There’s a general rule with regards to sales and (in my field at least) negotiations that is so widely known that it’s basically a cliche at this point: always be closing.
What that means, of course, is that you always need to drive towards the finish of a sale (or deal) and end things strong, making sure that nothing happens at the 11th hour to mess things up. Don’t coast, don’t hesitate, don’t over-think or talk too much... just close the deal and get it on paper.
The Chiefs have a closing problem.
Now, a lot of people are going to fight over whether they actually have an Alex Smith problem. Or an Andy Reid problem. Or a running game problem. Or a run defense problem. But the real issue I see, which encompasses ALL the other potential problems I just mentioned, is one of closing.
Multiple times this year we’ve seen the Chiefs nursing a lead in the second half. Every single time we’ve prayed that they would lay down the hammer and make sure the opposition had absolutely no shot to get back into things. Instead, what we’ve generally seen is a series of highly conservative play calls and regressed play from the offense, especially Alex Smith.
And time after time, games have come down to the wire and required some miracles (by various players, including Alex a couple of times) in order for the Chiefs to pull through with a win. It’s been entertaining the same way that watching a fight is entertaining. You can’t stop watching and you’re secretly enjoying it a little, but you can’t stop worrying and your heart won’t quit pounding and you’re worried about someone getting seriously hurt (or someone’s feelings, in the case of watching the Chiefs play).
The talent the Chiefs possess is absolutely undeniable. They’ve beaten multiple playoff teams this season, including an utterly brutal stretch in which they handled Denver, Atlanta and Oakland in less than 20 days. They can play. They’re battle-hardened and don’t give up. I call them the Walking Chiefs for a reason. They will never be out of a game. Conversely, however, it appears the opposition will never be out of a game either.
It’s easy for any fan to point to a single play and say “this play lost the game,” but in reality you can look at the Titans game and point to MANY plays that, had they gone differently, the Chiefs walk away from Arrowhead with another “whew, that was close” win against a surprisingly tough Titans squad.
Want proof? I asked Twitter to name me a play that would have altered the course of the game in favor of the Chiefs, and got a WIDE variety of responses...
- The interception by Alex Smith in the red zone.
- Andy Reid’s icing of Ryan Succop (the most obvious one, as if he didn’t do a win is literally guaranteed. Seriously, giving professional kickers a practice shot is dumb. So dumb. SO SO SO DUMB. Ugh)
- Goal line stuffs (you could name one of multiple times here that Ware got stuffed at the goal line).
- Choosing to go for it rather than kick field goal in the second quarter at the goal line (making it a 20-7 game).
- Alex Smith deep shot to Tyreek Hill that was literally inches away from being caught.
- De’Anthony Thomas’s drop in the third quarter (would’ve put them at midfield with a fresh set of downs rather than punting).
- Eric Berry’s mis-timed jump ball on the flea flicker (I love Berry, but that wasn’t his best play).
- The utterly tragic option call on third and two in the fourth quarter.
- De’Anthony Thomas’s non-touchdown that sure looked like a touchdown but wasn’t called a touchdown and why am I doing this to myself someone set me on fire.
- Harris’s false start that moved the Chiefs back to third and 15 (next play the Chiefs got 12 yards and then had to punt) in the third quarter.
- Daniel Sorensen leaving the middle of the field on the first play of the Titans’ final drive (allowed easy 19-yard pickup that gave them life).
- Ron Parker slipping on the final offensive play of the game and allowing Delanie Walker to pick up an extra five yards into field goal range.
All right, I think we made it through every single answer that was given to me. I hate myself, the Chiefs, and you right now (sorry, nothing personal), but hopefully we learned something: that game could have been won (or at least radically altered) on any one of a dozen plays.
What’s my overall point? Why do this other than to drag you back into the abyss of sadness? It’s to make one simple point. And that point is this: when you don’t close, you leave yourself open to the possibility that a game will be won or lost on a single play. And eventually, in the NFL, that means you’re going to lose. No matter how disciplined, tough, skilled, or whatever else you are. You will lose a game and will have nothing to do but look back on ALL the wasted chances to put it away.
And now, that’s where the Chiefs are.
Look, I’m going to talk about Alex Smith later this week (the reality is this is the second game this year in which a pick by Smith was a deciding factor in a loss. When a big selling point on a guy is “he doesn’t hurt you,” that’s bad). And we could talk at length about Andy Reid’s play calling in the second half of games (seriously, it’s driving me insane. Why stop doing what you’re having success with? WHY?). And everyone is going to tear each other to pieces over who is “more” at fault.
But here’s the truth: Andy Reid is a good football coach with some serious flaws that occasionally really hurt the team’s chances at putting opponents away. And here’s another truth: Alex Smith is a competent quarterback with some serious flaws that prevent him from compensating well when Andy’s poorest tendencies rise to the surface (or, sometimes, from taking advantage when Reid is at his best). And at times, it’s a symbiotic relationship in the worst possible way: Alex’s weaknesses compound Reid’s weaknesses at bad times.
All that aside, the Chiefs need to figure out how to CLOSE. How to slam the door shut on a comeback before the opponent can even begin to hope. In previous years, they did so by having a very effective running game that could bleed clock and pound opponents into submission mentally and physically late in games. That’s not working this year. And so they need to figure out what “Plan B” is in order to close games out.
The Chiefs are not a bad football team, and they weren’t exposed as such by the Titans. However, they ARE a team that lacks the ability to finish, and if they want a chance to turn this around and make noise in the playoffs, that is a skill they must learn. Because one thing is for certain: failing to do so will absolutely result in another loss at some point this season if nothing changes. It’s a guarantee.
Your move, Andy and Alex. I really hope you both figure it out.