Kansas City Has (Probably) Surrendered the Division to Denver
It has been almost a month since the Kansas City Chiefs have been a winner. The Chiefs picked up their ninth win of the season with a 10-point victory over the Buffalo Bills right before their bye week. The three subsequent games have resulted in a varied manner of losses.
A timid and conservative offense caused the Chiefs to come up short in Denver even though the defense held the Broncos to their lowest point total of the season. The following week, the offense did show up, and scored a season high 38 points, but still lost. The defense succumbed to the Chargers’ passing attack and surrendered a season-high 41 points. The defensive struggles resurfaced in the second half during the rematch against Denver.
Kansas City had an almost great first half. With only a few exceptions, the first half went about as well as the Chiefs could have expected. The only problem is those exceptions are pretty big. On the game’s opening possession, Kansas City marched down the field to the Broncos’ 2-yard line. It appeared the Chiefs would get points to start off the game; instead, an across-the-body pass from Alex Smith was picked off in the end zone, and the Chiefs walked away with nothing. While the Chiefs intercepted Peyton Manning a mere five plays later, an end-zone interception is never a good thing. You never want to leave points on the field, especially when you’re playing one of the NFL’s historically great offenses.
Some mistakes and poor play finished a drive at the end of the second quarter that could have, and should have, ended in some points before halftime. An intentionally grounding penalty on Smith pushed the Chiefs back and they ended up punting.
Kansas City opened up a 14-point lead (at least for a couple of possessions) by controlling the ball and forcing Manning into two uncharacteristic interceptions. But that all ended in the third quarter. The Chiefs ran a total of eight plays in that period. Denver scored touchdowns on all three of its possessions, with all three going to Eric Decker. (The third touchdown occurred on the second play of the fourth quarter, but the drive started in the third quarter). Any game control the Chiefs had at halftime was lost. Both the offense and defense faltered.
Rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper played a role in the two interceptions of Manning. On Manning’s first pick, Cooper was part of a double-team on Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, with fellow defensive back Quentin Demps the one to actually intercept the ball. A couple of possessions later, Cooper came up with his own interception after a terribly thrown pass by Manning. But that’s where the good times, and good play, would end. In the second half, Cooper would be burned by Decker for two touchdowns. The Chiefs may have survived if had been only those two plays. Thomas also burned Cooper for a 77-yard gain, and Cooper picked up a pass-interference penalty as well.
Decker's fourth touchdown of the night was absolutely indicative of Cooper's struggles guarding him. Manning lobbed a perfect pass into the back corner of the end zone for Decker, and Cooper never turned around. Cooper was aware of, and made a play on, the ball only after Decker caught it. But what may get overshadowed by the number of times Cooper got beat is that Brandon Flowers surrendered the first two Decker touchdowns trying to guard him one-on-one. Cooper was burned time and again, but he wasn’t the only one.
Hand in hand with Cooper’s ineffectiveness was the ineffectiveness of all the pass catchers for the Chiefs. Dwayne Bowe, Anthony Fasano, Donnie Avery, and A.J. Jenkins all had catchable balls go through their fingertips.
The hole the third-quarter Chiefs were put in was just too much for the fourth-quarter Chiefs. A 17-play scoring drive that directly followed Decker's final touchdown brought the Chiefs within one possession again.
Faced with needing a touchdown and only 3:32 remaining, the Chiefs’ offense couldn't afford another 17-play drive that ate nearly eight minutes. Kansas City’s wide receivers put together their best drive of the game. Jenkins made a great catch on a prayer pass from Smith, who narrowly avoided going down for a safety. Two plays later, Dexter McCluster made a diving catch. Then, Bowe made a brilliant adjustment to a back-shoulder throw.
Much like in the first game against Denver, the Chiefs just ran out of time. Stretches of poor, incompetent performance put the Chiefs in a position they couldn’t get out of quickly enough. All that will be remembered from the loss will be Kansas City’s ineffectiveness in the third quarter. The defense once again performed better than pretty much any other team in the league has against Denver (New England last week was probably the best). Smith is attacking down the field, even though his receivers aren’t helping him out too much. The offense showed up for the second week in a row. But all of that isn’t as important after a 16-minute stretch of terrible football.
We have yet to see a start-to-finish, dominant performance from the Chiefs against a team that matters. This trend obviously can't continue if Kansas City has hopes of being a meaningful opponent in the playoffs.