It’s hard to know where to put Saturday’s Kansas City Chiefs loss on the list of their all-time crushing playoff defeats because there are so many disappointments to pick from.
But this one will sting for a long, long time. The Chiefs somehow blew a 21-3 lead to the Tennessee Titans and fell 22-21 in a wild-card showdown. Even when it seemed the Chiefs got a miracle touchdown off a Derrick Henry fumble in the final two minutes, a replay review showed that Henry was clearly down before the ball came loose. It was just a tease.
Andy Reid, forever criticized for not winning the big one, will wear this one for a while. Alex Smith, doubted even during a season in which he led the NFL in passer rating, might have seen his Chiefs career end in one of the most unsatisfying ways possible.
The Chiefs led 21-3 at the half. Smith was nearly perfect in the first half, going 19-of-23 for 231 yards and two touchdowns. Even without tight end Travis Kelce, who was knocked out with a concussion, the Chiefs couldn’t possibly lose to an overmatched Titans team at home.
Then the Chiefs stopped moving the ball and the Titans used a fluky touchdown pass as a springboard to take a fourth-quarter lead. Marcus Mariota threw a pass that was batted in the air, and he caught it and dove into the end zone for a touchdown. It’s only the second time in NFL history a quarterback has thrown a touchdown to himself, and the first time in playoff history, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Brad Johnson did it for the Vikings in 1997.
The Titans took off after that. Henry ran for a touchdown. Eric Decker gave them the lead on a touchdown catch from Mariota, who had a gutsy game including a big block on Henry’s first-down run that finished the game. All the while the Chiefs suddenly couldn’t move the ball. Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is a legend at adjustments, but it was still ridiculous that the Chiefs were shut out after halftime.
The Chiefs’ final offensive play was a tease too. On fourth down, Smith threw deep to Albert Wilson. It was just a bit too long, glanced off Wilson’s fingertips and the Titans took over on downs with 2:09 to go.
The Twitter reaction of Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters summed it all up:
— Marcus Peters (@marcuspeters) January 7, 2018
Smith had a great first half and did very little in the second half. It might be the impetus for the Chiefs trading or cutting him this offseason, taking the significant salary-cap savings and giving the keys to 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes next season. After a loss like Saturday, it doesn’t seem there’s much reason to run it back with the same core. They can’t get over the hump.
Chiefs fans have to wonder what they’ve done to deserve all of this postseason disappointment. The Chiefs have won just one playoff game since the end of the 1993 season, when Joe Montana led a win over the Houston Oilers.
They have lost six home playoff games in a row, extending their NFL record for most consecutive home playoff losses. There have been some miserable defeats at Arrowhead Stadium in that streak. Some came as big favorites. Last season, the Chiefs lost when a game-tying two-point conversion was taken off the board due to a holding penalty. The losses have come in all ways.
This loss was unique, however. The Chiefs were in control against a Titans team that didn’t look special most of the season, and definitely didn’t seem like a team that could win a playoff game on the road after falling behind by 18 points. But most likely, Chiefs fans didn’t relax even with that big lead. They’ve been through too much over the years to take any playoff win for granted.
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