Here’s a situation Sunday, and it comes with one of the world’s best quarterbacks standing on the sideline.
The Chiefs are facing a fourth down and they determine their very best chance at a conversion is with the right arm of Tommy Townsend throwing a pass to the second-string tight end. Townsend, mind you, is a punter.
Here’s another situation Sunday, and it too comes with one of the world’s best quarterbacks standing idly on the sideline. The Chiefs are two yards, a mere six feet, from the goal line, and send kicker Matt Ammendola in for a chip-shot to stack three points onto their lead, instead of trying for the full seven.
Here’s one more situation Sunday, and it comes with one of the world’s best quarterbacks marching toward the sideline in anger, vexed that his team has elected to be content with a four-point halftime advantage rather than press for more in the final half-minute.
These are three stories from a brutal 20-17 Chiefs loss in Indianapolis, and each of them is worth exploring on its own. But compiled together, they tell a bigger story.
That high-powered offense you believed would score every time it had the ball has been stuck in neutral for two games now — enough time to wonder whether that offense a thing of the past, and if and when it will be a thing of the future.
More telling, though: The confidence in it apparently is a thing in the past, at least for one afternoon in Indianapolis l
As unique as each of those three situations might appear on the surface, when you dig into the why, the root of their reasoning is nearly identical.
There was a lack of faith in the unit that head coach Andy Reid has so greatly trusted through much of the past five seasons. He won’t say that, not out loud, but he doesn’t need to say anything. Those decisions tell us plenty. The odds, it appears, no longer sit with his offense.
If your offense is rolling, would you really pull everyone off the field in favor of a fake field goal that calls for the punter to throw while rolling out? If your offense is rolling, would you really kick a field goal inside the 3-yard line — for the second straight week — after acknowledging the analytics are telling you it’s the wrong decision?
There’s just one conclusion to be drawn here. And worse, even as those decisions deserve plenty of scrutiny, the hesitancy itself is justified.
The Chiefs have almost no running game, a problem at left tackle and a quarterback who can only seem to find one option downfield who is open with any sort of regularity. They had the ball six times in the opening half in Indianapolis, and not once did a drive cover more than 37 yards.
frame frameborder="0" height="200" scrolling="no" src="https://playlist.megaphone.fm?e=BLU6282510749" width="100%">
There will be an impulse to refocus the conversation about this loss on a late unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty that consumed the post-game locker room — among players, coaches and executives alike. On the surface, it’s an inexplicable call that deserved a more specific comment from referee Shawn Smith on exactly what Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said to Colts quarterback Matt Ryan.
Or you can mention Ammendola, on the roster because of an injury to Harrison Butker, shanking a 34-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
Or point to Skyy Moore’s muffed punt.
Or the other special teams mistake. Or maybe the other special teams mistake. Or the other one.
But they’re all distractions from the complication that would certainly qualify as more concerning — the Chiefs have had the football 20 times over the past two weeks, and 14 times they’ve been held to a drive of 37 yards or less.
The defense gifted them both touchdown drives Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium — the Chiefs needed to travel all of 35 and 21 yards to reach the end zone.
“Gotta do a better job of getting us into a rhythm,” Reid said. “That’s not taking place.”
If this comes across as being harsh on the offense after one lousy week, well, so be it. This is the phase of the game that is supposed to carry this team, not cost them wins that could show up in playoff seeding. On Sunday, the Chiefs lost to a bad team despite holding the Colts to 259 total yards, fewer than the Chiefs allowed in any regular-season game last year.
The schedule very quickly will grow a heck of a lot more difficult now, and the Chiefs just proved they’re capable of losing to almost anyone.
The most optimistic of outlooks would probably point to the roster turnover as a reason this will take time, I guess, to try to justify what we’ve seen the last two weeks. Tyreek Hill is gone, a new batch of receivers here in his place. But offered that option, even Mahomes definitively rejected it.
“I don’t expect any growing pains,” he said. “You obviously have new players — you don’t know how everybody’s going to respond to tough situations. You know we can learn from it. But for me, I’m always going out there with the expectation we’re going to win.”
Which leaves us with the conclusion that the Chiefs are either in an early-season rut or they will more closely resemble what we saw Sunday than what we’ve seen the past five seasons. I lean toward the former, but it’s alarming that a year ago, they at least had the excuse of some unlucky turnovers.
They didn’t have that Sunday. They were actually the team on the receiving end of those turnovers. The defense did its job, for the most part.
And how many columns in the Mahomes Era have we concluded with this:
The offense is going to need to start holding up its end of the deal.