The knee-jerk reaction after the Kansas City Chiefs’ numbing 31-24 loss to the Denver Broncos at shellshocked Arrowhead Stadium Thursday night was to point fingers.
I’m not sure there’s enough fingers on both hands to get the job done. Might need to throw in a few toes for good measure because this was a collective team loss.
This was "Nightmare at One Arrowhead Drive." For once it appeared the Chiefs were finally going to conquer their kryptonite as they took a late 24-17 lead despite throwing away earlier scoring chances by the handful.
But Lex Luthor did it to the Chiefs again. Creaky old Peyton Manning, whose fastball has been replaced by an assortment of off-speed junk, picked on poor-and-hapless Jemell Fleming relentlessly for a game-tying touchdown drive, which took all of 10 plays to navigate 80 yards in 1:51.
I knew right then the Chiefs were cooked.
What I didn’t know was that the Chiefs were about to turn the clock back to 1978 and get beleaguered New York Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik off the hook. It was Pisarcik who fumbled the ball against the Eagles that year and, ironically, former Chiefs coach Herm Edwards scooped it up and scored for an improbable last-second victory. The only differences Thursday were that Jamaal Charles wasn’t a quarterback and the Chiefs were tied, not ahead like the Giants.
Andy Reid must have had a brain cramp in those final seconds. The way the Broncos’ defensive line was pressuring KC quarterback Alex Smith, there were too many fears that throwing the ball would result in a turnover. Instead of Smith taking a knee to take it into overtime, he handed it off to Charles, who already had coughed it up down by the Denver end zone earlier in the game and has a reputation of being fast-and-loose with the football.
Charles, as we all know by now, gagged by putting the ball on the ground and Bradley Roby scooped it up and sped into the end zone to turn Arrowhead Stadium from a rock concert into a morgue. Denver slinked out of town with the victory and the Chiefs now have no cushion heading into the next two weeks. They have barely a scintilla of a chance at Green Bay (I’d say slim and none and slim’s already been rumored to have left town), while winning at the Cincinnati Jungle is a 25 percent chance at best.
Let the finger pointing begin.
I start with Reid, whose late-game clock management always has been a blemish on his resume. As brilliant of a playcaller as he is, he has lapses where you just scratch your head. He gets the most raspberries, because almost everybody who’s ever watched the game was screaming for a kneel-down on the final play.
Then there’s Charles, who probably doesn’t deserve near the criticism and was put in a position to fail. Without his usual brilliance — 125 yards rushing and a touchdown — the Chiefs probably aren’t in the game.
How about Fleming? I felt sorry for the guy as I kept screaming for him to be taken out since he was so overmatched. He is the 2015 version of Marcus Cooper, who Manning made look so silly one game that it basically reduced him to a backup role forever.
And you can blame Sean Smith, who got himself suspended for a violation of NFL policy and would have been on the field in Fleming’s place had he not been a knucklehead.
Alex Smith is hardly void of fault. He threw two picks and didn’t manage the game well. He threw for 192 yards, which is pedestrian in this pass-happy age of the NFL.
The defense carries some burden, too, as it allowed the Broncos to storm down the field for the tying score. Great teams simply don’t do that. If the Chiefs are serious about making the playoffs, somebody has to come up with the big play. I can think of 101 million reasons ($$) Justin Houston should have been that man.
Finally, blame Manning simply for being Manning. He is only 14-1 against the Chiefs and even though he’s now a statue in the pocket, he dodged the blitzing defense most of the night to put up a three-touchdown game.
This was only the second game of the season and just one of 16. But this game meant so much to the Chiefs and their psyche. It puts them a game behind Denver and good teams can’t afford to lose games at home. It also is an emotional kick in the gut that it was Manning and Denver that delivered the blow. The Chiefs have to wonder what it’s going to take to finally come out on top against their dreaded rival. They have to feel like they’re a voodoo doll that Denver uses for its own sadistic pleasure.