The Chiefs got jobbed here. Can we say it that plainly? Two critical calls went against them, and, really, that was that. The Chiefs lost, and now they have to win their last three games for a chance at the playoffs.
“Yeah, well, I can’t comment on the officials,” coach Andy Reid says.
“The reason we lost, I feel like the refs didn’t go our way,” running back Jamaal Charles says.
Those lines will be as popular as free money back in Kansas City after the Chiefs lost 17-14 to the Cardinals here on Sunday.
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Complaints about the officials are like a politician campaigning on tax breaks and education to Chiefs fans right now. They just watched their team’s last best chance to win a critical game turn to ashes on a bizarre call that determined Travis Kelce fumbled when it appeared he had control of the ball while down by contact.
But is it OK to interrupt the victim complex?
Can we point out some reality?
The Chiefs have lost three games in a row, skidding from a chance to win the AFC West to now needing three straight victories and some help for a wild-card spot. Referees did not put the Chiefs in this position.
The Chiefs put the Chiefs in this position.
The last two weeks, it’s been the loss to the awful Raiders and the inability to turn that frustration and an extra three days of preparation for a home game against the Broncos into a win.
Against the Cardinals, most obviously, the Chiefs gave the ball to their best player on just 12 of their 61 snaps. Even if you add in two more balls thrown his way but not completed, that’s fewer than one out of every four plays going to the best man for the job.
The Cardinals have a strong defense and Drew Stanton on offense, so this was always going to be a low-scoring game. And even with Kelce’s talents and the creativity the Chiefs have shown with De’Anthony Thomas, Charles is always their best chance of scoring.
The Chiefs scored two touchdowns in the 14 plays that went to Charles. They scored zero touchdowns in the 47 others.
“We didn’t get ourselves in rhythm,” Reid says. “That’s my responsibility to make sure we get in rhythm. We didn’t do that.”
To be fair, there are a few circumstances other than play-calling that limited Charles’ touches. He missed a series after an ankle injury — “It was scary at first; I thought I tore my knee up,” he says — and the Cardinals stacked the line of scrimmage to stop him.
But that can’t be an excuse, not for the Chiefs. They have the NFL’s version of a fraternity intramural team for wide receivers, and as much as Kelce thrives in short and intermediate routes, Charles is the Chiefs’ best weapon.
Charles said he didn’t feel his best after the injury, but that’s still more than enough to help — he made a terrific cut and jumped over a defender on a touchdown catch-and-run after the injury.
Ten carries is Charles’ fewest of the season, save for the first Denver game (when he got hurt early) and the season opener against Tennessee (when Reid apologized for not using Charles more).
The blame-the-refs movement also lets the Chiefs’ defense off the hook, most notably for Sean Smith, Phillip Gaines and Josh Mauga, all dropping interceptions. Stanton is a bad quarterback — a career backup and 55-percent passer for a reason — but it doesn’t matter if the Chiefs don’t make those plays.
And even if we all agree that the offensive pass-interference call that wiped out Anthony Fasano’s touchdown was bogus — and it looked like a flop — that didn’t mean that Alex Smith needed to throw an interception on the next play.
But even after all of that, the Chiefs still had the lead. They could’ve kept the Cardinals — who hadn’t scored an offensive touchdown in three weeks, by the way — out of the end zone and still had the lead and choked out Arizona for the rest of the game.
Instead, they gave up the game-winning touchdown in the final minutes. Thrown by the backup quarterback. To the Cardinals’ sixth-leading receiver. On third and 20.
The officials made two calls that went against the Chiefs, and the NFL is structured from salary cap to the draft to free-agency to create a league where two plays can change most games. The officials did that. Made two calls that the Chiefs are understandably frustrated with.
But the officials didn’t limit Charles to 12 touches, didn’t throw a pointless interception on third-and-long, didn’t drop three interceptions and didn’t let a career backup throw the game-winning touchdown on third-and-forever.
The Chiefs have every right to be angry about the calls that went against them. Officials have a hard job, and they’re never going to be perfect, but that doesn’t make it any easier when you put so much into a game and see it tilted by something so out of your control. They should be frustrated by those two calls.
But there were 143 other plays, which included more than enough chances for the Chiefs to win. They lost because those other plays included too many mistakes. So the officials didn’t lose this game, didn’t rip control of a playoff spot from the Chiefs, didn’t push the Chiefs to the point where they need to win the rest of their games and get help to make the playoffs.
The officials didn’t do any of that. The Chiefs did.