While some will no doubt remember the Chiefs’ 17-14 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday for questionable officiating and the Chiefs’ inability to handle the blitz and consistently stop the run, the game was so close that players will instead remember every single mistake.
Take inside linebacker Josh Mauga, for instance. He finished with five tackles, a quarterback hit and a pass deflection, but it’s the latter — which should have been an interception — that he will remember.
His drop, which came early in the third quarter with the Cardinals on the move, would have thwarted a drive that ended with an Arizona field goal. Instead, the Cardinals cut the deficit to 14-9 and would eventually take the lead for good.
It was the Chiefs’ third potential dropped interception of the game.
“It’s very frustrating,” Mauga said. “These opportunities don’t come very much … when those opportunities come, I’ve got to make those plays.”
But again, Mauga wasn’t alone. Veteran cornerback Sean Smith and Phillip Gaines dropped potential interceptions in the second quarter, a continuation of a trend for the Chiefs, who had forced just 10 takeaways entering the game, the third-fewest in the NFL.
“Yeah, I had it,” said Gaines, who seemed primed to come down with a jump ball in the end zone before Jaron Brown knocked it out. “The receiver just hit my arm at the perfect time. Just got to make the play. There’s nothing (else) to be said.”
Gaines said the Chiefs, whose four interceptions entering the game were tied for fewest in the league with the lowly New York Jets, have been itching to create more turnovers.
“It definitely (stinks) — that’s why we’re out there, to make those types of plays. As a team, we thrive off of stuff like that. So when the ball’s in the air, we’ve got to find out a way to bring it down.”
It’s not like they don’t work on it, Mauga said.
“We’re always working,” Mauga said. “We do a lot of stuff throughout the practice. We’re always doing turnover drills. We’ve just got to take advantage of it. And right there, we obviously didn’t and it hurt this defense.”
Smith, however, says it’s important for the secondary to get over it. They know what they can do, and with three games left — all of which need to be wins to get into the playoffs — they can’t afford to lose their confidence.
Last season, the Chiefs intercepted 21 passes last year, third-most in the NFL.
“To be honest with you, it’s short-lived,” Smith said of the missed opportunities. “You definitely want to make plays to impact the game, but if you sit there and dwell on that, your technique might fall off the next play and it snowballs.
“We’ve just got to keep pressing, keep playing our technique. Obviously those plays are gonna come. We’ll have more opportunities.”
But again, in the aftermath of a tough, hard-fought loss, each player is forced to look in the mirror and see where they could have done better. Mauga, after his missed interception, is just one of several players who will likely do that.
“When I get an opportunity like that, I’ve got to make it,” Mauga said. “It would have put our team in a different situation.
“This one hurts, but we’re still alive and we’re going to keep fighting.”