Sam Mellinger

The Eric Fisher Hold Game: Add it to the list of heart-ripping Chiefs playoff losses

Eric Berry to teammates: 'Be honest with yourselves'

Chiefs safety Eric Berry's message to the team after its 18-16 playoff loss to the Steelers was to honest with themselves.
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Chiefs safety Eric Berry's message to the team after its 18-16 playoff loss to the Steelers was to honest with themselves.

A memory you will never forget can turn in less than a second. A generation of playoff failures can grow longer in less time than it takes for you to change the channel. A season of work and hope and success and belief can lose air faster than the drop of a roller coaster.

The Chiefs have cried many times before. Successful seasons end with heart-stomping playoff losses in Kansas City with aggravating regularity here. Fathers pass it down to their sons, same as any other lifelong health affliction.

Nothing may ever top the Christmas Day game of 1971, when a Hall of Fame kicker missed three times, but that doesn’t mean the Chiefs haven’t spent a lifetime trying. The Kicker Who Shall Not Be Named. The Elvis Grbac Game. The No Punts Game. The 38-10 Game.

And now, The Eric Fisher Hold Game.

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The Chiefs lost to the Steelers 18-16 in an AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday night for far more reasons than Fisher hooking an arm around a pass rusher away from the play. His prominence in the way this loss is remembered won’t be fair, but it will almost certainly stick, because sports — just like life — are often cruelly unfair.

“Horse (bleep),” tight end Travis Kelce said.

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce was unhappy with a holding call that negated the game-tying two-point conversion during the closing minutes of an 18–16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoffs on January 15, 2017, at Arrowhead

“I’ve seen a lot worse not get called, that’s for sure,” quarterback Alex Smith said.

“Game on the line, and for me to let the team down, it’s going to be a hard one to let go,” Fisher said.

There will continue to be debate about that call, at least here in Kansas City. The Chiefs had just scored with 2 minutes, 43 seconds left, and a two-point conversion would’ve tied it. Smith completed a pass to Demetrius Harris in the back of the end zone at Arrowhead Stadium, and a few seconds into the celebration they noticed the flag.

Kelce will be fined for what he said — “(the ref) shouldn’t even be able to work at (freaking) Foot Locker” — and he’ll probably see it as money well spent, for blowing off steam and supporting a teammate.

The unforgiving nature of professional sports means that all sides have a point here, and none of it matters. Yes, Steelers linebacker James Harrison slipping made it look worse than it was. But, yes — it was a hold. Fisher shuffled six yards back, then hooked his left arm around Harrison’s shoulder pads, his fist rising up to the facemask. That’s a hold. Smith is right. Worse holds have gone uncalled.

But lesser holds have been flagged, too.

Either way, complaining about officials is the ballad of the loser.

Chiefs tackle Eric Fisher on key holding penalty vs. Steelers

The Chiefs lost this game for a hundred reasons. The offense went seven consecutive possessions without a touchdown. Smith missed a few throws. His receivers dropped a bunch of passes, including Kelce, who also made one of the dumbest, most selfish and childish penalties you’ll ever see with a dead-ball shove of Steelers cornerback Ross Cockrell.

The offensive line was mauled. The pass rush created almost no pressure. Le’Veon Bell ran for 170 yards, and it felt like twice that many. Tyreek Hill was essentially no factor, other than as a decoy. Justin Houston did not appear anywhere close to full strength.

We could go on like this for another few hundred words. You get the point. You saw the game. The better team won, at least on this night, and that might be the part that hurts the most.

As it turned out, this was the same song, different verse. An update to the story that as much as any other has come to define this team: losing playoff games, often at home, to a superior quarterback while blowing opportunity after opportunity.

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The Chiefs are good, but not good enough. They win some games, raise some hope, make you believe this might be the year, and then they lose again in a way that makes you wonder how you could’ve expected anything else.

Four times in their history, the Chiefs have been good enough for a first-round bye and playoff game at home. They are 30-2 at home in those seasons, and 0-4 in the playoffs.

This was a good team. The best Chiefs team in years, actually, even if that will now be seen more as a slam than compliment. They gave this city some moments. The greatest comeback in franchise history. Hungry Pig Right. Marcus Peters’ game-winning strip-and-punt. Tyreek Hill’s national star turn in Denver. Eric Berry’s incredible homecoming in Atlanta.

But soon enough, those memories will fade. That’s how sports work. That’s how the human mind works. We don’t remember the champions’ flaws, and we don’t remember the losers’ successes.

This version of the Chiefs was better than all but a few, but its loss lined perfectly with this franchise’s history: a playmaking defense and explosive special teams present an opportunity for a Super Bowl run, but an offense with little margin for error doesn’t hold up its end.

Smith is better than many want to admit, and not as good as others want to claim. It is not coincidence that three probable Hall of Famers and this season’s probable MVP are quarterbacking the NFL’s final four. Those guys cover shortcomings of their teammates, but Smith needs the pieces around him operating at or near peak efficiency.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith and head coach Andy Reid addressed the end of their season after an 18-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Arrowhead on Sunday.

The Chiefs lost three games at home this season, by scores of 19-17, 19-17, and now 18-16. Final scores can be misleading, but these are brutally honest.

The Chiefs were good enough for hope, and even good enough for modest expectation. That hasn’t been true here as often as it should.

But in the end they were only good enough to lose, again, in a heart-scratching way that felt far too familiar. That’s been true in Kansas City far more often than it deserves.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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