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Chiefs-Titans Instabreakdown: Chiefs didn’t survive self-sabotage

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Mahomes’ return is marred by Chiefs mistakes as they drop to 1-3 against the AFC South

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Final Score: Kansas City Chiefs 32, Tennessee Titans 35

A fast start, an ugly middle and an unbelievable finish led to a wild game in Patrick Mahomes’ return to action on Sunday.

In the first quarter, Andy Reid’s scripted plays made the Chiefs look invincible — as the defense continued to roll — but then a slow second quarter was marred with offensive line injuries.

In the second half, the Chiefs’ offense was rolling while the defense was struggling to slow down the Titans. Despite their defensive problems, the Chiefs appeared to have the game locked up after a huge defensive stop that led to a field goal attempt. But tragedy struck when a bad snap forced an desperation pass that drew a penalty for intentional grounding. The Titans drove down the field to win the game.

Offense

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the game, Mahomes was moving well behind the line of scrimmage and working his throws from all angles. While his his ball placement was up and down, he was moving the ball right down the field. Thanks to mistakes across the entire offense, the second quarter moved a little more slowly.

In the second half, Mahomes looked just as sharp — if not sharper — despite more than a couple of catchable passes hitting the ground. Mahomes looked to be in control of the game — even in the waning seconds has he led the team down the field for a game-tying field goal attempt that was blocked.

Damien Williams continued to run hard — and when there was a crease, he exploded through it and finished plays. He still left some yards on the field by missing cuts or slowing down to make lateral cuts. His fumble — which was returned for a Titans touchdown — was a big turning point of the game. Darrel Williams was used mostly as a third down back for pass protection.

Tyreek Hill continued his run as the most dangerous — and arguably the best — wide receiver in the NFL, making plays with the ball in his hands both short and downfield. Hill is quite simply the most electric player in the NFL. Mahomes missed him on another deep touchdown that fell just out of his grasp.

Travis Kelce picked up where he always does, dominating the intermediate zones and picking apart the Titans’ zone defense. Sammy Watkins had a lethargic-looking game in which he seemed to be lacking some explosiveness. Mecole Hardman was having another rough game through three quarters, with a bad decision to field one punt and a poor return in another — but then he created a big play after Watkins was hobbled. Mahomes delivered an insane jump-pass to him on third down and Hardman roared off, showcasing his elite speed for a 63-yard touchdown.

As a whole, the offensive line started the game looking good as run blockers, but in pass protection the left side of the line continued to be a problem. Cameron Erving continued to lose incredibly fast, resulting in pressures, sacks and even a few more injuries. Mitchell Schwartz briefly left the game with a knee injury; immediately afterwards, Martinas Rankin was taken off the field on the cart with a knee injury.

Defense

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The defense started off the game equally as hot as the offense. Chris Jones showed his dominance immediately, forcing a fumble on the first drive. The defensive line was stout, creating pressure from the get go. Jones got some more time at defensive end but most of his reps were back inside.

The run fits were better than they were at the start the year, but a step back from recent weeks. Frank Clark looked more powerful in his return — and had what should have been a game-winning sack on third down during the Titans’ second-to-last drive.

The second-level players continued to fly around the field — and in the first half, did a solid job of rallying to the run and tackling. They continued to play downhill against the run and did a good job to blow up a few early screens.

But the second half was a different story. The Chiefs run fits were disastrous against the outside zone the Titans were consistently running. The Chiefs came out using a 4-1 (four defensive linemen and only one linebacker) to help with coverage on running backs and tight ends. The Chiefs used Ben Niemann, Daniel Sorensen and Tyrann Mathieu a lot near the second level to help take away the short to intermediate passing game.

The cornerbacks didn’t have their best showing of the last few weeks. Charvarius Ward was burned early for a big gain. (Jordan Lucas was also in the area for the play, but had to drive on an open out route). Ward allowed two more timely completions for shorter gains in the second half. While he didn’t have an awful game overall, it was a slide back to the mean. Bashaud Breeland was beaten on a later touchdown where he was forced to hold a wide receiver.

The Titans didn’t target the Chiefs downfield much until the final drive — and then everything fell apart. The Titans took over after an intentional grounding penalty on a field goal attempt and took just 50 seconds to drive down the field for a touchdown; Ryan Tannehill picked apart the Chiefs secondary with ease Juan Thornhill has had quite a few good games in a row, but his ankle-dive tackling method did not serve him well against the Titans.