera, at least, that he might have been off by a tad.
“Normally, you’re warned and the coach is warned when somebody is doing that before they throw it a game of that magnitude. But they did (throw it), and he didn’t waste any time doing it. He didn’t wait until the interception to throw it. He had his hand on his flag right from the get-go, so he saw on his angle and felt that that was the call.”
When asked, Ford acknowledged that a player often gets a warning to slide back if he’s in danger of lining up offsides, but he didn’t get that on Sunday night. At the same time, Ford attempted to make it clear that he made no excuses.
“I’m looking right at the ball so I can’t — obviously, that’s just a critical mistake on my end, again, like I said,” Ford said. “I can’t go back and change it. Of course, if I could I would, but at this point we can create a new narrative. That’s what I’m all about. I’m going to get to work.”
The offsides penalty may be the lasting memory for many Chiefs fans, despite Ford having turned in a career season. The 6-foot-2, 252-pound fifth-year edge-rusher collected a career-high 13 sacks during the regular season and earned the first Pro Bowl selection.
Ford, who is scheduled to become a free agent this offseason, has already said that he wouldn’t balk at the prospects of the Chiefs putting their franchise tag on him. Playing under the franchise could earn him close to $20 million next season.
On Monday, he said he hadn’t given much thought to his pending free agency, or the ramifications of the franchise tag.
“I would love to come back here,” For said. “I would love to be here, but that’s out of my control.”
Ford, who called Chiefs outside linebackers coach Mike Smith “pivotal” to his success, said his focus now is on planning his offseason, evaluating himself and building a “plan of action” to prepare for next season. He was looking forward to enjoying this weeknd’s Pro Bowl with his family. He’ll continue his offseason training regimen that includes working out in Miami.
Ford, who started all 16 games for the first time in his career, has often referenced a strong desire to play alongside fellow Chiefs outside linebacker and edge-rusher Justin Houston while both were healthy.
If either Ford or Houston doesn’t return, this season will have been the closest thing to a full season together. Houston missed four games in the middle of the season with a hamstring injury.
“It’ll be very disappointing,” Ford said of the potential of not playing alongside Houston. “Justin, him and (retired Chiefs outside linebacker) Tamba (Hali) were basically my mentors since I stepped into this league. They could have easily not taken me under their wing, but they did.
“It’ll be very disappointing for me to not be able to continue what we started this year, healthy finally. It’ll be very disappointing, but at the end of the day I hope it all works out.”