Vahe Gregorian

Why Andy Reid went for it, a key decision that backfired on the Chiefs

Invincible through five games, the Chiefs lost to the Steelers for a zillion reasons on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

So many that it was almost stunning they had a chance to win in the final two minutes before succumbing 19-13.

How do we count the ways:

From being plowed over by Le’Veon Bell for 179 yards … to incompetent first-half offense that produced 6 yards and one first down … to defender Phillip Gaines allowing the ball to go off his hands and helmet for Antonio Brown’s 51-yard touchdown … to Alex Smith having a pedestrian day … to being without the injured Tyreek Hill for the final drive.

But the game within the game also pivoted on a decision gone awry by coach Andy Reid, one that reiterates the remarkably thin and blurry line between success and defeat and perceived genius and dunce in the NFL.

Reid is, in fact, an excellent coach who sometimes makes wrong decisions.

That’s what this one was, even if it’s also easy to understand and sympathize with what he was thinking and even if sometimes the wrong choices work and the right ones don’t.

His adamant detractors will put this in the file of why they think he’ll never win the big one.

Others of us will just remember he isn’t perfect and, gasp, sometimes makes decisions on instinct more than pure pragmatism.

If the real world is anything like the press box, the moment was one of those where everyone had an opinion before the gambit.

No fair to change your mind after the play … even though its outcome, of course, is what you’ll remember most.

With the Chiefs trailing 12-3 early in the fourth quarter and facing fourth and 2 at the Pittsburgh 4, astute colleagues on the left and right of me were equally divided on the cost-benefit analysis of going for it vs. kicking to cut it to a one-score game.

But admirable as the audacity of going for it might be, the practical, logical thing to do absolutely was to kick.

Because if you need two more scores on a day you’ve had one in 45 minutes, best take the more sure thing.

It still would have been the right way to go even if Demetrius Harris actually hung on to the ball long enough for it to be ruled a touchdown — as he thought it was but Reid didn’t.

So since this is largely in the eye of the beholder, let’s turn to the root source for a notion of how he saw it. While Reid was somewhat cryptic, he also offered some worthy and persuasive insight.

For one thing, he noted that the Chiefs had had a mostly futile afternoon on offense, and seemed to question whether they’d be able to get that close again.

“We hadn’t been down there; we hadn’t done much throughout the afternoon,” he said.

For another, Reid liked a few plays they had concocted for the situation, although it was hard to like seeing him run Kareem Hunt up the middle for a yard on the previous play given that he said all along he was thinking four-down territory.

“It didn’t work out, so hindsight ends up being that you wish you would have kicked it,” he said.

That’s something coaches often say in these situations, but it’s also generally true: No one’s complaining if a gamble works.

As for foresight, Reid offered a broader philosophical look at how he balances the line between being aggressive and practical.

“I don’t worry about the questions that will be asked afterwards; I do what my gut tells me to do,” he said. “I thought that was the right thing to do. Again, we hadn’t been down there or really moved the ball too much.

“If nothing else it backs them up and gives us an opportunity to come back and win the game. Which we did. We had an opportunity there to win the game.

“So these are the things I’m thinking about. I’m preaching to the team to stay aggressive without being stupid.”

In fact, the Chiefs did force a Steeler punt and produced the next touchdown to cut it to 12-10 on Smith’s 57-yard pass to De’Anthony Thomas.

But the dynamics of the game and subsequent decisions also changed without the field goal, which left the Chiefs still needing two scores after Brown’s touchdown with 3 minutes, 24 seconds left made it 19-10.

There’s a lot to like about the message going for it in that situation sends the team, a lot of adrenalin that flows on the field and in the stands when you do that.

“Big opportunity if you can convert there,” Smith said.

Said Harris: “I mean, it’s fourth down. It’s all or nothing.”

But … it didn’t have to be.

“It stings when you don’t get it because it’s all for nothing,” Smith said.

All of which is to say that even if the decision seemed ill-considered, Reid had his reasons that almost paid off, anyway.

It doesn’t make him a coach who can’t win the big one, just another human factor on a team with great upside ... but that had its share of the other side of that capacity on Sunday.

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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