From the very first drive, I had a bad feeling in my stomach.
Maybe I'm too cynical from years of seeing games like this one. Maybe I'm just a little too ready to concede to the notion that the Chiefs are going to play poorly the moment they're expected to play well. Crap, maybe the day job of prosecuting people has robbed me of all joy and convinced me that the worst possible outcome is going to happen 99 times out of 100 (few things will rob you of your belief in humanity than prosecuting people. People are the worst).
Whatever the reason, I could tell things weren't going to go smoothly against the Raiders. And they didn't. For the entire first half the Raiders looked like a team playing in the Super Bowl. And for them, really, it was. Home game against a hated rival, knowing they're eliminated from the playoffs and EVERYONE thinks they're about to get killed on national (well, kind of national) television? They had every reason to play like crazy people.
The Chiefs, on the other hand, were completely lethargic in the first half. Say what you will about "trap games," but it sure looked as though the Chiefs expected the Raiders to just curl up and die from the moment they stepped onto the field (at least in the first half).
The next thing you know, it's 14-0 on the way to a horrifying 24-20 loss. Ugh. Once again, the NFL has proven that you just can't mark up any game as a "sure thing." A picture you probably saw circulating the interweb sums it up.
Of course, saying things like "there's a lot of parity in the NFL" is a great way to get internet-punched after a game like that. It was no surprise that Chiefs Twitter on Friday was a war zone. People were angry. And from everything I could see, people were looking for someone to blame. Alex Smith, the receivers, the offense line, Eric Berry, Josh Mauga, Andy Reid ... anyone and everyone (besides Jamaal Charles and Travis Kelce) was fair game.
Often, after a loss, people want to hold onto one particular play and say things like, 'If Player X does Action Y, the Chiefs win." That statement is almost never true, barring the play in question being literally the last play of the game. There are just too many variables in an NFL game to say what the outcome would be if you change one thing. You know, butterfly effect and stuff.
That said, people want someone to blame. So I'm going to give them someone to blame. Many someones. And many of those someones will likely surprise those of you who love to claim I (and other writers here on AP) have "favorites" we don't go after. No one is immune. Let's get started with the blame game and begin to put this ugly loss behind us. Who knows, maybe knowing who to blame will give us all closure.
(Note, those of you who follow me on Twitter have seen some of these pictures. I'm very sorry for the double exposure to trauma.)
Blame Eric Berry
Whoa, that escalated quickly, right? I've been accused more than once of being some kind of massive Eric Berry homer, incapable of seeing when he makes poor plays.
Man, I wish that were the case, because then I wouldn't have seen this.
This is basically the last phase in a play where Berry just made a terrible, horrible, no-good-very-bad read. Berry, who was the last line of defense as single-high safety, thought the play was going to his left and moved that direction. Here's the thing; that's not really what you want to do when you're the last guy who can make a play. You want to make sure you don't sell out to one side of the field or other.
In case, you know, the runner cuts back to the other side and out-sprints you 90 yards to a touchdown.
Eric Berry is a good player. But that was a terrible play made even worse by Berry slipping trying to recover. Oakland's back (I refuse to learn his name. I'm still too bitter and I have a bad feeling we'll be seeing more of him) showed some serious speed in the open field, but this play should have been a 20-30 yard gain at the most. Berry is normally a guy who solves problems. Here, he exacerbated one. Yuck. Just ... yuck.
Of course, this play contained enough yuck to go around.
Blame Josh Mauga
Berry wasn't the only player to make a totally unforced error on Murray's (crap! I said part of his name. Even I can't do things right this week) huge touchdown run. Apparently, this Murray is capable of performing Jedi mind tricks, because I have no other explanation for the actions of Josh Mauga on this play. Let's go through the critical part frame by frame, with helpful arrows in the first one to show where our players are.
It looks like Mauga is in great position to fill the gap Murray ends up cutting into and the play is going to go nowhere. However, Mauga isn't content to fill his gap. He believes Murray is going to continue to run right (Murray's right), and so from this picture he starts to run left along the line to fill a gap that wasn't his responsibility. Let's see the results.
Murray sees Mauga abandoning his gap and makes a nice cutback. Mauga is caught completely flat-footed and moving the wrong direction, able to muster no more than a feeble grab at an already-sprinting Murray.
Murray made a nice decision and an excellent cut here, but this play shows why doing your job (and not trying to do someone else's) is a fundamental rule of football. Mauga thought Murray was heading the other way, and it looked like he might have some room to run. So he tried to cover an area that wasn't his to cover. Which created a gaping hole for Murray to run through.
Had Mauaga stuck with his gap I'm guessing Murray continues to run right (his right), and he's got a little room there. But JMJ had done a good job crashing his blocker into the backfield, and the rest of the line isn't stonewalled enough to give Murray a running start at the secondary like the one he actually got. You have to do your job on run defense. If you don't, runners get free shots at the end zone.
Blame Alex Smith
I like Alex Smith as a quarterback for the most part. But when he lets The Conservative Mr. Smith take over, he can be absolutely infuriating.
I'd be willing to bet every penny I have that most of you know what play I'm going to talk about. And you're right. With a little over nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs have tied the game (by finally playing like themselves in the third quarter) and are in the red zone threatening to take the lead. On 3rd and 3 (Chiefs need to get to the 4-yard-line for a first down), the Chiefs call a designed rollout (I hate those plays) to the right. Here's what it looked like shortly after the snap.
Dwayne Bowe is the receiver with the giant circle, Travis Kelce is the other circled receiver. The reason Bowe has such a large circle? To emphasize the wide open spaces available in the end zone for Smith to loft a throw.
That ball should be out of Smith's hands IMMEDIATELY. Like, right now. Bowe is wide open with a ton of real estate in front of him. There are a million places Smith can put the ball where it's either a touchdown or an incomplete pass.
Crap, even if Smith doesn't like how things look with Bowe (I have no idea why he wouldn't but roll with me here), Kelce has some space as well. One of the Raider defenders near Bowe is trying desperately to close the space, but a throw leading Kelce toward the sideline has a decent shot at getting a first down.
The worst thing Smith can do on this play? Hang onto the ball and give the Raiders secondary time to recover. Which is exactly what Smith does.
You can just imagine his inner monologue on this play. "Wow, Dwayne's open! But I don't know, throwing it on the run I'm risking an underthow and a potential pick. And hey, Kelce's kinda open for the first down. But I don't know, the defender is closing in. We don't need hero ball, we've got the lead with a field goal. Don't turn the ball over. Man, both guys are covered pretty well now. Just throw it away and we'll take the lead anyway. It's the safe move."
I have a theory about Alex Smith (partly mine, partly AP user Brsrkr's); Smith needs to have his back to the wall to make dangerous throws. Remember the Bills game? Smith made multiple throws to Bowe that were EXPONENTIALLY more difficult than the throw here would be. But that was when the Chiefs absolutely NEEDED the throw. Here, Smith could talk himself out of it, and that's exactly what he did.
I believe that had the Chiefs been down four points instead of three points, Smith makes that throw. Instead, he let The Conservative Mr. Smith take over and the Chiefs went ahead by three.
Plays like this are undoubtedly why a very vocal group of Chiefs fans hate having Alex Smith as their quarterback. And sometimes (like when watching this play) that's completely understandable.
Blame Husain Abdullah
I really like Abdullah. But he had two plays on Oakland's go-ahead drive that are absolutely going to haunt him. The first was posted on Twitter, and to save myself the work I'll just embed the Tweet.
I bet Abdullah is going to lose sleep over this one (Raiders last drive). Would've been a great play. Game of inches. pic.twitter.com/8RFSvxOAFs— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 22, 2014
Abdullah was in great position on this play. Again, he's a good player. But he JUST missed an interception that would have killed the Raiders chances. As I said in the tweet, it's a game of inches.
Is it fair to "blame" Abdullah for missing on what would have been a very good play? Not really. But when you combine that with the very next snap, it gets a little more complicated. It's 3rd and 6, and the Chiefs are about to force the Raiders to go for the tie instead of the win. And Abdullah, in man coverage on a tight end, is in great position, until...
That Oakland field, man. It claims another victim. Abdullah slips JUST enough to allow for a little separation, Carr completes the pass, and the Raiders get a first down on their way to the end zone.
The part that makes that hurt is (upon reviewing the all-22 film) the rest of Oakland's receivers were well-covered. This play is very, very likely an incomplete pass or a sack if Abdullah doesn't slip.
Slips happen, and interceptions sometimes go uncaught (uncatched? Unintercepted?). It's not a condemnation of Abdullah. But we're passing blame here, and those two plays were huge.
Blame Ron Parker
I refuse to show that touchdown to James Jones. Yes, it was exactly what it looked like. Parker got torched. It happens. He's played well this year, but that was an awful play.
As far as the pass interference goes, I'm not touching that one either. Other than to say it was a complete bullcrap call that should make that ref feel guilty to his very soul until the end of time. Other than that, though...
Blame Mike McGlynn
This was the big sack leading to the Chiefs having a 4th and long as their last play of the game.
YOU'RE LOOKING THE WRONG WAY MIKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/2zkcJfIZod— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 22, 2014
I just ... I just can't. I can't even. I don't know what to ... yeah. That happened. He goes to help Eric Fisher (who wasn't doing GREAT, but hadn't lost either) and leaves a guy totally and utterly unblocked. There's just not much else to say.
I don't know what the assignment was for Big Mike on that play, but I really doubt "leave a delayed blitz free and clear to sprint at Alex" was part of it. No chance for the routes to even finish. Ugh.
Blame Frankie Hammond (maybe)
Watching that last play on the broadcast, I assumed Smith just short-armed the throw (he'd done it several times earlier in the night). But here's what I know watching the all-22.
1) Smith makes the throw as Hammond starts to break into his comeback route at around the 35-yard-line (about a millesecond before this screenshot).
2) Hammond ends up actually getting himself turned around at the 30-yard-line, not the 35-yard-line, after taking what seem to be 1,304 steps to get himself stopped.
3) The ball goes out of bounds at around the 35-yard-line. Not the 30-yard-line.
I have no idea where Hammond was told to break and come back. That said, the line in the first picture shows where the first down is. Having Hammond go all the way to the 30-yard-line just doesn't make sense. When you factor in where the throw went and when Smith threw the ball, it only adds to the belief that Hammond simply went too far on his route.
Of course, we'll never know. People who don't like Smith will blame Smith for short-arming the throw (and they might be right). People who like Smith will blame Hammond for going too far on his route (and they might be right). I just know what it looks like to me. There's no way either player or Andy Reid will ever say what exactly went wrong there.
I can tell you this much, though; there was more than enough blame to go around as it is. Hopefully knowing exactly what went wrong on various plays gives you some form of closure. It did for me. Now let's never speak of this again.