Before I begin my post, let me make one thing clear. By now, every Chiefs fan has probably seen the questionable Pass Interference call on Brandon Flowers. For the record, the outrage is not that there shouldn't have been any call at all. Andre Johnson caught the ball and the Texans ended up declining the penalty. The outrage is that the play should have been taken back and then some. The call should have been Offensive Pass Interference and Houston should have been forced into a 2nd and 20 on the Houston 35 instead of a 1st and 10 on the KC 24 yard line. That blown call took the Texans away from a long yardage situation and into a first down in field goal range where a 41 yarder would have tied the game. That blown call changed the Texans' final drive from a desperation drive with over 40 yards to go to playing for a better field goal while being able to attack the end zone without consequence. And oh by the way, their Kicker happens to be Neil Rackers, a player who hasn't exactly been Mr. Clutch in his career. Even NFL experts chimed in, saying it was a horrible blown call.
There. I've spoken my peace. While the refs definitely Mr. Magoo'ed that Pass Interference call, I've always been careful not to blame the loss on one specific call, even if it happens on the last play of the game (ahem, Calvin Johnson). I remember when Broncos fans blamed their loss to the Chiefs a few years ago on an illegal block in the back during a Dante Hall return. My retort, homer that I am, is that in any given game, you can point to multiple incidents on both sides of the ball where the ref missed a call or two. More importantly, a team has to be prepared to win even when the bounces don't go their way. In the Broncos' case, if they didn't want a blown call to affect the final outcome of the game, they shouldn't have kept the game so close. More importantly, the Broncos had a chance to recapture the lead in the final drive of the game, but didn't.
My feeling about refs in that Chiefs-Broncos game was easy to dish out when I saw my team benefit from a lucky break. It was a little harder to swallow when the Chiefs got gipped out of a call. After digesting the bad call and patching up all my broken windows, here's what I came out with: great teams don't make excuses when the ball doesn't bounce their way. They overcome. Bad teams tend to get a lot more caught up in blaming other people but themselves for losses.
I don't know what Todd Haley has said to the team since that blown call, but I trust and hope that he sent a clear message to the Chiefs that while the call didn't help their cause, there were dozens of other ways the Chiefs lost outside of a poor call.
Let me throw in another familiar example. Several years ago, when the Cubs were supposedly gipped by some fan (we all know the name, so need for me to say it here) who reached in and stole a ball that was in the field of play, all the blame fell on the unlucky situation and not on the fact that Chicago had more than ample opportunity to overcome. Instead, the Cubs did enough to lose that game and then went on to lose yet another game after that. In an unrelated (yet fairly similar) situation, Bill Buckner let a ground ball roll through his legs, effectively costing the Red Sox a crucial game 6 in the World Series. The Red Sox then went on to lose game 7. In both cases, nobody remembers that the Red Sox or the Cubs could have won game 7. Nobody remembers that the Cubs could have still sealed the deal after the fan interference. Instead, everyone blamed their losses on bad luck; an extended curse; on two scapegoats.
The best pitchers in Baseball shake off an error from a teammate and strike out the following batter. The best teams in any sport shake off a missed call and use that as fuel to make a bigger stop on the next play. I don't want these young Chiefs to develop a loser's mentality where they find a convenient scapegoat for their loss.
There are plenty of things the Chiefs could have done outside of that blown call to win the game. Before I start that rant, massive props to Matt Cassel. That might have been one of the best games I've seen him play as a Chief*. I've been one of Matt Cassel's biggest critics (see Part I and Part of my rant on how Cassel needs to be better), but I also like to give credit where credit is due. He looked poised and confident, he was rifling his throws instead of trying to finesse the ball to his receivers, and it seemed to really pay off. Oh and by the way, that third down efficiency I pointed to last week? The Chiefs were outstanding on 3rd down. Sure, his stats weren't earth-shattering and yeah he played against a horrendous pass defense, but progress is progress.
Ah but yes, the asterisk. I put an asterisk on that statement because great Quarterbacks find ways to win games and Cassel needs to deliver when it matters most. Forget about the last drive of the game. I'm not going to fault a Quarterback for not driving down the entire field to score a necessary Touchdown. I'm talking about the failed 3rd and 2 that forced a punt that gave Houston one last opportunity to score. To me, that was the most important play of the game. It was a makeable third and short situation and a conversion would have likely sealed the game shut.
I've watched this play several times and here is my breakdown. Was it the right playcall? Yes-if the players execute, it definitely freed up open receivers. And credit Cassel for seeing the field well enough to see Moeaki break open toward the sidelines. There were two things that went wrong on this play. First and foremost, Branden Albert let Mario Williams fly into the backfield. To me, he was culprit #1 for that play's breakdown. Second, Cassel didn't throw a very good pass. You can blame some of that on pressure from Williams, but it also seems like he was adjusting his throw to prepare for the hit instead of stepping into it. Moeaki was wide open. A semi-accurate pass gets the Chiefs an easy first down. So feel free to blame whomever you want on that play, but to me, that play was the biggest reason the Chiefs lost, not the blown Pass Interference call.
Here are some other things I didn't like:
- Dustin Colquitt. What's going on, dawg? His punts used to have some kind of magic, voodoo spin that would consistently pin the other team within the 10 yard line. On Sunday, I watched a few punts dart straight backward into the end zone. On the most important punt of the game, he punted the ball 59 yards into the end zone, a net of 39 yards. Colquitt has been so good for the Chiefs for so long that we sometimes forget to evaluate him when he's not great. Let me tell you why Colquitt's missed punt was so important. The Texans had just a little over 2 minutes to score a field goal using a Kicker who has missed more than his share of game-winning kickers (Neil Rackers). Colquitt at his best pins the Texans within the 5 yard line and forces the Texans to drive the ball over 65 yards to kick a field goal. That touchback was a very big break for the Texans.
- Reckless Special Teams Calls (again): I love that Todd Haley is aggressive about passing on 3rd and short and going for it on 4th down, but how many times are we going to let "creative" special teams calls lead to costly big plays? For the third straight game, the Chiefs gave the opposing team field position at midfield because of special teams trickery that didn't work. In the last two games, that field position led to a score that could have made a big difference for the Chiefs.
- Defense: I don't think the Chiefs were outmatched against Houston. For the first time all season, they were outplayed. Too many missed tackles and while I'm willing to be patient with Eric Berry, it was not a good game for him. And our Inside Linebackers who have been so terrific all season long did not look sharp at all. The Offense more than set the table for a win. The defense gave up way too many late-game points, squandering the great things the offense did all game long.
- Defense in the clutch: I get that the refs blew a call on Brandon Flowers, but you have got to keep the Texans out of the end zone. The refs didn't put the Texans in the end zone; the Chiefs' defense did.