Here are five things we learned from the game:
1. The Chiefs just aren’t quite as good as most thought — or hoped
Throughout the offseason, one of the key questions I heard from Chiefs fans was, “How much better does the defense have to be to compete for a championship?”
Most people thought — correctly, I believe — that it wouldn’t take much. After all, the team came within a hair’s width of making it to the Super Bowl just as they were in 2018.
And the defense has improved in certain ways. But improving from 22nd in points allowed last season to 18th going into Sunday’s game — or even 31st in yards allowed to 22nd — probably isn’t enough to really move the needle. That’s the same as going from a D- to a C- in total yards allowed, but only from a C- to a C in the more relevant points allowed.
That’s probably not going to get it done.
It is encouraging that going into Sunday, the Chiefs were 11th in defensive DVOA — which unlike the stats I just mentioned, take the quality of their opponents into account.
But thus far, none of the improvement has done much to help the Chiefs win.
2. Turnovers matter
For all the brouhaha about what happened in the second half — and especially in the final minutes of the game — it’s worth noting that the Titans game turned on one play midway through the second quarter:
Damien Williams fumbled on the Tennessee 47-yard line — and the Titans’ Rashaan Evans picked it up and ran 52 yards for a touchdown.
Before the fumble, the Chiefs had the momentum and the advantage. After the fumble, they were just trading blows with the Titans to stay in the game. And horrible mistakes with less than two minutes remaining kept them from landing blows that still would have given them a win.
Without the fumble, the Chiefs probably would have gone on to score seven points — and the Titans probably would have gone to the halftime locker room trailing by a touchdown. That would have altered the adjustments both teams made in the third quarter, rippling all the way through to the end of the game.
But the fumble did happen — and late in the game, the Chiefs blew multiple attempts to make up for Williams’ error. Those mistakes mattered, too — but it all started when Williams lost the ball.
And that’s been true in three of the Chiefs’ four losses this season: one way or another, they can all be traced back to fumbles by running backs.
The Chiefs can still turn this around. But just like last season, there is little room for error on offense, because there’s still too much room for error on defense. So for things to get better, change is going to have to include eliminating these offensive turnovers.
3. Patrick Mahomes is just fine
It’s OK to admit it.
Deep down inside, when you first heard Patrick Mahomes was injured, there was a part of you thinking that last season was all a dream — that once he had missed games because of an injury, he’d never be the same as he was in 2018.
But there was little evidence of that against the Titans.
Mahomes threw for 446 yards (and three touchdowns) in the loss — and even taught us a new play: the jump-pass.
Yes... there were a couple of throws he’d like to have back — but those always happen. There were moments here and there when he looked a little stiff — and on the third-and-2 play at the Titans 24-yard line with 1:27 remaining, the 2018 Mahomes probably would have found a way to get a first down — if not a touchdown.
Since the next play was the horrible aborted field goal, that would have changed the outcome of the game.
But we’re not here to criticize Mahomes. He’s not the reason the Chiefs have lost four games. Given a little more time, he’ll get to the point that he could overcome an offensive turnover earlier in the game; we’ve certainly seen him do that often enough. He may not be there quite yet, but you don’t have to worry that he never will.
4. Mitchell Schwartz is the man
It’s difficult to overstate how difficult it is to play 7,894 consecutive snaps in the NFL. But that’s what the Chiefs right tackle did before was shaken up in the second quarter and left the field for a series or so.
You hear about tough guys, of course. But only really tough guys can do what Schwartz has done.
It’s not clear whether Schwartz would have returned under normal circumstances — that is, if after the very next play, backup offensive lineman Martinas Rankin hadn’t been carted off the field with what appeared to be a serious knee injury. With Rankin out, the Chiefs had no backup offensive linemen left; everybody else was on the field — or hurt. So it’s likely that Schwartz came back to the game before he really wanted to — or maybe should have.
That, too, is a testament to his toughness.
Offensive linemen get plenty of blame, but seldom get enough credit; only when starting left tackle Eric Fisher was injured did we fully appreciate his impact on the Chiefs offense. Let’s hope we’re not about to learn a similar lesson about Schwartz.
5. Good fanbases travel well
Serious question: spot more than 20 Titans fans. pic.twitter.com/pSgLrj7PxO— Harold R. Kuntz (@HaroldRKuntz3) November 10, 2019
After a week where there was a lot of public shaming of Chiefs season ticket holders, I think it’s important to note the other side of the coin: if this season-ticket-holders-shouldn’t-sell-their-tickets-to-fans-of-other-teams is going to be a thing in the NFL, then many thousands of fans won’t get opportunities to have a great weekend in another city, root for their favorite team and shout CHIIIIEEEFS at end of the National Anthem.
Yes... you could hear it clearly on TV. A good chunk of the seats in Nissan Stadium — perhaps 30-40% — appeared to be Chiefs fans.
It’s 456 miles from Kansas City to Minneapolis — and 555 miles from Kansas City to Nashville. Both are manageable drives for fans to make.
Is it possible that some Chiefs season ticket holders — knowing that Mahomes wasn’t likely to play until the Titans game — simply decided to take the profit they could get from Vikings fans who were willing to pay top dollar for a once-in-every-eight-years chance to see their team play in the City of Fountains, and then use that money to pay for a weekend in Music City?
This isn’t to suggest this is the only reason for what’s happened in the last two games. Every reason that’s been suggested — ranging from apathy from bandwagon Chiefs fans disappointed that Mahomes wouldn’t play against Minnesota to a large number of season tickets being held by ticket brokers instead of fans — is probably part of the answer; both in Kansas City in Nashville, it was just a perfect storm.
Here’s what I know: There will always be fans of other teams at Arrowhead — sometimes more than usual. But as long as they can come to our games, we can still go to theirs, too. I think we need to keep it that way.