The end was bizarre and confounding and controversial in ways that will sting and stick a while.
Timeless, you might say, which would be apt for a game that was decided by the play run after a play with zero seconds on the clock.
But amid all the oddities and the pandemonium of pendulum-swinging penalty flags, there was one clear and pure truth to the final sequence of the Chiefs’ excruciating 31-30 loss to Oakland on Thursday at the Oakland Coliseum.
The fatal final drive, after all, had begun at the Oakland 15-yard-line both an eternity and a whirlwind before with the Chiefs leading 30-24.
“Just got to make a play. Just make one play. One play,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said, later adding, “The game was on the line last drive. Just make one play. One of us. And we couldn’t make it.”
That’s what led to the dizzying culmination, one so chaotic that Oakland receiver Michael Crabtree sought clarification when he was asked about “that final play.”
“Which one?” said Crabtree, who caught the touchdown that tied the game. “The final, or the final, final play?”
It was a bitter, bitter loss for the Chiefs (5-2), whose 12-game AFC West winning streak was snuffed out with a second straight overall loss that allowed the Raiders (3-4) to pick themselves up off the mat.
It also illuminated what no longer can be denied: that the Chiefs’ bend-don’t-break defensive philosophy is a meaningless distinction after giving up 505 yards on Thursday and 84 points in the last three games.
“It’s not what happens to you; it’s how you respond after something happens,” Johnson said. “And we have to go back to the drawing board.”
After an ending you couldn’t have drawn up.
If you didn’t have a stake in it, you’d simply have watched in wonder as the Raiders converted on fourth and 11 with a 13-yard pass from Derek Carr to Jared Cook at the Chiefs’ 29 with 33 seconds left.
Then it went from mesmerizing to absurd, with the Raiders scoring an apparent touchdown on Carr’s pass to Cook … only to have the call reversed and the ball marked at the 1 with 7 seconds left.
Thus began a sequence that quarterback Alex Smith saw this way from the sideline, maybe a lot like you saw it at home:
“We lost it, we won it; we lost it, we won it,” he thought.
On a night that both teams felt they’d been compromised by the officiating, the follies were just beginning.
On the next play, Michael Crabtree caught the ball in the end zone … only to be nabbed pushing off Marcus Peters.
If you were a Chiefs fan, you figured this was poetic justice or karma or something richly deserved after the Raiders’ first touchdown had been enabled by Amari Cooper’s push-off of Terrance Mitchell.
Now there’s 3 seconds on the clock, and Carr throws incomplete for Cook … only for the Chiefs’ Ron Parker to get called for holding.
If you were a Raiders fan, or a Raider, you felt like the Chiefs finally got what was coming to them:
“I thought … maybe we weren’t going to catch a break with the crew that worked the game,” Oakland coach Jack Del Rio said, apparently oblivious to a handful of blatant calls the Raiders benefited from.
So there they go again, with no time on the clock, and this time Carr goes for Cordarrelle Patterson. It’s incomplete again, but this time there’s a holding call on the Chiefs’ Eric Murray.
Now with, well, less than no time on the clock, Carr finds Crabtree, who just gets inbounds at the front of the end zone with Mitchell defending — and then gesturing that he’d been pushed off.
But there were no more reprieves coming from officials, whose role in the game will no doubt stay with fans but shouldn’t distract from the actual reason the Chiefs lost.
No one likes to see a flurry of flags at game’s end, but as Smith put it, “there are rules” and if a team is “cheating” you throw a flag no matter what time of game it is.
No, the Chiefs didn’t lose because of that.
They lost because a defense that mustered little pressure on Carr all night (zero sacks) couldn’t hem in the Raiders 85 yards away from the end zone with 2 minutes 25 seconds left.
You’ll remember this for two plays run with no time on the clock, something that’s rare if not unprecedented in what became a crazy game that will live on for years.
“That was weird, different,” coach Andy Reid said. “But we’ve still got to take care of business right there.”
And soon. Because a defense that had largely been a saving grace the last few years now needs to start saving face.