The Kansas City Chiefs have played with fire for a while now. It’s catching up to them

·4 min read

The clock offered the best quarterback in the world 134 seconds to drive down the field for a game-winning score. The Chiefs didn’t even need a touchdown. No, simply a field goal would return a city’s narrative to a team that manages to just find some way, somehow, to win football games.

When the Chargers settled for only a game-tying field goal in the waning minutes against the league’s worst back-against-the-wall defense, you just knew it would come back to bite them.

Hand the ball to Patrick Mahomes with time and timeouts?

Forget it. He’s done more with less. This is the player who has a winning record when trailing by double digits. The man who received only 103 seconds in Las Vegas last year and had a single thought: “We’re going to score.”

This is the team that won seven straight games last season by one possession, clinching some with two-minute drills, other with defensive stands or gutsy fourth-down calls — and the team that then carried that trait over to this year’s opener when Mike Hughes, of all people, sealed a victory with an interception.

But on Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium — the birthplace of this run of invincibility — there were no late-game heroics. No Mahomes Magic. No unsung hero to save the day.

Instead, a second Mahomes interception, a fourth Chiefs turnover, and a last-place football team.

Chargers 30, Chiefs 24.

“There’s been many times,” Mahomes said of the final drive. “We’ve made that work.”

The Chiefs fell into a trap that defined the 2020 season in a strikingly similar but oh-so-different manner.

Close games.

Weird games.

Check. Check.

But here’s a little bit of a key difference: They won those games, covered their flaws and moved on to another week.

“The years before, we won the Super Bowl and went to the Super Bowl, we won those close games,” linebacker Anthony Hitchens said. “So that just shows you how small the margin is in the NFL. Every game is coming down to one possession. We just found a way to win.”

A year-plus run taught the Chiefs they can win despite mistakes. Their talent can win the fourth quarter and win the game. In eight days, they’ve learned the mistakes can get them beat.

Mahomes saw it coming, too. Or at least expressed concerned it could be coming. In the offseason, he warned teammates that playing with fire will eventually get you burned.

The Chiefs are fully there now, still an elite football team but the losers of two straight games in which they should have won. A late fumble was the final culprit in Baltimore. An interception on one of those backyard routes to tight end Travis Kelce served as the last straw Sunday.

But while wins have a way of overshadowing the mistakes, the losses have a way of placing emphasis only on how it ended.

That was Mahomes’ point in the offseason, after all. Yes, the Chiefs became quite good at closing out games in 2020 — and that’s not a quality anyone wanted to dismiss — but it would be best if they found a way to avoid those situations altogether.

The Chiefs turned the ball over on their first three drives Sunday. Once more, the defense offered little resistance in its own red zone — the Chargers scored on their first three trips there.

It might not catch up to you weekly. But you can’t escape it altogether.

The Chiefs will win more games like this. Probably win more than they lose. Heck, they lost the turnover battle 4-0 on Sunday and still had the ball in Mahomes’ hands, tie game, 2 minutes on the clock.

We were this close to writing, yet again, “How the heck did they just pull that off?”

Which explains Mahomes’ reply when asked his level of concern that this skid will be long-lasting. He no longer needs to preach about the possibility of losing one of these games.

There’s tape of two of them.

“I mean, not a lot (of concern),” Mahomes said. “We scored 24 points with four turnovers. You’re not going to win games with four turnovers in this league.

“We were moving the ball the way we wanted to. We got ourselves back in the game, and we gave ourselves a chance at the end, so there’s not much concern.”

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