Alex Smith's mistakes outnumbered his big plays, and that's a losing formula. (Ed Zurga/AP)
The Kansas City Chiefs clinched a spot in the 2013 playoffs in Week 15, which is certainly an impressive feat just one season after they went 2-14 and secured the first overall pick in the 2013 draft. Their 11-4 record is a testament to the great jobs done by everyone in the organization -- from new head coach Andy Reid, to defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, to general manager John Dorsey, and on and on.
The Chiefs were the NFL's last undefeated team -- they didn't drop a game until the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos beat them 27-17 on Nov. 17. That was the first loss in a three-game streak that had a lot of people starting to worry about Kansas City's ability to roll strong and long in the playoffs. Though victories over the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders in December took the sting out of that, Sunday's 23-7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts had people wondering internally just how set this team is to deal with the NFL's best when it counts the most.
The last time the Chiefs beat a team worthy of playoff contention was on Sept. 26, when they took the Philadelphia Eagles 26-16. But that was when the Eagles were getting used to Chip Kelly, Michael Vick was the starting quarterback instead of Nick Foles and the Chiefs were still sacking quarterbacks. Kansas City has the San Diego Chargers in its regular-season finale, and if it can't take that one, the questions will persist -- even when the playoff opportunity is still valid.
“It’s one of those moments where you have to look in the mirror in all three phases," cornerback Dunta Robinson said after the Colts game. "They came in today and kicked our ass, and we deserved everything we got. No excuses. You have to look in the mirror, and we have to decide what kind of team we want to be moving forward. OK, you dominate Oakland, yeah you dominate the Redskins, but what are we going to do when we face other powerhouses? We’re a much better team than we showed today, and we have to play like it.”
It's a valid argument. Apart from a five-sack performance against Robert Griffin III in a Dec. 8 win over the Redskins, Kansas City's pass rush has not at all resembled the squad that led the league in sacks by a wide margin before its November bye. This trend continued against Indianapolis, as Andrew Luck was sacked just once in 37 passing attempts behind an offensive line that's been porous all season.
“We had some – myself included – some errors on D at times," linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "Speaking just defensively, we had some mistakes and they capitalized off them every single time. We’ll see them again; they got the upper hand on us right now because in their minds, they think they can beat us. If we go down there [to Indianapolis], it will be a different story.”
The Chiefs had better hope so, because it's quite possible that the Chiefs could travel to Indianapolis to meet the AFC South champion Colts in the playoffs. If they're to flip the script as Johnson implied, they'll have to cut down on the mistakes in all aspects. Quarterback Alex Smith is best when he's eliminating errors and relying on a great defense and sound running game. He doesn't have the pure arm talent to overcome games like this, in which he fumbled once and threw two interceptions. Jamaal Charles ran for 106 yards on just 13 carries, but the Colts expected that -- Charles blew the Colts up for 226 yards on the ground in Week 16 of last season. It was everything else that fell apart for the Chiefs, leaving Reid at more loose ends than you'd expect from a coach who has engineered such an impressive turnaround.
"I would expect our players to be upset over this and that’s what I sensed in that locker room," Reid said. "You learn from it, you have a short memory and then you move on and go get busy for your next opponent, whoever that might be. We’ve done that up to this point and we’ll continue to do that.”
If they don't do more of it -- and soon -- the Chiefs could very well be the NFL's most impressive one-and-done in the postseason.