Here are five things we learned from the Chiefs’ first loss of the season:
1. Streaks really aren’t helpful
So some streaks ended with the Chiefs’ loss to the Raiders on Sunday afternoon. The team’s streak of consecutive wins ends at 13 games — a couple of games beyond the previous franchise record. The winning streak of consecutive wins against the Raiders ends at five games. The streak of home wins against the Raiders ends at seven.
Streaks are fun while they last — but you know what? They never last. Besides... a positive streak can make you complacent. A negative streak can provide additional motivation to your opponent. It’s hard to say if the Chiefs were complacent on Sunday afternoon — but it sure wasn’t hard to see that the Raiders were motivated. They came into the game without fear.
I’ll be the first to admit that I allowed the presence of these streaks to cloud my expectations for this game; I didn’t once remind myself that it was, after all, a division game — where by definition, anything can happen. So that’s a good reminder for me.
And while I generally don’t buy into the concept of the infamous trap game — where a team fails to consider the upcoming opponent because a tougher opponent follows them on the schedule — I’m willing to consider the possibility that something kinda-sorta like that might have happened in the last week. The uncertainty over when the Week 6 game against the Buffalo Bills would be played (which has now — hopefully — come to an end) was likely a distraction the Chiefs didn’t need.
But that shouldn’t be an excuse. It’s very likely not the last time something like that is going to happen this season. The Chiefs are just going to have to a do a better job of dealing with the inevitable distractions of the pandemic.
2. We miss Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
When the Chiefs’ starting right guard became the first NFL player to exercise his option to opt out of the NFL season, we praised him for doing something important — and also praised Chiefs general manager Brett Veach for acting so quickly to replace him with veteran guard Kelechi Osemele. Duvernay-Tardif may not have been the team’s most impressive offensive linemen during the last couple of seasons, but he was still pretty solid. It wasn’t hard to imagine that moving Andrew Wylie to right guard and plugging Osemele into the left side would be a viable move.
But it just hasn’t worked out very well. So far this season, Wylie has been falling short of the ability he displayed during his first two seasons with Kansas City — and with Osemele’s injury on Sunday, the Chiefs are going to have to do without him for a while... if not the rest of the season.
The Chiefs are going to have to do something — and do it fast. We all love that quarterback Patrick Mahomes has the ability to make something out of nothing, but no NFL quarterback should be expected to do that on every passing down. It’s also clear that Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a talented running back, but even he can’t run behind an offensive line that cannot open running lanes for him.
3. This time, we didn’t see Derek Carr coming
You really can’t blame Chiefs fans for thinking Carr isn’t a very good NFL quarterback. In the last week, I’m likely the 57th person who has mentioned to you that before Sunday, he was 2-10 in his career against the Chiefs, throwing for 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and accumulating a passer rating of just 74.6.
But Carr came into Arrowhead on Sunday having the best season of his career, throwing for 1,095 yards (with eight touchdowns and no interceptions) for a passer rating of 113.6. He was was just behind Patrick Mahomes in most statistical categories. After Sunday — when he had a stat line of 22 of 31 for 347 yards, three touchdowns and one interception that was good for a rating of 126.7 — he’ll likely be a bit ahead of Mahomes. For now.
I don’t think Carr has suddenly become more talented. Instead, I think he’s just had another year of NFL experience — something that should always earn our respect — and he’s starting to get some good players assembled around him. The rookie Henry Ruggs III — healthy for Sunday’s game — looked like a guy who could be a thorn in the Chiefs’ side for years to come; more than a third of Carr’s passing yards came on just two catches Ruggs made.
So before you get yourself worked up about losing to a terrible quarterback, I’d point out that on Sunday, Carr wasn’t a terrible quarterback. And right now, it doesn’t look like that was a fluke.
4. We also didn’t see the Raiders’ game plan coming
I keep hammering this point: I don’t allow myself to get worked up by the number of rushing yards the Chiefs defense allows. If NFL head coaches want to line up to try beating the Chiefs by “keeping Patrick Mahomes on the sidelines” — that is, hammering them with a rushing attack — then I’ll be happy to hand out the line numbers. No team is going to consistently make that work; the Chiefs offense can simply score too quickly.
The Raiders, however, did it the right way. They did their best to go blow-for-blow with Mahomes, running a balanced attack that kept them in the game. Once they had held the Chiefs to a draw through the better part of three quarters, then they shifted into low gear, grinding out an eight-minute drive during the only part of the game where that can really matter. Even then, only a Mahomes interception gave them the opportunity to put the game out of the Chiefs’ reach.
It might be scary to think that other teams can copy this model and make it work again; certainly the Chiefs will face other teams that will try. But the game plan is only part of the equation. On any given Sunday, you still have to out-execute the other team. The Raiders did that on Sunday. Not every team will.
5. It’s not the end of the season
Even if you don’t want to believe any of this — that winning steaks shouldn’t be the basis for your expectations about a given NFL game, that the Chiefs really could use the help of another solid offensive lineman or two, that Carr might be a better quarterback than we have given him credit for being, or even that the Raiders had a good game plan that they executed well — there’s room to believe that the Chiefs simply blew this one. And that’s OK.
Even championship teams lose games they probably should have won. I’m old enough to remember another Chiefs team that dropped a couple of games they should have won — and they still went on to win a championship. (Yeah... that was just a year ago. It just seems like it was longer ago).
And don’t forget that five games into the season, it’s really impossible to tell which games are the ones your team ought to win; I also recall that a year ago, there was a general opinion that there was no way the Chiefs should have allowed the Tennessee Titans to defeat them — and as it turned out, the Titans reached the AFC championship game. So maybe as late as Week 10, we didn’t really know what we were talking about.
The season is still young. A lot of football is left to be played. And we should still have confidence that the Chiefs will buckle down, go through their routine and prepare for the still-undefeated Bills — this time, with a few extra days to get ready.