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5 things we learned in the Chiefs’ Christmas Day loss to the Raiders

What can we learn from Kansas City’s bitter Christmas Day loss to Las Vegas?

Las Vegas Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

On Christmas Day, the Kansas City Chiefs recorded a 20-14 loss to a Las Vegas Raiders team that they should have beaten.

What did we learn from this ugly, frustrating defeat?

1. The Chiefs’ defense remains spectacular

Las Vegas Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Those who didn’t watch the game carefully might conclude that Kansas City’s defense had a below-average day against Las Vegas. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Raiders scored two touchdowns and two field goals. Both touchdowns were scored while the Chiefs’ defense was watching from the sidelines. So the defense allowed just six points — while the Kansas City offense scored 14.

There’s no doubt about it: on Monday, the offense failed miserably. The Raiders’ two defensive scores (during seven seconds of game time, no less) were the biggest part of that failure. But given the performance of the defense, the offense scored enough points to win the game.

As we consider what went wrong on Monday — both now and in the months to come — let’s not forget that.

2. Patrick Mahomes is not blameless

Las Vegas Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

After five years of extraordinary success, is it possible that we’ve convinced ourselves that the reigning MVP can do no wrong?

If we have, we need to get over it. Mahomes can make mistakes. He has made a great many of them this season. His 2023 interception percentage is 2.5%. That is higher than it’s been in any season since he became the starter. In both 2019 and 2020, it was less than half of that: 1.0%. In 2021 and 2022, it was almost twice as high as the previous two seasons: 2.0% and 1.9%.

Yes... the team won a championship in 2022 — but Mahomes’ touchdown percentage was 6.3%. That mark was the league’s best. This season, it is 4.6% — again, his worst figure as a starter.

Even worse, the days in which Mahomes has been at his worst have a high correlation to the days the Chiefs have lost games.

In nine 2023 victories, his interception percentage is 2.1%. His touchdown percentage stands at 5.8%. But in the team’s six losses, Mahomes’ interception percentage is 2.9% — and his touchdown percentage is also 2.9%. Those are the kinds of figures that we see from quarterbacks at the bottom third of the league.

Is it all Mahomes’ fault? Absolutely not! A great many things can affect these numbers — and some of them are completely beyond a quarterback’s control. But in Monday’s game, Mahomes was part of the botched handoff that led to the Raiders’ first touchdown — and the interception that led to the second was all on him.

Mahomes’ issues are far from the only problem the Chiefs need to fix. But let’s not kid ourselves: he has also played a significant role in the team’s losses.

There shouldn’t be a doubt in our minds that he can turn it around. Even on his worst days, he can still amaze us. He simply needs to get back to the consistency that made him a superstar.

3. Defeat also has a thousand fathers

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images

You’ve probably heard some form of this old expression: “Victory has a thousand fathers — while defeat is an orphan.” This means that when things are going well, everyone wants to take credit — and when they don’t, no one wants to take the blame.

But it’s also true that when things go badly, it’s natural for us to find a single villain who is the cause of all of our troubles. If we could just get rid of that person, everything will be OK again.

So arguments are now raging about the identity of the Chiefs’ current villain. Is it general manager Brett Veach? Head coach Andy Reid? Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy? Wide receivers coach Connor Embree? Offensive line coach Andy Heck? Quarterback Patrick Mahomes? Wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore or Kadarius Toney? Offensive tackles Donovan Smith or Jawaan Taylor? These are just some of the names now being thrown around.

But in a complex team sport like American football, it’s way more likely that all of them have played some kind of a role. And if we’re being fair, we also know that most of them also played some kind of a role in the team’s amazing success over the last seven seasons — not to mention the team’s nine wins that have put it into position to win its eight consecutive AFC West title.

So let’s be a little careful about putting someone’s head on a pike, shall we?

4. Andy Reid might not be as much of a kind grandpa as we think

Kansas City Chiefs v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The head coach’s public persona is that of a kind, gentle soul who wouldn’t raise his voice to anyone. It is now starting to become fashionable to think that his grandfatherly demeanor is part of the problem.

But after more than three decades of covering this team — and getting to know the men who have coached it — I find it almost impossible to believe that it’s possible to be an NFL head coach without having some ability to draw a line in the sand. To put it another way: we must always remember that the face an NFL coach shows to the public isn’t necessarily the one he shows to the team.

And on Christmas Day, we got a little hint of this. Reid was caught on camera keeping Travis Kelce’s helmet away from him after the tight end had thrown a fit on the sideline — and then putting his shoulder into Kelce’s body.

It’s probably a mistake to believe Reid isn’t capable of getting what he wants from his team.

5. This season isn’t over

Las Vegas Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Let’s be clear: it is indeed possible the Chiefs will miss the playoffs. But even after Monday’s loss, it’s very unlikely that will happen. The team only needs one victory to clinch the AFC West and a playoff berth. Even if the team loses its last two games, there’s still a better than even chance it will make the postseason.

It’s also true that Monday’s loss pretty much took Kansas City out of contention for the AFC’s top seed — so being successful in the playoffs is going to be that much harder.

But the postseason will be conducted in the usual way: once the playoffs begin, everyone starts from scratch. What happened in the regular season no longer matters. It will be completely fair to believe that the Chiefs will be less likely than usual to win games against playoff-caliber teams — but if we have learned anything about them, it’s that we should never count them out until the final gun.

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