The common football cliché is to move onto the next game after a bad performance. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s famous line from the aftermath of a big loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014 comes to mind: “We’re onto Cincinnati.”
When a team with high expectations loses to an inferior opponent, there’s reason to go back and understand what went wrong. The Chiefs may have looked like the worse team in Sunday’s loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, but they expected to beat their division rival. They’re looking to correct their mistakes; in order to do so, they need to reflect on the ugly parts of the Week 5 loss.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had plenty to recall from his unit’s poor game — including shouldering some of the blame.
“I’m not sure we executed like we normally do,” Spagnuolo told reporters in his Friday press conference. “There’s a play call in there that I’d like to have back that resulted in one of those long passes. I don’t think that’s on the players or anything the Raiders did... If you don’t execute in the back end really well it can result in explosive pass plays. We just have to make sure we limit those and give ourselves a chance to play better defense.”
Spagnuolo elaborated on the play call he believes was on him.
“One was a bad call, in all honesty,” Spagnuolo blatantly said. “I thought I put (cornerback) [Charvarius Ward] in a bad situation. If I had to do that over again, I would not do that.”
Spagnuolo is likely referring to the 77-yard touchdown pass to Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III. Ward allowed Ruggs to release inside and was never able to catch up as he streaked down the field. There was no safety help on that particular play, which may be what Spagnuolo is referring to when he blames himself.
One bad performance can’t alter the game plan too much. Spagnuolo has been calling defenses for a long time, so he understands that these games can happen.
“You can’t hit the panic button,” Spagnuolo explained. “If you believe in what you’re doing, you stick with what you’re doing, you just do it better. We didn’t do too much different than we had in previous weeks, we just didn’t do it as well. One of the things I shared with the players — and it was amazing to me — from play 21 to play 29, we gave up 214 yards and 21 points. When you do that in the course of the game, that’s hard to recover from... We’re not going to panic, we’re not going to throw everything out, we’ll just try to do it better.”
Defensive end Frank Clark didn’t have his best game against the Raiders. He played the highest percentage of defensive snaps he’s played all season but only recorded one tackle in the box score. He doesn’t believe the issue stemmed from the team’s effort.
“I wouldn’t say the effort isn’t there, sometimes it’s just the plays,” Clark told reporters on Friday. “Sometimes you might not execute something as well because you didn’t work it as much in practice, or you didn’t think that call would be as important as it was. It’s understanding that on the lighter-day practices on a short week, how important executing is when you don’t have pads on in practice.”
There’s a silver lining in these types of losses: the coaches have a chance to see how their players respond to such a performance. It sounds like the Chiefs had a great week of practice following their first loss of the season.
“Absolutely,” Spagnuolo answered when asked about if his unit responded well. “I love this group, there’s a lot of character here, a lot of pride here, and nobody feels worse about it than the players that were out there playing. In particular, [Thursday] we had a walkthrough and we just got done with one [Friday]: I thought it was the best we’ve had in the year and a half I’ve been here. I’ve never questioned the guys’ effort, I’ve never questioned the preparation, we just have to go out there and make sure we do things that we have executed during the week and do them really well.”
Clark noticed a focused-in group this week as well — noting that they have a lot more games to play.
“We came in with a fresh mindset,” Clark observed. “We got a lot of season left — 10-plus games. When you have that many games left in the season, there’s so much more left to it. You’re going to see teams that was doing pretty good start to fall off, and teams that were dong pretty bad make a turn. It’s just the NFL season.”
That’s right: the best teams won’t win every game and the worst teams won’t lose every time. Instead of dwelling on the first loss to the Raiders in three years, the team is learning from it and applying that to their next opponent: the Buffalo Bills.
“They’ve got three [wide receivers] that we’ve got to be concerned about,” Spagnuolo noted of the Bills. “You can’t double them all, then you don’t have any players left to either stop them all or rush the passer. So, we’ve got to pick our spots.”
Like the Raiders, the Bills are a playoff contender in the AFC. A win in this game is more important than the average week — and a bounce-back performance from the defense would help the Chiefs get back in the win column.