An Unwanted Entertainment Boost
The easiest two-point conversation you’ve ever seen has created a monstrous difference in the conclusion of a still promising season for the Kansas City Chiefs. Just as they earlier became the first team in the history of the NFL to score fifty points and lose, last night against the Chargers they became the first team this season to lead by 14 with less than five minutes to go and fall. 88-0 was the record heading into last night.
One monstrously blown coverage turned a 28-27 win into a 29-28 loss on a night where the Chiefs looked like they were going to survive a less than spectacular effort. Somehow, three professional football defensive players lined up against two receivers, and then allowed the one who already had scored three touchdowns in the game to run completely free into a spot where when he caught the game winning two-pointer, there were no defenders in the camera shot.
The immediate upshot is that the Chiefs have gone from making their final two games almost completely irrelevant, and handling their top personnel with care, to very likely having to play both games all out to win. It also made a trip next Sunday night to Seattle to take on the red-hot Seahawks a vital one.
The good news is that the still Chiefs control their own destiny. The Chargers did pull even with them in the standings, but the Chiefs hold the tiebreaker, the better divisional record, and that situation can’t change unless the Chiefs somehow were to lose to the Raiders at home the final weekend. But the Chiefs would have finished off the Chargers, and the division, if only they could have avoided allowing fifteen points in the final 3:49.
Now the only thing that would take the pressure off the Seattle game would be a loss by both the Patriots and the Chargers before the Chiefs kick if off next Sunday night against the Seahawks. And they go into that game with some evidence of slippage from the stupendous standards they were setting.
Since they clobbered Cleveland on the road on November 4th, the Chiefs have gone 3-2. No shame there, but the games have played out like this. A lackluster 26-14 win over Arizona, which was a one score game into the fourth quarter. The aforementioned history-making 54-52 loss to the Rams, although there was plenty of good in that one. A dogfight 40-33 win in Oakland against a team that everyone thought had quit. An overtime 27-24 heist against Baltimore, thrilling but mighty flawed, and then last night.
In that time, they have also waved goodbye to Kareem Hunt, lost Sammy Watkins (most indications perhaps for the season), lost Spencer Ware, although he is expected to be back soon, and last night lost their most dependable defensive back Kendall Fuller, likely for the year. This is standard attrition in the league, heck the Chargers won the game last night without their best running back and wide receiver, but that doesn’t mean you can just ignore it.
This all is hardly room for panic, although I certainly heard plenty of that last night on my postgame show on WHB, and lots today. The Chiefs still have an offense that puts up 28 points on a night they gained less than 300 yards, only possessing the ball eight times. Patrick Mahomes has masked the personnel losses with his individual brilliance, and that isn’t going anywhere.
As an aside, one thing in Pat’s repertoire I would like to see go somewhere is the left handed pass. He trotted two more out there last night, one of which should have been grounding, and the other just looked silly. Pat is many things, almost all great, but he is not ambidextrous. Those flutterballs need to go into cold storage. This isn’t fun police stuff, they are just far more likely to be a bad thing than good. The first one won the Chiefs a vital game in Denver, but my analogy would be, if you won five million dollars in the lottery, would you really keep playing? Well, I wouldn’t.
That being said, Mahomes is the greatest reason to calm down right now. The first drive last night shows why. I can easily make the case that he is the only quarterback in football who would have even gotten a field goal out of that series. Three different plays that seemed completely dead were turned into positives with scintillating escapes. It has become delightfully routine.
Mahomes probably never thought that he would be reliving his Texas Tech days in the pros, but he is. He HAS to be this good, because the Chiefs defense is that bad. As the season has gone along, because the Chiefs kept winning despite the worst efforts of that side of the ball, the narrative became that they were getting better, or that they were pretty good at home. The sad truth is they have a great pass rush, and that is all. And even the best pass rush might affect at most fifteen snaps a game, and all the others are just candy for the opponents. Also, teams can do what the Chargers adjusted to last night, running the ball or throwing it immediately.
Things change quickly in this league, and everyone also is a prisoner of the moment. I saw at least four national talking heads today say that they would pick the Chargers over the Chiefs as the team they would least like to play right now. You can roll your eyes, and I might well disagree, but Los Angeles has a top ten offense AND defense.
The only real positive out of last night, and it is only an entertainment note, is that Chiefs fans will likely get to see their team play real football the rest of the way. If they had won last night, the next meaningful game they would have played would have been the weekend of January 12th.
Now they have a Sunday Night showdown with Seattle that really will be one. If it’s not a matchup of the two best quarterbacks in football, it certainly is the two most entertaining QB’s in the game. We should see plenty of crazy escapes from Russell Wilson and Mahomes as they try and frustrate frantic pass rushers.
It didn’t have to be this way, but it will be another night to get nervous, to bite your nails, to cuss Bob Sutton, and to gasp as Pat Mahomes does a few out of this world things. The Chiefs are in the playoffs, but what kind of path they can lay out, will probably be on the line in the Great Northwest.