A football game this close turns a thousand times, so it’s not entirely fair to single out just one, but here is something that’s true:
A guy lined up offsides, and had no impact on the particular play, and the penalty is what is keeping the Chiefs from playing in their first Super Bowl in 49 years.
Again, not entirely fair.
Again, also true.
The Patriots beat the Chiefs 37-31 in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday night, and as I’m typing these words the New England players are running around the field with hugs. It’s chaos. One more grand moment for the NFL’s 21st century dynasty, and one more time the Chiefs weren’t quite good enough.
There are more painful ways the Chiefs could have lost, probably, but this one will do: in overtime, after leading in the final minutes of regulation, at home, the presumptive MVP quarterback never getting off the sideline in the extra period.
A million things happened. Mahomes and Andy Reid and the offense stunk in the first half. Lots of calls were made, then overturned, or not. The Chiefs managed zero pressure on Tom Brady. They took too long to solve what the Patriots were doing on defense, and too long to figure out how to defend Julian Edelman over the middle.
Twice, in moments that helped turn the game, Eric Berry was beaten by Rob Gronkowski.
The would’ve-been-interception in the fourth quarter might be lost to history, washed away in failures of the defense and another grand highlight for Brady, but that’s how close the Chiefs were to playing in America’s biggest game — Ford, called for lining up offsides.
The sting of this one will fade, over time, maybe. Probably. This isn’t those awful losses of the past, where it felt like the Chiefs had no way out. They have a 23-year-old unicorn at quarterback, playing on a rookie contract, surrounded by a boatload of talent.
If you were to bet, you’d bet on the Chiefs getting more shots.
But you never know, Dan Marino always held up as the most obvious example, and no matter what you want to take advantage of the chances you had. Blame can go anywhere on this. The defense folded late, the offense took too long to get going.
There were missed throws, missed tackles, missed blocks. The coaches didn’t do quite enough.
There are no words to dull the pain, and there shouldn’t be. Not yet, anyway. The Chiefs had the AFC Championship Game at home, and were favored by the oddsmakers, and they blew it a million different ways.
They weren’t good enough, and now comes an offseason of changes. They will draft defense early and often, and look where they can for free agents. They will prioritize signing Chris Jones, Tyreek Hill, and Ford long term.
There is a future, still. Even if the moment feels like all that matters.
Stream of consciousness:
A thousand camera angles and technology that can zoom in from outer space and maybe Julian Edelman touched it? I don’t know. You don’t know. There’s one angle, from the side, where it looks like the belly of the ball hit the tips of at least one of Edelman’s fingers but really who can be sure?
Either way, it looks close enough that the call on the field should stand, which would mean Chiefs ball and an enormous break for the home team in a game where they had received zero of them and needed many.
Then here comes the official, bizarrely, saying the call on the field was overturned and say it with me:
THAT’S SOOOOOO CHIEFS!!!
But then maybe that’s so old Chiefs, which somehow doesn’t apply anymore to these Chiefs because on the Patriots’ first snap the pass deflected off Edelman’s hands — and everybody made the joke — and into Daniel Sorensen’s chest.
The Chiefs took the ball and shoved it into the end zone, their first lead coming midway through the fourth quarter, and OMG THE CHIEFS ARE THE TEAM COMING BACK IN THE FOURTH QUARTER OF PLAYOFF GAMES NOW WHAT IS HAPPENING?
Sports are a trip, man.
The offense stunk in the first half. Worst it’s been all season, and by a bunch. The stats were bad enough: three first downs, three sacks given up, 32 yards of total offense. The particulars, if anything, were worse.
Patrick Mahomes was inaccurate, the play calling didn’t jar anyone loose, and there was never a rhythm. A brief burst of production came in the second quarter, when Mahomes improvised a covered play into a third down conversion and then on the next snap threw deep to Tyreek Hill to put the Chiefs 20 yards from the end zone.
Mahomes missed Damien Williams, wide open down the right side for what would have been an easy touchdown. Mahomes either overthrew it, or didn’t put enough loft on the pass. Either way, it led to an awful sack that Mahomes should have avoided, the yardage lost taking the Chiefs out of field goal range.
Mahomes hadn’t been perfect in what will presumably be honored as an MVP season. But he’d never been this flustered.
The defense wasn’t much better, the only difference being an interception by Reggie Ragland in the end zone on a play action pass intended for Rob Gronkowski.
The Patriots did what every team should’ve been doing against the Chiefs defense all year: commit to the run, throw short to backs and tight ends, with an occasional shot to the second or third level to keep the defense loose.
It was a statistical bloodbath. The Patriots had as many first downs (16) as the Chiefs ran plays, and achieved eight by run and eight by pass. They had the ball four times, and converted at least two first downs on each possession.
The Chiefs’ offense had always been a significant help to the defense this season. That was particularly true at home, where the points typically came early and often, forcing the opposition into obvious passing situations.
The Patriots’ performance against the presumptive MVP will be dissected by defensive coordinators all offseason. The parameters were typically creative for Belichick: he used his top cornerback on Sammy Watkins, a bigger corner on Travis Kelce, and fast-but-down-the-depth-chart guys on Tyreek Hill with consistent safety help.
They were also using some stunts across the defensive line, which confused the Chiefs. That had been a major weakness in the past, but that group had been generally better defending those this season.