The Kansas City Chiefs fell to the Seattle Seahawks 38-31 on Sunday night, thereby missing an opportunity to clinch the number one seed in the playoffs.
Here are five hot takes from the game:
1. It’s a team loss
You don’t need me to tell you what’s going to happen over the next few days.
Sports-talk hosts, serious sports commentators, TV talking heads — not to mention your mechanic and that annoying guy in the next cubicle — are all going to tell you about about how the Chiefs defense isn’t prepared for a postseason run.
And I’m not here to tell you they’re wrong.
The Chiefs defense has a lot of problems that need to be fixed, and it seems less than likely all of them can — or will — be fixed before the playoffs begin.
But their defense isn’t the reason the Chiefs lost this game. It’s definitely one of them, but it’s not even close to the only one. And most of those can be fixed before the postseason.
One occurred during the Chiefs’ second drive. Travis Kelce had blown past the coverage, and was wide open. It was a certain touchdown. Patrick Mahomes had plenty of time, but dramatically overthrew Kelce. You have to make that throw if you’re playing another good team — like, for example, in the playoffs.
Another was the first play of the Chiefs drive that began just before the end of the third quarter. Again with time to throw, Mahomes simply underthrew a pass to Tyreek Hill that would have been good for 20 yards. That drive — which started at their own 40 — ended up as a three-and-out.
Early in the season, Mahomes was routinely making those throws. Late in the season — against good teams — he’s making them less often. As the pressure becomes more routine to him, I am confident he’ll figure it out. He’s just too talented and smart not to figure it out.
Learn to take another beat, young man. It will pay off.
Another missed offensive opportunity was in the fourth quarter, when the Chiefs had second-and-goal at the Seattle 10. Mahomes — with time — tried a pass to Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone. In the TV broadcast, Al Michaels initially said that Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin had knocked the ball away — and that’s indeed what it looked like.
But on the replay from upfield, it was clear that Benjamin had just failed to catch the ball. His hands were properly extended away from his body — like Tony Gonzalez would teach you — but the ball just went through his hands, hitting him right in the numbers and bouncing away.
And that’s before we even get to the subject of turnovers. Damien Williams’ fumble in the second quarter wasn’t so bad. That’s sometimes going to happen when you get enveloped in the backfield; there are just too many defensive hands reaching for the ball.
But Chris Conley’s fumble on the last drive of the first half was just inexcusable. It was the kind of dumb mistake that would require a high school halfback to carry a football from class to class for a solid week.
All four of these plays took points away from the Chiefs — points that would have made the difference in this game. All of them are correctable.
2. An oft-repeated falsehood
All we heard about in the run-up to this game was the Seahawks run offense — how it was number one in the league, and would keep the high-flying Chiefs offense off the field.
I told you on Friday in the game preview: just because the Seahawks have more rushing yards than all the other teams doesn’t mean they’re the best at it. They really aren’t. They just run the ball so damned much that sooner or later, the yards add up.
The Chiefs gave up 210 yards to Seattle, but it took the Seahawks 43 attempts to do it. That 4.9 yards per attempt is well above the NFL average this season, but is actually less than the Chiefs have given up to many other teams that are supposedly inferior to the Seahawks at running the ball.
And all that rushing didn’t keep the Chiefs offense off the field. They had almost exactly the same number of possessions as the Seahawks did.
Many of the NFL’s rules are opaque and hard to understand, but one of them is really clear: when one team scores or can’t reach the line of gain, the other team gets the ball.
This. Happens. Every. Single. Time. The officials screw up a lot of things, but they never just forget to make the other team hand over the ball.
In reality, outside of the end of a half — when you can deny the other team a possession by making a drive last all the way to the end of the half by rushing the ball — the only way you can really deny the other team a possession (that is, a scoring opportunity) is to force a turnover or a punt.
On Sunday night, the Chiefs punted the ball three times. So did Seattle. But the Chiefs turned the ball over twice, and the Seahawks didn’t turn it over at all — and won the game.
In the modern NFL, the main reason to have an effective rushing attack is to keep defenses honest in the passing game — that is, to keep them from overloading the secondary on every play, and denying you the ability to pass effectively. Seattle’s commitment to the run, in fact, is probably the main reason Russell Wilson is having such a good season as a passer.
And the Chiefs’ failure to commit to the run in the second half probably has much to do with why they lost this game. In the first half, the Chiefs rushed the ball exactly 50 percent of the time — actually a bit higher than normal. In the second half — even though they had averaged 7.8 yards a carry before halftime, which was easily their most impressive number of the season — they rushed the ball just 15 percent of the time.
And it wasn’t because they were being forced to do it. When they got the ball for the first time in the second half, they were behind by one stinkin’ touchdown. If they had maintained their commitment to the run, perhaps one of the their three second-half drives that sputtered to a halt could have been turned into a touchdown drive.
Sometime this week, someone will try to convince you that Andy Reid got “too cute” by running the ball too much in the first half. And maybe he did — all things considered, it’s probably foolish to run the ball too much when you have Patrick Mahomes and his Merry Men at your disposal. But it’s equally foolish to run it too little. To put it another way: in the second half, Reid wasn’t quite cute enough.
I am well aware that I have sometimes argued that teams should run the ball to keep fast-paced high-scoring offenses off the field. But now I have seen the light. If I do it again, please hit me in the head with something — preferably something soft. I’ll just need a reminder — not a concussion.
3. Big mistakes
In this game, the Chiefs had eight penalties enforced for a total of 76 yards. But those (relatively) low numbers are deceptive. Way too many of them were very costly. By my count, no less than three of them led directly to points for the Seahawks: two pass interference penalties in the end zone on third down — each of which gave Seattle a new set of downs at the goal line instead of forcing a field goal — and the roughing the kicker penalty on a field goal that Sebastian Janikowski missed.
Like the offensive mistakes I’ve already mentioned, without any one of these, this loss could have become a win.
Let’s not get bogged down in whether these penalties were justified. To my eye, they were — even the one that Reid (rightly) challenged. When a penalty is so costly, it’s more than worth a time out to take a shot at getting it overturned; you’re just not all that likely to get the officials to admit that kind of a mistake.
All three of these penalties had one other thing in common: they were all committed by young defensive players with little experience: Charvarius Ward, Jordan Lucas and Tremon Smith. In particular, I’m not terribly interested in being too rough on Smith — the young man has proved to be a very good kickoff returner, and his 61-yard return on Seattle’s final kickoff gave the Chiefs hope to win the game in the end — but all three of them need to learn there is a time to play aggressively, and a time not to play aggressively.
Without these penalties, the 38 points the Chiefs gave up in this game would have been substantially reduced, and the Chiefs could have won the game. You can say what you want about the rushing and passing yards the Chiefs gave up, but I very much doubt we’d be all too concerned about them if the Chiefs had held the Seahawks to 10 or 14 fewer points — and were now holding the one seed in the AFC.
4. The bright spots
That’s enough complaining about this game.
While I’ve already made some mild criticisms of his play against the Seahawks, Patrick Mahomes continues to amaze me. He’s made some mistakes in the last couple of games, but they are the kind of mistakes that he will correct over time. However, his ability to make oh wow! plays — and as always, there were multiple instances of those in this game — is unparalleled. His leadership — both on and off the field — is well beyond his years, and his maturity is simply astonishing.
Right now, I can’t tell you if Mahomes will lead the Chiefs to a Super Bowl this season. Nobody can. But anyone who says that he can’t do it isn’t paying attention to what’s happening. As painful as this loss is to endure — not to mention the one before it — we should take comfort in that. We’ve waited a very long time for a player like this, and there is no reason to think he can be anything less than what we dreamed he would be.
We should also take some comfort in the presence of Damien Williams. I know there are some who will say he isn’t the same player as Kareem Hunt — and I agree: he is a different kind of player. But it’s becoming difficult to deny that Williams can be a productive player in the Chiefs offense. He’s averaged over 130 yards from scrimmage in the last two games — when he started seeing the lion’s share of snaps at running back — and that’s an impressive number. Over the course of a full season, that would work out to about 2000 yards — right on par with what the league leaders are generating in 2018.
Is that a small sample size? You bet it is. But we’d all agree that it’s better than to have positive evidence than negative evidence — and right now, we’re getting positive evidence from Williams.
5. Keep calm... and chop on!
My final thought after these two games is to remain calm. Despite these two losses, the Chiefs still have their postseason destiny within their own control. It’s not very often that a team can say that after losses in Weeks 15 and 16 of an NFL season. Some of that has to do with the way these last few weeks have been scheduled — but some of is a testament to how well the Chiefs have played in 2018.
They might have lost a key division game last week, but because they won so many of them before, it didn’t derail the season. They might have lost a non-conference game to a lesser opponent on Sunday night, but the Seahawks get paid, too — and the truth is that they had more on the line than the Chiefs did. Sometimes that can make the difference in an NFL game.
So now the Chiefs have to play a real game in Week 17. You know what? So be it. I’ve never been crazy about Andy Reid’s propensity to rest players in a meaningless end-of-season game anyway. Maybe it’s time we tried it a different way, and — as Reid would put it — “see how it goes.”
These last two losses can’t possibly leave us with a good feeling about where the Chiefs will stand against the competition in the postseason. But on the other hand, I learned something important when I used to appear in school plays: when the dress rehearsal went really well, the performance would be usually be awful. But when the dress rehearsal was a disaster, a great performance was very likely to follow.
So let’s not be too stressed out by the dress rehearsal. The final performance is yet to come.