I really don't want to write this article.
For starters, this topic has been beaten to death already in the comments, as well as in other articles written across the interweb. It's not as though I'm going to offer anything new to the discussion.
Additionally, this is just the worst to write about. After a season that had so many great things, it's hard to believe it's ended. After the Chiefs finally got the playoff win monkey off their back, it felt as though the ride was destined to continue for a little while longer. For some reason, previous years' one-and-done playoff exits seemed to be less... sudden. I have no idea why that is, all I know is that it is.
But, I've got a job to do, and I like to at least pretend to be a borderline-kinda-sorta-something-resembling professional. And so I'll present my takes on why the Chiefs lost to the Patriots, in no particular order. Then let's never talk about it again outside of film review. Deal? Deal.
Tom Brady is Tom Brady
Let's get the obvious one out of the way immediately. On re-watching, the idea that the Chiefs weren't getting ANY pressure on Brady is off in my opinion. Yes, the Patriots had a great gameplan to slow down the players the Chiefs had left to rush the passer (I'll get to that later), but there WERE snaps where Brady was under pressure.
Sometimes it was due to a blitz. Sometimes it was due to an individual win by a defender. But pretty much every time it happened, Brady was able to make the right decision and find an open receiver.
Sometimes you just play a good player and they have good days. There's not much to be done about that when you're not playing at an elite level (which the Chiefs were not doing Saturday). Tom Brady is a great quarterback, and he just made some great throws at critical times.
Injuries Finally Caught Up
The Chiefs faced the defending Super Bowl champions under the following conditions:
1) Without their best offensive player (Jamaal Charles)
2) With their second best offensive player severely hobbled and not able to help (Jeremy Maclin)
3) With their best defensive player a liability when he DID play and mostly on the sidelines (Justin Houston)
4) With their second best offensive player down the stretch unable to touch the ball on offense due to injury (Spencer Ware)
5) With one of their best offensive linemen on the sideline (Mitch Morse)
What was really fatal to the Chiefs were the losses of Houston, Maclin, and Ware. Well, let me re-phrase that... what was really fatal to the Chiefs was losing ALL THREE of those guys.
The loss of Maclin is glaringly obvious. The only Chiefs wide receiver who consistently showed up against the Patriots was Jason Avant, who dusted off his playbook and delivered a really gutsy performance. Other than that, I saw way too many snaps like this on All-22.
None of the Chiefs' wide receivers are even remotely open. Travis Kelce has gained separation, but it came after Alex Smith got flushed from the pocket. By the time Smith is able to outrun the defender and get squared toward Kelce, the defender had caught up with Kelce and every other receiver remained completely smothered.
While there were plays when receivers got open, far too many plays resembled this one (a third down that resulted in the Chiefs kicking a field goal, by the way).
You can't win playoff games like that. Maclin is in a whole separate class from the rest of the Chiefs' wide receivers, and would have made a massive difference.
With Justin Houston, the difference is obvious as well. Houston changes the entire game plan for Bob Sutton with his ability to generate pressure on his own from both the edge AND with quick inside moves (the latter of which distinguishes Houston from his replacements).
You know what really broke the Chiefs back, though? Losing Ware. I'm not kidding. I'll go to my grave believing a healthy Spencer Ware changes the dynamic of that game.
Down the stretch, no one was more important to the Chiefs offense than Ware and his nearly 6 yards per carry. He was a hammer that allowed the Chiefs to consistently gash teams on the ground. Without him, the combination of Charcandrick West and Knile Davis ran for a shade under 4 yards per carry.
Having Ware on the field would have allowed Reid to call a more balanced game early on, and would have given the Chiefs enough firepower at running back to try and just run over a Patriots defense that was having success defending the pass.
Losing any one of those players made it an uphill battle for the Chiefs. Effectively losing all three? It became a mountain.
Alex Smith 1.5
Look, I'm not blaming Smith for the loss. Anyone watching that game down the stretch watched him coax, drag, and carry the offense on their last two touchdown drives. He was scrambling for first downs, making tough throws, and generally just WILLING the offense down the field. His play down the stretch had some of the most well-known Smith "bashers" (I hate that term, but it gives context) saying stuff like this:
If Alex Smith played like this all the time I'd be a big fan of his.— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) January 17, 2016
By my count, Smith made tough plays to convert on third and fourth down six different times on the touchdown drives in the second half. Seriously, go re-watch. He (along with Avant) were playing freaking hero ball out there. It was insane. it was like watching Alex Smith 3.0 emerge. There was also this.
Like I said, hero ball. Smith played is guts out, and that's one of the only reasons the Chiefs almost came back in the second half.
Why am I including Smith here and calling him Smith 1.5, then? Well, the simple truth is that Smith missed a couple of throws that could have made the difference. None of them were easy throws by any means (a deep shot to a tightly-covered Albert Wilson and a tough throw down the seam to Travis Kelce were two of them), but you HAVE to hit a couple of those plays. You just do.
Additionally, Smith can't be held blameless for the horrific clock management on the Chiefs final drive. I don't know what happened between Smith and Andy Reid, and I'll never know. But regardless of what Reid was trying to tell Smith after the big completion to Wilson that got the Chiefs to the goal line, Smith should have simply run the offense to the line and spiked the ball. The time was WAY more valuable than the down at that point, and everyone knew it.
A good quote on Smith from the comments I'll paraphrase is that he's a heckuva soldier, but he's not an officer. He always colors in the lines of what his coach tells him to do, even if it's to the detriment of the team.
Andy Reid consistently talks about how smart Smith is. This season, we saw Smith given more power at the line of scrimmage and it resulted in the offense being more successful. We need to see another move in that direction next year. The plays where Smith was successful were rarely Reid's pet predetermined reads plays. I'll write more on that later in the offseason, but that's a change that needs to be made.
Alex Smith was a stud on plenty of plays Saturday, but his failures on certain plays contributed to the loss.
Bill Belichick whupped Andy Reid Saturday.
Re-watching, you can see that Belichick had his defense more than prepared for what Reid threw at them. I'm not sure I saw a single predetermined read play that was more than marginally successful. Many of them were hunted down for stuffs or losses. The Patriots knew what Reid wanted to do and were able to take it away all too often. Reid didn't adjust in time, and that was that.
Then there's Bob Sutton's plan against Brady. Like I said above, part of the failure on defense was simply Brady being that good, along with Edelman and Gronk being fully healthy. That's a tough offense to stop. However, some of the zone looks Sutton was throwing at the Patriots drove me to insanity. Brady, Gronk, and Edelman are the type of players who eat up zone looks. They will nearly ALWAYS find the open spot if you don't get to the quarterback immediately.
The main advantage the Chiefs had in the secondary was their size. I didn't see nearly enough of an attempt to just bully the smaller Pats' receivers at the line of scrimmage. Perhaps Sutton was concerned about their quickness, but it was tough to watch all the same.
Both Reid and Sutton are good coaches. They did better this year than they have any other year, and showed the ability to adapt and change as the year went along (Sutton by adapting his scheme to fit around secondary injuries, Reid by showing a willingness to give more control to his quarterback). Hopefully they continue to grow next year.
Finally, and maybe most importantly...
Luck, of the Non-Andrew Nature
All season the Chiefs have cashed in on turnover opportunities. Saturday, they let multiple interceptions slip through their fingers (or casts, in Tamba Hali's case. I don't blame him for not catching that. He basically was trying to catch with a club).
Now, we can call that "not taking advantage of opportunities" if you like, and that's partly true. But at the end of the day the number of interceptions secondary players pull in is something that varies day by day. Remember when the Chiefs pasted Peyton Manning and the Broncos? If they had had similarly slippery fingers that day, the game could have gone very different. That's just the way it is.
And ultimately, the last first down of the game was just about as lucky (or unlucky) as it gets. The ball could have bounced off Hali's arms into anyone's hands. If that's a pick, the Chiefs are suddenly alive. But it didn't, and they weren't.
Sometimes it just isn't your day. The Chiefs went to Foxboro in January with some of their best players missing and went down swinging. Considering how the rest of the season has gone, I guess I can't be too mad about that.
We'll get 'em next year.