The Chiefs spent a healthy amount of time this preseason speaking optimistically about their chances to contend this season.
Fans were hyped about the free-agent addition of Jeremy Maclin to boost a limp receiving corps, and there was a sense that the leaky run defense would be better with the return of veteran starters Mike DeVito and Derrick Johnson.
However, the Chiefs’ performance on Monday night in a 38-28 loss to the Packers will do little to buoy that confidence. To be honest, the Chiefs, who trailed by as many as 24 points in the second half, despite the final score, looked a lot like the worst parts of last year’s 9-7 team, with the addition of some horribly-timed (and just plain horrible) defensive penalties and minus the creative offensive playcalls that actually worked.
“It looked like they outplayed us, it looked like they outcoached us, and I feel like (Green Bay) came out with a lot of energy — we didn’t come out with a lot of energy,” running back Jamaal Charles said.
Afterward, Chiefs coach Andy Reid — in a very Bill Belichickian news conference — accepted responsibility for everything.
“The whole thing here, offensively and defensively, was my responsibility,” Reid said, a statement he repeated at least four more times.
But while the Chiefs’ loss to the Packers before a crowd of 78,214 at Lambeau Field was ugly, it was certainly a team loss, and cannot be heaped at the feet of one man. Because the entire nation got to see the following:
▪ The run defense get gashed again and again, as Green Bay — which rushed for 123 yards on 32 carries — repeatedly lined up in three-wide personnel to take an interior linemen, a Chiefs strength, off the field and pound the ball against subpackages.
▪ The Chiefs repeatedly give star quarterback Aaron Rodgers second chances to gouge them, as they committed drive-preserving third-down penalties on three separate Packer scoring marches (after forcing fourth downs on each) by halftime, when Green Bay held a commanding 24-7 lead.
▪ The Chiefs’ passing offense get completely vaporized in the first half, as quarterback Alex Smith — who ended up being sacked seven times in the game — completed only two of seven passes for 37 yards by the break.
“They were bringing it, and they kept bringing it,” Smith said. “Obviously, we couldn’t make a play against it.”
It’s worth noting that Maclin, who was blanked in the first half but finished with a very respectable eight catches for 141 yards, finally did end the Chiefs’ receiver touchdown drought with a 5-yard score late in the third quarter. The drought spanned 18 games and 638 days, dating back to quarterback Chase Daniel’s touchdown throw to Dexter McCluster in Week 17 of the 2013 season.
“The one positive,” Smith said.
But it must also be said that Maclin’s touchdown catch, and his big 61-yard deep completion in the fourth quarter, came when the Chiefs were already trailing by a healthy 24 points, and the game was essentially over.
With the loss, the Chiefs, 1-2, missed a clear opportunity to demonstrate mental toughness by putting forth a respectable effort after their devastating 31-24 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sept. 17.
“It is (disappointing),” left tackle Donald Stephenson said. “We worked hard (the last) 11 days. We wanted to come out and come back from a tough loss and win this game. It didn’t happen that way, so we’re moving on."
In fact, it was stunning was how few positive moments the Chiefs could provide early on Monday, as Green Bay seized control early.
On the Packers’ second drive of the game, they marched 69 yards in only six plays, as Rodgers, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 333 yards and five touchdowns, connected with rookie receiver Ty Montgomery, who was in for injured starter Davante Adams, for an 8-yard touchdown.
“We got the Aaron Rodgers we expected,” safety Husain Abdullah said.
But it was just the beginning. On his next drive, Rodgers again mounted a 10-play, 89-yard scoring drive aided by Chiefs penalties for defensive holding, too many men on the field and illegal contact.
And given the amount of missed tackles the Chiefs racked up on the Packers first three drives (at least three), the way the drive ended — with receiver Randall Cobb powering through a Marcus Peters tackle for a 3-yard score — was quite fitting.
The Chiefs found themselves trailing the Packers, now winners of 11 straight at home, 14-0 entering the second quarter. And things continued to look bleak on the Packers’ next drive, when Green Bay advanced all the way to the Chiefs’ 39-yard line.
But after a Kansas City timeout, the defense showed some resiliency, forcing a pair of Rodgers incompletions and a turnover on downs. Once that happened, the Chiefs’ offense finally got going a bit, as Smith connected with tight end Travis Kelce for a 38-yard gain off a play-action pass, and two plays later, Charles — who finished with 49 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries — took a shotgun handoff up the middle for a 9-yard score that cut the deficit to 14-7.
But that respite of hope would not last long, as Green Bay immediately put together another scoring drive aided by a poorly-timed Chiefs penalty, as a third-down sack by Allen Bailey was negated by an illegal contact penalty on Marcus Cooper. The drive ended with a field goal that pushed the Packers’ lead to 17-7.
And after another Chiefs three-and-out — their fourth of the half — Green Bay put together another march, this one again aided by a Chiefs penalty, as a third-and-1 incompletion was nullified by the Chiefs’ second 12-men-on-the-field penalty of the night. On the very next play, Rodgers threw a 27-yard strike to James Jones (seven catches, 139 yards) to give the Packers a decisive 24-7 lead heading into the break.
The second half provided little relief for the Chiefs. Maclin’s touchdown catch was sandwiched by a pair of Rodgers touchdown passes to Cobb, who finished the evening with seven catches for 91 yards and three touchdowns. And two fourth-quarter Charles touchdowns, which ultimately cut the deficit to 38-28 (a two-point conversion failed), made the score appear closer than it really was.
The Chiefs did keep battling to the final whistle, and they will latch on to that. They will need to, given their upcoming slate, as they play only two of their next seven games at Arrowhead Stadium and must now head to Cincinnati to face a talented Bengals team that has made the playoffs the last four years.
So yes, the chances of going 1-3 — and getting behind the eight ball — are very real. And if the Chiefs don’t find a way to play better against the Bengals than they did on Monday night, all those optimistic words they spoke about contending this preseason will prove to be empty.
“We’re sorry we didn’t come out excited, given the high expectations people had for us tonight,” Charles said. “We let a lot of people down. We let the fans down.
“We’re going to be ready to play this week coming up — we don’t have a choice ... next week, we’re going to come out very energized and ready to play.”