That unsportsmanlike conduct penalty
The game was over... until it wasn’t.
Over the hours ahead, we will find out more information about exactly what Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Ryan to cause an official to throw an unsportsmanlike conduct flag on a game-clinching, 9-yard sack — but regardless of what was said, Jones unpardonable decision led to Kansas City losing the game.
Quite frankly, it was a game they deserved to lose.
The reality is that the moment Jones will regret for days and weeks to come was the final part of a long list of things the Chiefs did wrong on Sunday that delivered a previously 0-1-1 team their first win of the season. The game was marked by horrid special teams play, offensive miscues and questionable decisions beyond that of Jones — including one that led to an argument between coach and quarterback that was caught on camera.
The offense appeared out of sync all day, with missed throws, dropped passes and an inability to consistently move the ball on the ground. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes had to bail from the pocket all afternoon. All of that led to 20 of 35, 262-yard, one-touchdown, one-interception effort that did not get the job done.
We’re left with one, clear-cut question (and one that will be answered over the next 14 weeks): The Chiefs may be a playoff team, but do we realistically think this team can win a Super Bowl?
It is wayyy too soon to know for sure. But Sunday’s game feels like, looking back, it will be seen as an early turning point — or a sign of things to come.
Special teams woes
Sunday marked the worst special teams effort I recall seeing from a Dave Toub-coached group in a long time — and it probably isn’t close.
To start the game, rookie wide receiver Skyy Moore botched two punts, one of which led to the Colts scoring a touchdown after beginning their offensive drive at Kansas City’s 4-yard line.
In his first game of relief of Harrison Butker (against the Los Angeles Chargers), Matt Ammendola was perfect. Against the Colts on Sunday, he was far from that. Ammendola missed an extra point to begin the game, causing the Chiefs to go for two after their next touchdown.
After making a 26-yarder, Ammendola missed from 34 in the fourth quarter — which made head coach Andy Reid and Toub later call a fake field goal attempt. Reid’s coaching decision begged some to ask why he would remove arguably the game’s best quarterback for a trick play. Those determinations always come off a lot worse in a loss.
The Chiefs also had a delay-of-game penalty called on a field goal. Rookie Isiah Pacheco fell during a kick return — and on a few occasions, had the Chiefs starting short of the 25-yard line after taking the ball out of the end zone.
Punter Tommy Townsend had a solid game, but it wasn’t enough to save the group. Next week, the kicker will either be Butker or someone not named Ammendola.
Here is the exchange between Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and OC Eric Bieniemy at end of first half. Seems Bieniemy may have made the decision to run the ball on second-and-20 at the KC 36 to bleed the final second-quarter seconds. Chiefs ball to start third. pic.twitter.com/2MwaVi2ayf— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) September 25, 2022
The moment after the first half between Mahomes and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy caught by the NFL on CBS broadcast will no doubt be a talking point in Kansas City all week long.
Let’s describe what we think we see: following a run call to running back Jerick McKinnon to run out the final 20 seconds of the half (with the Chiefs up 14-10 and facing second-and-20 at their own 36), it looks like Mahomes can be seen complaining to Bieniemy about the lack of aggressive play-calling. Reid eventually breaks up the disagreement.
The significance of this exchange was already likely to be heavily debated in Kansas City, but the fact that (in hindsight) the Chiefs could have used the points, will only enhance the magnifying glass.
The sole bright spot of the day was the defensive play-calling by coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and the execution by the players on his unit.
The No. 1 storyline all week was the question of how the Chiefs would manage a stretch without Willie Gay Jr. during his suspension. The first episode of four makes one believe it will be OK (ignoring for a second that this won’t matter if the rest of the team is an absolute mess). Linebacker Nick Bolton made big play after big play, Darius Harris fought through some struggles in coverage to lead the team in tackles and cornerback L’Jarius Sneed looked dynamic in one of the best efforts of his career.
Spagnuolo recognized early that Colts quarterback Matt Ryan would not be able to handle extra pressure. So he designed his game plan to give it — especially bringing the heat on third-down tries. The Chiefs registered 10 quarterback hits, 5.0 sacks and made timely stops throughout the afternoon — except on the final drive, which is an unfortunate, necessary footnote.
Without three key players — Gay, Mike Danna and Trent McDuffie — the defense played quality football; Spagnuolo ought to be sick that the effort was wasted.
The final word
The Colts were supposed to be the assumed win of the four-game stretch in which Gay would be missing. The next three games are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (their biggest in the NFC), their division foe in the Las Vegas Raiders and the Buffalo Bills — their greatest non-division AFC adversary.
The Chiefs made a statement this offseason in trading Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins for future draft picks, preached that they could win by spreading the ball everywhere and nudged that they would be better in the long run. As Miami enjoyed its third win in as many tries on Sunday, the Chiefs look lost in all facets.
To avoid the quicksand, they’ll have to turn the page... quickly.