The Kansas City Chiefs are looking at a long list of things that went wrong in Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. From special teams miscues to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, the Chiefs constantly shot themselves in the foot — and that extended to the offense.
The running backs combined for just 29 yards on 17 carries They didn’t get much help from the offensive line — which also contributed to quarterback Patrick Mahomes experiencing pressure on one-third of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. The Colts also recorded two quarterback hits and a sack. And as Nate Christensen pointed out in his film review, the Chiefs were also primarily playing behind the sticks.
All that said, the former MVP quarterback and his group of pass-catchers had chances to uplift the Chiefs out of a bad day by making a few timely plays — but ultimately did not. Let’s look at some of those key moments.
Stealing back early momentum
The Chiefs’ first offensive possession came with a challenge: answering the momentum that Indianapolis established after rookie Skyy Moore’s muffed punt, which handed the Colts an early 7-0 lead.
After two unsuccessful play-action passes, the Chiefs used a simple route to win against simple coverage — and bet on their playmakers to make something happen.
Mahomes mentioned how crucial missing this throw was on the team's 1st drive— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 27, 2022
3rd down. KC gets MVS favorable downfield matchup vs. Moore, safety's pre-snap alignment gives Mahomes/MVS plenty of space on slot vertical
Mahomes rushes his drop just enough to impact his accuracy pic.twitter.com/eH2lUv8bhT
Facing man coverage with only one safety deep, wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling runs vertically from the slot — and has a mismatch against cornerback Kenny Moore, who is a 5-foot-9 defender. Not only does Valdes-Scantling create separation from Moore, he also has ample room with which to work — taking advantage of the safety’s pre-snap alignment away from his route.
It’s a recipe for a momentum-shifting play, but the ball is too far in front of Valdes-Scantling. With the Colts’ defensive line in pass-rushing mode, Mahomes noticeably rushes his dropback and release. This impacts the accuracy of the deep throw.
Wasting scoring opportunities
Trailing 7-6 with six minutes remaining in the first half, a Kansas City possession entered Indianapolis territory. Then, two pressured dropbacks resulted in two unsuccessful plays — and set up a failure on third down.
This 3-play sequence from late in the 2Q is an example of how Colts' pressure was felt by 15— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 27, 2022
The first two drop backs are uncomfortable, making him uneasy on 3rd down. He leaves a manageable pocket and misses Juju coming open over the middle for a would-be big conversion pic.twitter.com/Ynv6raKViT
The Colts’ defensive line had been making Mahomes feel them — so when he drops back on third down, he escapes pressure that isn’t really there.
Without the rush in mind, Mahomes could have stepped up into the wall at the front of the pocket, scanned the field and found Juju Smith-Schuster wide open in the middle.
Instead, he bails to the right after minimal pressure — and then, after the defense has already covered up its initial mistake, attempts to throw it back across the middle of the field. The Chiefs are forced to punt from opposing territory.
After being gifted with another short field to score a touchdown, the Chiefs took a 14-10 lead into the third quarter — and immediately threatened to add to it. Once in the red zone, Kansas City ran seven plays attempting to score — all of them to no avail.
Here's a RZ play on a drive that ended in a FG— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 27, 2022
Mahomes wants Juju out of his break, but he fails to create the necessary separation for 15 to try it
I would've liked to see him hit Juju once he's escaped though. Gives a strong WR the chance to smash his way into EZ from there pic.twitter.com/1kVe8YBblL
On this play, Smith-Schuster doesn’t create separation at the top of his route, but he runs with Mahomes to stay in his line of vision on the scramble.
I’d like to have seen him get the ball here, so we could have seen whether he can strong-arm his way through tacklers into the end zone.
But instead, the Chiefs had to settle for a deflating field goal, pushing their lead to 17-10 instead of 21-10.
Possessing a 17-13 lead as the game ticked below nine minutes remaining, the Chiefs were once again threatening to score in the red zone. A second-down pass looked like the perfect play-call — and was executed well.
To make up for some missed opportunities, Mahomes & pass pro saved a perfect rep when it mattered most. To take a 24-13 lead, 15 cleanly and calmly loads up to fire a perfect back-shouldered pass to Kelce— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 28, 2022
Don't see those fall to the ground often pic.twitter.com/WWAq5WaN2h
Here, we see that both the pass protectors (and Mahomes himself) have one of their cleanest snaps of the day, which allows a well-timed, accurate throw to Kelce’s back shoulder that gives him a chance to catch it away from the defender. Everything is perfect except the catch; the ball bounces off Kelce’s hands. It’s worth mentioning what looks like a tough spot for sun and shadows.
After a third-down holding penalty, the Chiefs ended up missing a field-goal attempt.
The next time Kansas City possessed the ball, they had a mountain to climb — in the form of a 20-17 deficit with 18 seconds remaining after a kickoff return put them at their own 30-yard line. A 24-yard catch by Valdes-Scantling got the Chiefs past midfield — still with two timeouts left.
Game-ending INT is fascinating. An example of a new receiving corps still learning to play with each other— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 27, 2022
From post-play reactions, it looks like Juju expected Mecole's route to run to the flat, which would've opened the initial throwing window so Mahomes doesn't double clutch pic.twitter.com/OSC2Vfs3Y7
Out of the timeout, it appears the Chiefs want to run a simple slant-flat combination — which is one of the most basic quick-pass concepts. That’s what Mahomes and Smith-Schuster expect, but slot receiver Mecole Hardman doesn’t run to the sideline. Instead, he curls upfield, where he blocks the throwing window to the slant route.
It noticeably disrupts both the route and Mahomes’ timing; the quarterback ends up double-clutching it. This allows Colts cornerback Stephon Gilmore to catch up and get a hand on the pass, which leads to the game-ending interception.
Smith-Schuster’s post-snap reaction strongly suggests that in this very crucial moment, Hardman ran a bad route.
The bottom line
Outside of the defense’s play between the whistles, the entire Chiefs team had a sloppy, ugly performance in Indianapolis. During the Andy Reid era, this hasn’t been all that uncommon. But usually, such a performance can be turned into a win with individual plays made by Kansas City’s elite quarterback and talented pass-catchers.
But that didn’t happen — and the sloppy game became a loss. The Chiefs’ passing game has long been relied upon to win these kinds of games — especially the most important ones. The season is young, so they have time to improve — but this game (and even the Week 2 game against the Los Angeles Chargers) didn’t demonstrate that the quarterback and his pass-catchers are consistently on the same page.