Chiefs look vulnerable after losses
Is that trouble in paradise?
A week after blowing a potential game-winning opportunity and losing to the Baltimore Ravens, the Kansas City Chiefs lost yet again, this time 30-24 at home to the AFC West-rival Los Angeles Chargers. The defeat came after the AFC’s premier franchise turned in an uncharacteristically un-clutch performance that featured four turnovers including two interceptions by quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Now 1-2 record after suffering consecutive losses for only the third time since Patrick Mahomes took over as the starting quarterback entering the 2018 season, Kansas City also fell below the .500 mark under Andy Reid for the first time since 2015.
From start (falling into a 14-0 hole) to finish (as Mahomes threw an interception on one potential game-winning drive and then saw a shot at redemption fall short with his pass swatted away in the end zone), the Chiefs very much would rather forget Sunday’s outing.
But doing so could prove easier said than done. Although it remains early in the season, the Chiefs find themselves in last place in the division. In each of their three outings, they have exhibited problem areas that could linger. If those shortcomings are not corrected, the Chiefs’ quest to return to a third consecutive Super Bowl and redeem themselves from February’s loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could prove more daunting a task than many have anticipated.
Suddenly, the vaunted Chiefs appear rather vulnerable, whether they care to admit it or not.
“When you take a loss to a division opponent at home, it’s not usually a good thing,” Mahomes told reporters after the loss. “We haven’t done a lot of that during my time here, so it’s how you respond … There’s not much concern. It’s just about going in and putting in the work every single week.”
However, more than one troubling trend has surfaced during Kansas City’s start.
The Chiefs came from behind to beat Cleveland in the season opener, but not before the Browns coughed up the ball twice in the final two quarters and positioned the Chiefs for victory.
Then the defense surrendered 251 rushing yards in Baltimore while allowing Lamar Jackson and the Ravens to rebound from two game-opening interceptions and capture the lead in the closing minutes of regulation. A fumble by running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire blew the Chiefs’ chance for a game-winning field goal.
The turnover woes continued this week as Edwards-Helaire fumbled yet again, as did wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Mahomes’ two interceptions proved uncharacteristic, especially his second, which came with 1:55 left and the score tied at 24-24. Normally, Mahomes having the ball in his hands with less than two minutes remaining would signal looming heroics for the young star, who in three-plus seasons boasts seven came-back victories and eight gamewinning drives.
But a miscommunication between Mahomes and the usually trusty Travis Kelce resulted in an interception right to Chargers defensive back Alohi Gilman.
So instead of the Chiefs taking care of business, it was their divisional little brothers orchestrating an eight-play, 59yard, clock-milking scoring drive capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass from Justin Herbert to Mike Williams with 32 seconds remaining.
There would be no Mahomes Magic as this time, as going the length of the field to score against an aggressive Chargers defense proved too formidable a task.
“We scored 24 points with four turnovers. You’re not going to win games with four turnovers,” said Mahomes, whose team did score 17 unanswered points to take their first lead in the third quarter. But Kansas City couldn’t maintain that advantage as the Chargers continued to find ways to execute, and the Chiefs did not.
“Whenever you play an offense that’s this historic, when you’re playing against, really three historic players in the game, you have to be aggressive,” Chargers first-year head coach Brandon Staley said after the game. “Not reckless, but aggressive, and I felt like all of our decisions were sound decisions. They weren’t over-aggressive. I felt like they were just aggressive. Part of the plan to win today was, if you look at this team historically, you have to turn them over, and we were able to do that today. … And the fact that Justin stayed mistake-free. When you go four to zero, that was as impactful as anything in the game: going four to zero in the takeaway margin.”
Mahomes’ missed connection with Kelce came after the quarterback anticipated his tight end rolling one way and Kelce going the opposite direction. Traditionally, the two boast such a strong bond that they seem telepathic in their ways. But things were off on Sunday, and not just for those two.
Hill’s lost fumble, which came deep in Chargers territory, represented his first since his rookie year in 2016. Edwards-Helaire, meanwhile, didn’t fumble his entire rookie season, but now has fumbled twice in as many weeks.
Slow starts are nothing new for the defense, but for a third straight week, the Chiefs have yet to have the unit’s full arsenal on the field.
We always hear about the Super Bowl hangover, and teams that lose in the NFL’s title game sometimes do struggle to return to the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. But because of Mahomes’ wizardly ways and the talent that Kansas City boasts around him, most prognosticators haven’t viewed the Chiefs as susceptible to such a dropoff.