When I remember this season, the first thing that's going to pop into my head is going to be the win against the Seahawks at Arrowhead.
It was the first win I witnessed live at Arrowhead. It was the peak of a fantastic weekend trip with my wife. It was witnessed with two Z-men in my stomach from the day before. It was just ... perfect. A perfect day. And no matter what else happens this year, the first memory for me this season will be a positive one.
The second thing I'll think of when I think of 2014 (barring some insane luck ending in a playoff win) will be missed opportunities. And I mean missed by INCHES opportunities.
You know where this leads...
Somehow, a bunch of Hollywood writers managed to sum up the game of football better than almost anyone ever has.
The NFL has more parity than any other sports league. The gap between the worst team and the best team, while somewhat wide, isn't so crazy as to mean any victory is guaranteed. A team like the Raiders can beat the Chiefs soundly (regardless of the scoreboard) then get mollywhopped 3048-0 by the Rams ... who got destroyed 34-7 by the Chiefs. In the NFL, nothing is guaranteed.
Which brings us to the 2014 Chiefs. Over the course of the season, the Chiefs have conceded roughly 10 feet of those inches in the form of missed opportunities. You cannot do that in the NFL and expect to make the playoffs (well, technically, you can. But that ruins my narrative so I will ignore it).
While in any loss you can point to a few plays and throw all the blame at them (and you'll be wrong. Football isn't about one play), the Chiefs have had a particularly rough year in losing those inches just often enough to lose games that were very, very winnable.
And that's why this is an average football team on offense. Whether you want to point to Alex Smith, the offensive line, or the wide receivers, plays have been left on the field (yes, by Smith too. It's happened to him. More than it should to a guy getting paid like a franchise guy). Heck, even Jamaal Charles hasn't been immune to it this season.
The latest "I can't believe they lost that game" game for the Chiefs featured a particularly large number of those inches. Where to even start?
Well, maybe the most obvious place. Brace yourself, you're about to re-live a "Yeeeeeeaaaaaaahhhhhhh NO!" moment:
This is a sad picture. A sad picture of a sad football landing on the sad ground JUST out of reach of a sad Albert Wilson after sailing JUST out of reach of his sad hands. Again, there's a lot of sadness here.
It's a game of inches. In this case, that's pretty literal. I'd say this play was roughly a yard from being a 65-yard touchdown and an entirely different narrative on the game (of course, it was still early enough that we don't know how things would've gone after. But still).
Watching the play miss all on its own was bad enough. But those jerks on CBS decided to rub a little salt on the wound and replay it using all-22 (giving us the rare "before Wednesday" opportunity to watch a route run). And the results of that made me want to chuck my laptop across the room and burn all the yellow towels on earth.
To lead us into the enraging part of this play, here's something to note; after the play is over Wilson looks at the ref and gives him the universal sign for "Are you serious right now?"
Hmmmm, well that's interesting. Why is Wilson looking at the ref? I mean, it was just an overthrown deep ball. Plays like that happen a half dozen times a game (well, not to the Chiefs, because ... well, you know why. But still). What does the ref has to do with it?
This brings us back to the all-22 replay CBS was kind (or cruel) enough to grace us (or punish us) with. Here's a screenshot that should really make you feel even better about that play.
Let me answer your questions in order.
1) Yes, that's the PIT corner with his left arm across the chest of Albert Wilson.
2) Yes, he backhanded Wilson in the chest to hold him up 15 yards off the line of scrimmage as Wilson started to break into the post.
3) Yes, that's illegal contact.
4) Yes, it slowed Wilson down for just a split second.
5) Yes, without that contact (and even with it) Wilson had the cornerback (something called a Blake Antwon) completely and utterly roasted.
And we're back to a game of inches. I've re-watched that play over and over and over and over, and Wilson ran through the contact pretty well. It was a completely blatant attempt by a cornerback with his hips turned wrong to slow down Wilson. It didn't work in the sense that Wilson still got separation (seriously guys, he's really fast).
But look at that top picture again. How much would you say that pass missed by? About a yard? Maybe two? Gee, I wonder how much ground a guy as fast as Wilson loses in a split second of getting backhanded. About a yard? Maybe two?
My point here isn't that the refs screwed the Chiefs, or anything like that. The Chiefs gave the game away all on their own and had plenty of other chances to win the game (when you come away from 64 red zone possessions with 12 points, you're going to lose the game). You can blame the refs for that play, or Smith, or Wilson, or Reid, or Obama. Whatever. I'm not talking about blame. I'm talking about inches. And those were inches the Chiefs just didn't get. And it's been that kind of season.
Another "game of inches" play (this one is too depressing to attach screenshots)? The "fumble" by Jamaal Charles in the third quarter. I mean ... crap, man. Talk about your call that could go either way (and that's the non-homer in me talking. The homer is screaming "WHAT?????????" at the top of his lungs).
The Chiefs had moved the ball 45 yards in six plays prior to that play. They were on their way to at least bringing the game to within a point. And then ... yeah. Game of inches, man.
I could go on. Travis Kelce's first down on the field goal fake was awfully close to being a touchdown instead, had Allen Bailey reached the defender a little more quickly.
If Bailey makes this block, it's a touchdown for Kelce. pic.twitter.com/z8yLfFbbrj— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) December 23, 2014
De'Anthony Thomas getting so. Stinking. Close to a first down. So close. I mean SO CLOSE. Could've been a "score and get ball back" crowd-killer. But it wasn't to be.
Or Alex Smith's somewhat remarkable "pump fake myself into the ground" move in the fourth quarter. If Smith manages to keep his feet he's got room to scramble there and create a very manageable second down. Instead, he quite literally falls on his face in the clutch. I mean ... the inches were right in front of him, ready to be taken.
And really, the play immediately following Smith's swan dive sums up the Chiefs failure to get those inches. Smith hits Charles on a checkdown out of the backfield. While Charles didn't have a ton of room, he could've done something with the ball as the defender hadn't closed in yet.
Instead, we get this picture, which I think sums up what the Chiefs have done plenty of this season.
Jamaal, stopped in his tracks instead of sprinting toward the left side of the field (where he would have absolutely outrun the linebacker we see here. I will not argue about this). Looking like he's ready to actually stomp his feet in rage and / or disappointment. The ball sitting harmlessly on the ground.
All too often this season the Chiefs have dropped the ball instead of gaining a few inches (or yards). And that's been the difference between winning and losing for the Chiefs this year.
When I look back at this season, I'll have really good memories. But I'll also feel a bit of "they could have been better" regret. All those inches have added up into something close to a mile, it seems.
It's tough to say whether it's tougher being a bad bad team (2012) or a bad good team (what we've got this year). At least when you're at the bottom of the pile you can't see the sunlight and imagine what could have been.