Even as the Chiefs have moved toward the cusp of something special this season, they constantly remind that they are equally capable of a precipitous stumble … a posture they reinforced with their exasperating 19-17 loss to Tennessee on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Between their minuscule margins for error and their apparent contempt for prosperity, they can look both daunting and vulnerable all at once and confound anyone who thinks they really know where this is going.
That’s why this ending, on Ryan Succop’s last-second — and second-chance — 53-yard field goal, made for a keen snapshot of the fickle other side of dancing on the edge after weeks of navigating it.
What might be seen as a market correction for the implausible ways they beat San Diego, Carolina, Denver and Atlanta brings with it the consequence of damaging their chances of a division championship, first-round playoff bye and home postseason game at Arrowhead.
To say nothing of reiterating just how precarious about every game has been and likely will be going forward.
It wasn’t just that the game Sunday came down to Succop, the ex-Chief, making good on a season-long kick he himself didn’t believe he’d make.
It was how it came down to that, starting with the most obvious decision that went awry for coach Andy Reid on a day brimming with entirely rational judgment calls he made that didn’t work out.
Along with a few that simply were baffling:
Why didn’t Tyreek Hill get another touch, for instance, after his 68-yard run for a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage?
He was targeted three times on passes that didn’t connect for various reasons, including a couple he got his hands on, but at this stage that’s an inadequate amount when it comes to a player who can generate more instant offense than any other Chief.
Along the same lines, Sunday represented the third straight week the Chiefs haven’t mustered an offensive touchdown in the second half. This time around, they only managed 109 yards after halftime – and just 27 in the crucible of the fourth quarter.
Like the old newspaper saying goes, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend story.
And while Reid and quarterback Alex Smith generally have insisted they’re not shrinking into some conservative cocoon, tight end Travis Kelce seemed to beg to differ when he was asked what happened after the Chiefs scored two first-quarter touchdowns to take a 14-0 lead.
“Other than play-calling, I couldn’t really tell you,” Kelce said, quickly but somewhat unconvincingly adding, “I’m not blaming it on play-calling. We’ve got to go out there and execute.
“But it felt like we got a little conservative. I don’t know whether it was the weather or what. I don’t know. We’ll have to look at the film and see what happened.”
So those things are on Reid to augment, or a team that had won 20 of its previous 23 regular-season games entering Sunday will do nothing memorable in the postseason.
Meanwhile, there are the X-factors in the equation, the matters that might as easily have gone the Chiefs’ way as not, but didn’t on Sunday.
With five seconds left, Reid decided to freeze Succop with a timeout as he lined up for the potential game-winner — and, no, the move wasn’t redundant because wind chills were below zero most of the game.
From where Reid sat, he made the call “relatively quick,” the implication being that perhaps the whistle could have been blown before Succop effectively got a practice shot that fell well-short.
On Succop’s second try, of course, it eked through.
“Listen, it didn’t work; I’ve got to do better on that,” Reid said. “It backfired.”
It did, and that’s just how it goes sometimes: It’s a good call if it works out, a bad one if it doesn’t.
Alas, though, it came on a day when Reid and the Chiefs had a few of those, enough to squander breaks their defense furnished by forcing three turnovers.
That fate included having Spencer Ware stuffed on fourth and goal at the 1-yard line late in the first half.
It’s true that the Chiefs essentially turned that into a field goal moments later after they forced Tennessee to punt.
But not cashing in a touchdown on back-to-back plays after De’Anthony Thomas was ruled out at the 1 made a statement to both sides, and it kept it a game.
(Some wanted Reid to challenge the call on Thomas, but the information he got from upstairs in the coaching booth was that Thomas hadn’t crossed.)
The Chiefs bungled another chance to drive a stake through the game when Smith both locked in on Jeremy Maclin and waited too long to throw his way from the Tennessee 7-yard line in the third quarter. The interception revived the Titans.
So then the game came down to another of the Chiefs customary mini-dramas, in this case hinging on the Chiefs simply being unable to convert on third and 2 twice in the fourth quarter.
That included Smith being stopped for no gain just after the 2-minute warning to allow Tennessee’s final drive.
“Critical plays,” Smith said, adding, “I mean, first down, game over, and they had no timeouts.”
Instead, the Chiefs fell to 10-4, leaving Smith correctly saying “the littlest things make a difference” at this time of year.
And leaving all knowing that the Chiefs may or may not be a so-called team of destiny.
But they clearly are as free to fall as flourish in the weeks to come, with the slightest of details likely to determine a profound difference in how this ends up.