Nobody deserves this: Chiefs lose again in playoffs

Nobody deserves this: Chiefs lose again in playoffs
January 5, 2014, 11:00 am
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When did realization begin? I think it was early in the third quarter, when Indianapolis zoomed 80 yards in one minute 47 seconds. The drive went like this: Brown 3-yard run, Luck 10-yard pass, Luck 11-yard pass, Luck 46-yard pass, Brown 10-yard touchdown run. That fast. That easy. A blur. I think it was the ease of it that hinted what was about to come, that make it seem possible that something bad could still happen.

Before that drive, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky or green anywhere on the radar. The Chiefs led 38-10 -- this even though their best player Jamaal Charles was out with a concussion -- and things seemed safe. The Chiefs had played more or less the perfect game, quarterback Alex Smith had been almost flawless, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck looked frustrated and out of sorts. Anyway, at some point bad things have to end in Kansas City. Right? The Chiefs had lost seven straight playoff games coming in, an NFL record, or, well, anyway, one they poetically shared with the Detroit Lions.

I lived in Kansas City for 15 years. I lived through most of those seven straight losses. I had missed the AFC Championship game after the 1993 season, but I was at the wildcard game in Miami in 1994 when Dan Marino outgunned Joe Montana -- it was Montana’s last game. I moved to town just after the Chiefs lost a heartbreaker to the Colts in January 1996  -- the Chiefs had the best record in all of football that year, and the Colts had merely squeezed in as a wildcard. The city was electrified for the game. Super Bowl! This time for sure! Kansas City kicker Lin Elliott missed three field goals. The Chiefs lost by three.

I was there after the 1997 season when the Chiefs (again with the best record in the conference) lost to Denver by four after a controversial holding call and a Tony Gonzalez catch in the end zone that might have been ruled a touchdown. I was there in 2004, the no-punt game, when Peyton Manning embarrassed an overmatched Chiefs defense. I was there in 2006, when the Chiefs really didn’t even belong in the playoffs and proved it by getting blasted by the Colts -- after the game running back Larry Johnson (who had set an NFL record for most carries in a season) talked about the team’s lack of imagination.

In January 2011, the Chiefs were crushed by a much better Baltimore Ravens team in a game that never really even needed to happen.

That’s seven straight losses -- this in a city where the Kansas City Royals have not been in the playoffs since 1985 and the college favorites in town (Missouri and Kansas State in particular) have endured countless heartbreaks. 

But this year’s Chiefs were something unusual in Kansas City. They were a pleasant surprise. They’d been the worst team in football in 2012, and they cleaned house, and everyone just wanted mild improvement. Instead, they won their first nine games. Jamaal Charles was sensational, and the defense, while inconsistent, was often one of the league’s best. It was nice. Then they were leading the Colts 38-10 in the playoffs and the niceness seemed to be continuing for another week.

And then, that Indy 500 drive -- so fast, so easy, so absurdly effortless -- and I know that those heartbreak spider senses started tingling all over Kansas City. I sometimes wonder what it is like to be a fan of a successful team. Do you grow oblivious to bad signs? Do they just bounce off you unnoticed? Or are you completely aware of bad signs but unbothered by them -- you simply think: “Oh, this looks bad but, you know what? It will turn out just fine. It always does!”

I don’t know. I grew up in Cleveland, and I lived most of my adult life in Kansas City, and the constant battering of terrible losses and disastrous blunders and a hundred bad bounces will harden you and teach to be hypersensitive to inevitable doom. Shortly after that 80-yard blitzkrieg of a drive, the Chiefs fumbled.  Of course they did. This time it took the Colts and Luck one minute 29 seconds for to go 59 yards and score another touchdown.

Now the Chiefs led by only 14.

At this point there was still seven-plus minutes left in the third quarter. There was no need to spider sense anymore. Everyone could see the Chiefs were in real trouble, especially when they went three-and-out on the next drive. But then -- Luck threw an unexpected interception. The Chiefs were already in field goal range. A touchdown could change the tide, turn the momentum...

The Chiefs drive: Four yard pass. Zero yard run. Incomplete pass. 

The field goal was good, making the Chiefs lead 17, but it didn’t feel good. Field goals in a game like this are like spares in pro bowling. If your opponent’s hot, they’re just not enough. Anyway one minute, 48 seconds later the Chiefs lead was down to 10. This Colts drive was 80 yards again. Luck completed a 25-yard pass, a 30-yard pass, a 13-yard pass and a 12-yard pass. That’s 80-yards if you’re counting. It was the third time the Colts had a long touchdown drive that lasted less than two minutes. Andrew Luck -- what a player. What a man. 

And the beat-up Chiefs defense looked entirely lost.

At this point, I must admit, I did not think the Chiefs were going to lose. I knew they were going to lose. That’s a terrible feeling isn’t it, when you KNOW something bad is about to happen but you still have to actually go through it? It’s that feeling when you have a bad report card but you haven’t yet shown it to your parents. 

The loss was certain. Now it was just a matter of watching it. And it was even worse than I imagined. The Chiefs’ offense stalled, of course, and Luck was brilliant in leading the Colts on the 90-yard touchdown drive, of course. But the drive was capped when Indianapolis’ Donald Brown fumbled the ball, it popped in the air into the arms of Luck who plowed in for the score. That didn’t seem necessary.

And on the ensuing drive, the Chiefs blew not one but TWO timeouts.

The Chiefs blew two timeouts.

They blew two timeouts.

Two of them.

I’m sorry. I’m babbling here. Two timeouts. They were leading by three points, they had the ball, they wanted the game to end, they needed to have timeouts left in case they fell behind -- and they blew two timeouts. There are federal laws against this sort of thing, aren’t there? 

The Chiefs promptly drove into field goal range, which was necessary to complete the drama. The field goal put the Chiefs up six, the perfect heartbreak number And those two timeouts made sure that Luck and the Colts had more than five minutes to deliver the winning touchdown drive. They only needed one minute and 15 seconds of it. Luck threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton who had slipped past the defense because, apparently, they weren’t expecting him to go deep. 

Hilton ended up 13 catches, 224 receiving yards and two touchdowns, in case you are wondering.

So that left the Chiefs one more drive needing only a field goal and yadda yadda yadda, they lost the game. Can we leave it at that? Yadda yadda yadda. Let’s not mention the intentional grounding penalty. Let’s not mention Andy Reid – who has had a few clock meltdowns in his life -- wasting of the Chiefs final timeout so that he could design a doomed pass to Dwayne Bowe, who naturally caught the ball out of bounds. Let’s not mention that the Colts could comfortably run out the last 1:55 by kneeling on the ball because the Chiefs were out of timeouts. Three wasted timeouts.

Yadda yadda yadda. That’s all.

Andrew Luck is a fantastic quarterback. T.Y. Hilton is a fantastic receiver. The Colts pulled off the second-greatest comeback in playoff history -- just behind that crazy Frank Reich, Bills over Houston comeback -- by making an absurd number of big plays. Also the Chiefs were badly hurt after losing Charles, there were numerous other injuries, and anyway it has to be viewed as a good season in Kansas City.

All that said: Kansas City didn’t deserve another one of these. No town deserves so many of these. That’s eight playoff losses in a row -- Kansas City has that record all to itself now. Kansas City doesn’t deserve that. Then, Clint Eastwood got it right in “Unforgiven.” Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.