Sam Mellinger

Chiefs, somehow, found a new way to break your heart: ‘This one’s for real’

Chiefs QB Alex Smith says loss to Titans hard to take

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith speaks about the team’s 22-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the NFL Wild Card playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on Jan. 6, 2018.
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Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith speaks about the team’s 22-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the NFL Wild Card playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on Jan. 6, 2018.

Chiefs fans don’t deserve this, and that’s not really a compliment to Chiefs fans, either. Nobody deserves this. Not the guy who cut you off in traffic, not the lady who wouldn’t hold the elevator door for you, not even the punk kid who won’t stop kicking your seat on the plane.

Sports are supposed to be fun. They’re supposed to be a reason to get together with your family, or call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, or just forget about your bills and your problems and that weird noise your car is making.

They’re not supposed to kick you in the teeth. They’re not supposed to make you hurt, and make you wonder why the hell you put up with it. They’re not supposed to mock you for caring, for investing in a team that’s done nothing but let you down for 48 — wait, nope, make that 49 — years.

The Chiefs are an original franchise, their founder an irreplaceable part of NFL history, and the one thing they’ve done better than anyone is find new ways to stomp the joy from your heart.

You have to give them credit, though. Even for the Chiefs, this 22-21 blown ball of shame loss to the mediocre Titans in a wild-card playoff game on Saturday was expert-level teeth kicking.

You never know exactly how the Chiefs will let you down. You just know they will, and it will hurt.

“You’re in shock,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “It just happens so fast.”

A franchise that already gave its fans the Christmas Day Game, the Kicker Who Shall Not Be Named, the No Punt Game, the 38-10 Game and the No Touchdowns Allowed Game just went all hold-my-beer on postseason disaster.

Call this one the Immaculate Selfie Game, or the Forward Progress Game, or the You Gotta Be Kidding Me What Are You Doing On Offense In The Second Half Game. Whatever you want to call it, this was one of the worst playoff collapses ever for a franchise that’s made an art form of the genre.

“This one’s for real,” running back Kareem Hunt said. “We’re going home.”

If you watched Marcus Mariota drift to his left, then back to his right, then scramble hard to his left when he saw Justin Houston, then sprint 14 steps, the final one with his right foot on the line of scrimmage at the 6-yard line, throwing to Corey Davis, or maybe Rishard Matthews — both of whom looked covered, by the way — the ball bouncing off the right arm of defensive back Darrelle Revis then back into Mariota’s arms at the 4, the quarterback taking the Immaculate Selfie into the end zone ... if you watched all of that and didn’t think the Chiefs were absolutely doomed, then you don’t know a Chiefs fan.

No quarterback had scored by catching a touchdown on a pass he threw since 1997, and if you’ve lived in Kansas City for more than a week you’d have bet the next one would come against the Chiefs, and almost certainly in the playoffs. Twenty years. Almost as long as it’s been since the Chiefs advanced past the division round.

“Probably the most bizarre play in football I’ve ever been a part of,” said Revis, now in his 11th NFL season. “If you take that out of the equation, for sure I think we definitely win this game.”

But they didn’t win this game, because of course they didn’t, because of course that play happened.

The Chiefs still led by 11 after the play, but come on, let’s be serious. The head coach, 13 players, most of the support staff and nearly everyone who filled the stadium were around to watch the Chiefs blow a 28-point lead in the playoffs four years ago.

Chiefs rookie running back Kareem Hunt discussed the offense losing steam in the second half of a 22-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on Jan. 6, 2018.

Eighteen points? Cut to 11 by a flukey, freaky, couldn’t-do-it-again-if-he-tried play like that?

We all knew how the movie would end. Just a matter of the specific plot twists, which on this night included a penalty on a defensive back playing his second game with the Chiefs that wiped out what would’ve been a fresh possession, Derrick Henry turning into Jim Brown, Travis Kelce and Chris Jones being lost to injuries, what appeared to be a lead-changing fumble return squashed by a bad call, and of course a missed field goal.

Jinxes aren’t real, and curses don’t exist, but the Chiefs in the playoffs can make a sane man wonder.

“But 21-3 at halftime,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “If you’re good enough, you come out with that win.”

ESPN’s analytics gave the Chiefs a 97 percent chance to win after halftime, but the computers can’t account for Chiefs-ing.

Chiefs lineman Mitchell Schwartz analyzed what went wrong in the team's playoff loss to the Titans.

Here’s a thing that’s true: 78 teams have led by 18 points or more of a playoff game, and all but four have won.

The Chiefs now have two of those losses, in the last five seasons.

“You have to feel this,” Reid said. “Coaches and players, we have to change it around. It’s not good enough, and that’s the bottom line.”

They’ve really carved out their own special brand of failure. Only the Browns, Lions, and Jets have gone longer without playing in a Super Bowl, but those organizations are known primarily and thoroughly as losers.

The Chiefs aren’t that, especially if you’re willing to forgive the Scott Pioli years, the end of Carl Peterson’s reign and most of the 1980s.

For most of their existence, the Chiefs have been OK. A power in the AFL, and champions by the end of the 1960s. The winningest team of the 1990s, dynamic offense with Dick Vermeil in the 2000s, and now four playoffs in five years. They just won the AFC West for the second straight year.

The Chiefs’ problem has never been about competency, like the Browns, or keeping fans from putting brown paper bags over their heads, like the Lions.

Their problem has been a dizzying run of playoff failures, often in spectacular fashion, a franchise that loves to talk about its proud history even as that history includes just one AFC Championship Game and zero Super Bowls dating back to the Vietnam War.

They’re all part of this, too, starting with a lost decade as the Chiefs held too tight and too long to the stars who won the fourth Super Bowl. Twelve head coaches, six general managers, at least 18 quarterbacks and hundreds and hundreds of players who wear varying degrees of blame — from Derrick Thomas to The Kicker, from Will Shields to Elvis Grbac.

This group thought it was different. Thought it could be the one to change all of that. Instead, they’re the group that may’ve given fans from coast to coast their clearest sense yet of why people here expect the worst.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid on the Chiefs loss in Arrowhead stadium to the Titans.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger