Agony at Arrowhead
Kansas City Chiefs
Jeremey Theron Kirby
Agony at Arrowhead
It’s the same old song and dance in the playoffs for the Kansas City Chiefs.
words Alex Hoffman
Just when you think the Chiefs couldn’t write another preposterous chapter in their mostly dismal playoff history, they somehow do it with bizarre panache.
In their 22-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium on Jan. 6, the Chiefs blew a 21-3 halftime lead, let the opposing quarterback catch his own pass for a touchdown, blew a 21-3 halftime lead, and only managed three first downs in a scoreless second half. Did I mention the Chiefs blew a 21-3 halftime lead?
It was certainly a group effort. The offense had to shut down, the defense had to open up the running lanes, and the coaching had to be poor, all at precisely the right levels. Since the advent of the Super Bowl, teams that lead by 18 points or more at the half in the playoffs have only lost four games. Andy Reid owns two of those losses in his five-year tenure with the Chiefs.
We have to acknowledge that the Chiefs were the dregs of the league before Reid arrived in Kansas City, and he instantly made them a winner again. His 53-27 record since 2013 is the envy of 75 percent of the NFL, maybe more. But in many respects, Reid is Marty Schottenheimer 2.0: Immense regular-season success followed by spectacular postseason failure. Good enough to always be respectable, not good enough for the Super Bowl to be remotely realistic. Playing their best football when it mattered the least, only to clam up and wither when it mattered the most.
Chiefs fans feel like Phil Connors in “Groundhog Day” bumping into a different Ned Ryerson in the AFC every opportunity their team gets. Watch out for that first step. It’s a doozy.
The last two seasons are a perfect microcosm. The Chiefs won back-to-back AFC West titles for the first time ever, beating some of the league’s best along the way. In 2016, they beat Atlanta on the road, who would later represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, and they started this season by winning consecutive games against two of the four teams with a 13-3 record (New England and Philadelphia). The much-maligned Alex Smith had the best season of his career with the NFL’s highest quarterback rating. But in both seasons, it was all for naught when the Chiefs couldn’t defend their home field in the playoffs.
And that’s one of the most incomprehensible things about all this. The Chiefs’ inability to win postseason games at Arrowhead has almost taken on mystical qualities. When I was in fourth grade, my dad and I were in attendance for the Chiefs’ first playoff game at Arrowhead on Dec. 28, 1991, against the then-Los Angeles Raiders. Led by journeyman quarterback Steve DeBerg, the Chiefs barely scraped out 200 yards of offense but squeaked by the Raiders 10-6.
Let’s not kid ourselves, it was an ugly game. Little did we know that would be one of the “good” playoff performances.
The Chiefs have only one other playoff win at Arrowhead since, and that one was practically a miracle orchestrated by Joe Montana in overtime against the Steelers in 1994. And really, there’s your problem with Chiefs football. They’ve now lost six consecutive playoff games at Arrowhead, which should be considered a categorical impossibility but it’s the sad ballad that the Chiefs are way too accustomed to playing.
It’s something everyone should’ve seen coming when you look back at a disconcerting midseason stretch that saw Kansas City lose six of seven. The Chiefs had the ball in their hands on the final possession with a chance to tie or win in four of those, and they couldn’t do it. Thanks to a flurry of defensive penalties, they handed another game to the Raiders.
Here the Chiefs were again in the fourth quarter when all they needed was a field goal to beat the Titans. They were even in Tennessee territory. But they couldn’t make the plays to get in field goal range.
As good as Smith has been, and as much stability as he’s brought to the quarterback position, most of that crunch-time ineffectiveness is on his shoulders. He and Reid are 1-4 in the playoffs in Kansas City, and that one win is against the Houston Texans and quarterback Brian Hoyer, who you don’t exactly confuse with Tom Brady. There’s a growing sense, even an expectation, that the Patrick Mahomes era is upon us. Based on Mahomes’ playmaking ability in the season finale at Denver, and this latest postseason fiasco, it’s difficult not to make the case.
For all we know, Reid and general manager Brett Veach could maintain the status quo and not trade Smith. If that’s what we learn though — that Smith is returning as the starting quarterback for 2018 — enthusiasm from the fan base will be zapped. Yeah, you’re assured of nine to 12 wins, but to borrow a line from “Trouble in Paradise” by Huey Lewis & the News: “I’ve seen this movie, and it don’t end nice.” This just isn’t working. They have to switch things up.
Fans are genuinely excited to see what Mahomes can do with this offense and how new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy can use him, regardless of youth, regardless of record, regardless of what he does possession by possession. I wrote about him in August’s 435 because of that anticipation. He would have talent all around him at key skill positions like Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, and Travis Kelce. It would be something different, and something refreshing.
The other side of the ball may need to be infused with new faces too. A defense susceptible to the run has allowed 156 yards to Tennessee’s Derrick Henry and 170 to Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell in the last two postseasons. The defensive backfield needs to be more than just the talented but polarizing Marcus Peters. There are calls for defensive coordinator Bob Sutton to be replaced, as things are getting a little stale schematically and they repeatedly got beat on third down against the Titans.
As for Reid, the guy isn’t going anywhere. He signed a contract extension through 2021, and even though the same playoff foibles that dogged him in Philadelphia are dogging him now, you would assume owner Clark Hunt wouldn’t be interested in voiding that contract. In the NFL’s creaky coaching carousel, there aren’t many other viable alternatives.
What Reid must understand is that there has to be a reshuffle. There has to be change that’s noticeable. Sisyphus shouldn’t have to wear a Chiefs helmet.