Metaphorically speaking, the Chiefs showed up to a job interview drunk, lost, and wearing only jorts.
They weren’t ready for an important moment, and at times looked only vaguely like they knew it was an important moment. This was supposed to be a chance for them to see how they measured against one of the NFL’s better teams, but instead turned into a nationally televised embarrassment.
Alex Smith, who is being paid top-tier quarterback money and is bound to the Chiefs through at least next season, deserves every bit of criticism coming his way.
His team lost 38-28 to the Packers here at Lambeau Field on Monday, and that score is unnecessarily generous to the Chiefs.
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“It just wasn’t good enough,” Smith said. “All of us. Across the board.”
This looked more like the Romeo Crennel years than anything up to the standards of Andy Reid, one of the game’s highest-paid and most experienced coaches. Reid answered virtually every question of his postgame press conference — about Smith’s performance, about why they started so slow, about why they committed so many penalties — with a short version of “that’s my responsibility” or “we’re moving on.”
Those are the responses of a man who either doesn’t know the answers, or doesn’t want to say, and neither is a good sign in what is a critical season for Reid, Smith and general manager John Dorsey.
The Chiefs fancy themselves Super Bowl contenders, but after blowing one game and being blown out in the next, find themselves deservedly closer to the bottom of the league than the top.
This is awkward, but the Chiefs are below — among many other teams — the Raiders.
“We all gotta look in the mirror, Smith said. “We all gotta find a way to right this.”
They lost for a lot of reasons, but none are more glaring than Smith, who can and should wear a lot of the blame. This is a quarterback’s league, and the juxtaposition with Aaron Rodgers on this night was almost cruel.
Smith and Rodgers have their own history, of course, with Smith going first and Rodgers 24th in the 2005 draft. Rodgers has long since proved that a mistake — including to Mike McCarthy, his coach now, who was in on the decision to draft Smith in San Francisco — but nobody is demanding Smith to be great.
He only needs to be good, and on that point, this is two weeks in a row he’s failed in spectacular fashion. Film of this game — particularly in the first half, when the Chiefs allowed themselves to be buried — will be like a power point presentation for the case against Smith.
Virtually every pass was short, or sideways, and even after three drives he actually had -1 yard passing. Seriously. Less than zero. Fewer passing yards than you did, sitting at home, screaming at the TV before flipping over to the Royals.
There is a premium on quarterbacks who can sidestep a rush to throw downfield, and here, even with the best collection of skill position players of his career, Smith appears incapable.
This was always going to be a critical season for Smith, and he just played his worst consecutive games since joining the Chiefs.
The numbers against Green Bay weren’t bad. He completed 24 of 40 passes for 290 yards. Even threw a touchdown. To a wide receiver! But those numbers are very misleading, nearly all of them picked up in a second half where the only drama was whether Derrick Johnson would break the franchise’s all-time tackles record (he did) and how many touchdowns Rodgers could throw (five).
In the first half, when the Chiefs played so incredily devoid of energy, Smith completed two of seven passes for 39 yards.
One of Smith’s limitations is his inability to lead a team back from a deficit. During the game, an ESPN account Tweeted that Smith is 1-30-1 as a starting quarterback when his team trails by 14 or more at any point.
There is precious little margin for error with how the Chiefs are constructed. And there will be games where that’s enough. Smith is surrounded by good players: Jeremy Maclin, Travis Kelce, Jamaal Charles, and one of the league’s better defenses.
But there will also be games like Monday, when the Chiefs need a little more, and Smith should by now be at the point where he can give it to them. The offensive line is a legitimate problem, of course, but Smith isn’t helping.
At least once, he appeared to make the wrong decision on a package play that went for a loss. At another point, he threw a pass that two Packers defenders had a better chance of catching than the intended receiver.
In the second half, the man whose value rests largely in his ability to avoid mistakes scrambled left and threw across his body, poorly executing a terrible idea that ended in an interception that gave the Packers the ball four yards from the end zone.
Not that he was alone in the disappointment. At one point, the Chiefs had been outgained 175-3. The Chiefs took over at midfield, and went backward. They were called for 12 men on the field. Twice. In the first half. Once, Allen Bailey made a terrific move to force an apparent fumble, but the play was wiped out by another Chiefs penalty.
All of this with 11 days to prepare.
Eleven days to prepare after an embarrassing loss to a division rival. Eleven days to prove they are more of the dominant team from week one than the bumbling team from week two. Eleven days to prepare to play one of the league’s marquee franchises in front of the football world.
The Chiefs swore up and down that they had put the loss to Denver behind them, but played the first half like they spent the extra prep time letting the frustration build rather than fade.
This is a team going in the wrong direction. The Chiefs won convincingly in Houston, then should’ve beaten the Broncos, and now should not have wasted the Packers’ time.
You can find reasons to believe if you want. Sean Smith has been suspended for three games, a weakness fully exploited by two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Eric Berry may or may not be at full strength, and, hey, Jaye Howard and Marcus Peters and Travis Kelce and some others have had nice moments.
The Chiefs made the playoffs two years ago, and entered their final game last year with a chance to go back. The NFL is this country’s greatest incubator for overreaction. The Chiefs still have a lot of talent here. They can still save their season.
Many good teams will lose to the Broncos and Packers this year. But there are just so many issues, none more glaring than Alex Smith.
His is the face of a team whose defining characteristic so far is the ability to drive fans mad — use either definition of that last word.
These last two weeks have been infuriating to watch, and so much of it is tied to Smith — the short and sideways passes, the intermittent loss of place, the general inability to be what his coaches keep saying he is.
Sports are supposed to connect on a personal level, and the frustration means you care, but these last two weeks have brought an exceptional amount of frustration.
It’s not all Smith’s fault, of course. It’s rarely that simple. But he does play the most important position in American sports, and is the highest paid player (by average salary) on the team.
The Chiefs need to be beyond failures this sharp and overwhelming. So does their franchise quarterback.
In the three seasons since Smith came to Kansas City, it’s hard to think of a worse time for either team or player.