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Mile markers on the road to Miami: The final loss

During Super Bowl week, we’re looking at the road the Chiefs traveled to reach Super Bowl LIV.

Kansas City Chiefs v Tennessee TItans Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

We’re looking at the key mile markers in the Kansas City Chiefs’ road to Miami.

It’s been a long, difficult path for this team to attain heights they haven’t reached in 50 years. We’re profiling the biggest stories along the way to Super Bowl LIV.

The Chiefs had weathered the storm. Patrick Mahomes was back.

Since Mahomes had walked off the field in Denver, the Chiefs had gone 2-1 with Matt Moore at quarterback. The league MVP had beaten the estimates for his timetable to return, working diligently to get his body right. Coming off the exciting win against the Minnesota Vikings, it looked like the Chiefs were primed to run through the rest of the regular season, positioning themselves well for the playoffs.

At first, the game against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville looked easy — just like Chiefs fans expected the rest of the season would go. The game began with a touchdown pass from Mahomes to Travis Kelce, finishing off a 12-play, 69-yard drive.

Then the Chiefs defense forced a turnover deep in Titans territory — a third-down sack-fumble by Chris Jones. It looked like the Chiefs were going to go up 14 points before the team could break a sweat.

But three penalties — including a touchdown-cancelling offensive pass interference call — said otherwise, forcing the Chiefs to kick a field goal.

The Titans hung around. At the half, the score was tied at 13 after the Titans returned a Damien Williams fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter. Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel had never lost a game when his team was leading or tied at the half.

And through the end of the season, he wouldn’t.

The Chiefs didn’t exactly lay down. Late in the third quarter, they took a 22-20 lead on a Harrison Butker field goal. Early in the fourth, the Chiefs extended their lead to 29-20 on this explosive play from Mahomes to Mecole Hardman.

The touchdown seemed to separate the Chiefs from the Titans, positioning them for a road victory — but after that, the Chiefs seemed to let up a little.

Despite being down two scores in the fourth quarter, Tennessee gave the Chiefs defense a heavy dose of running back Derrick Henry on a five-and-a-half minute touchdown drive. The Chiefs answered with a field goal with just 3:14 remaining. The defense held on the next Titans drive, forcing a turnover on downs.

With Chiefs leading 32-27 — and under two minutes remaining — the game seemed to be in the bag.

But starting at the Tennessee 32-yard line, the offense gained only three yards, forcing a field goal attempt — where an early snap forced holder Dustin Colquitt to stand up and throw the ball away.

Taking over at their own 39, the Titans took the lead four plays later with a 23-yard Ryan Tannehill pass to Adam Humphries against rookie Rashad Fenton. With a two-point conversion, the Titans led 35-32.

Mahomes had 23 seconds to get the Chiefs into field goal range. Four plays later — with just three seconds left — Butker attempted a 52-yard field goal to force overtime.

But the kick was blocked, handing the Chiefs their fourth loss of the season.

Mahomes finished the game 36-50 for 446 yards and three touchdowns — his highest yardage output of the season. It was a terrific comeback from his injury.

But hardly anyone noticed. The loss led to frustration in the fan base. It was (rightfully) seen as a game given away — an opportunity missed. In an awful loss, the Chiefs had found multiple ways to beat themselves.

But as ugly as it was, it was the team’s last defeat of the season.

Multiple Chiefs players have since said that the mistake-filled performance in Nashville re-focused the team, forcing them to have difficult, honest conversations — and create more accountability within the building.

The play on the field reflected that. The Chiefs rattled off six straight regular-season wins. The defense made marked improvements in the back half of the season; from Week 11 on, their statistics were among the best in the league. The streak was highlighted by a win in Foxborough against the New England Patriots.

That Week 14 win proved critical, as it gave the Chiefs a potential tiebreaker over the Patriots. The Chiefs took care of business, putting themselves in position to earn a bye week with a Week 17 victory.

For the rest, they needed help. But what they got was a miracle.

Coming on Thursday: Fitzmagic.

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