KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There was a time, much earlier in this lost Chiefs season, when a tightly contested, narrow loss at the hands of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos would have been inspiring.
Not anymore. Not really.
The Chiefs hung around with Manning and the Broncos most of Sunday afternoon, playing ultra-conservative and mistake free, but ultimately fell, 17-9. The loss was the Chiefs’ eighth straight and dropped them to 1-10 overall.
The defeat, combined with Jacksonville’s win, did leave the Chiefs alone with the NFL’s worst record and thus the inside track to the No. 1 pick in April’s draft.
Other than that, there was little for the Chiefs to glean from Sunday’s loss, though of course, Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel has had extensive practice in locating silver linings.
“I was proud of the way they competed,” Crennel said. “They played against a good football team, and played well here at home in the front of the home fans, which we haven’t been very good at so far this year. I was proud about that.
“By a long shot, we were not perfect, but we still were in the game at the end. That’s the thing I’ve been telling these guys all along is that if they play with energy, effort and attitude like that, they can be in the game until the end and give themselves a chance to win.”
But did the Chiefs really have a chance to win?
Not really, not after Manning lofted a pretty 30-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in the third quarter to put the Broncos up for good at 14-9.
Of course, the Chiefs could have made matters interesting with just under seven minutes to go when they were faced with a 4th-and-6 at the Broncos’ 46. But Crennel opted, as usual, to punt.
Crennel had twice before faced 4th-and-short in Broncos territory — he went for a field goal one time and punted the other.
This time, though, with no guarantee the Chiefs would even get the ball back for one more possession, Crennel at least pondered the notion of going for it, which, as a defensive-minded coach, clearly goes against his instincts.
Problem was, Crennel burned his second timeout of the half to think about it, then decided to punt any way. That led to the loudest boos of the day.
Asked why he burned his timeout in that situation with the clock already stopped, Crennel said, “I was considering going for it, but then I decided not to go for it and punted the ball.”
And what influenced his decision?
“The fact that we ended up being third-and-6 with enough time on the clock to let the defense go out there and try to get the stop,” Crennel said.
That didn’t happen.
Manning and the Broncos, starting at their own 16, promptly drove all the way to the Chiefs’ 16, methodically consuming all but 18 seconds of the clock. Matt Prater then punched home a 34-yard field goal and the Broncos had a 17-9 lead and, ultimately, the game.
While Crennel clearly tried to make the case that Sunday’s game reflected progress, not many of his players seemed to buy it.
“All that matters is the ‘W,'” linebacker Derrick Johnson said.
“We played hard and only gave up 17 points,” linebacker Justin Houston said, “but at the end of the day the only thing that matters is getting one more point than the other team. We didn’t do that.”
And the primary reason the Chiefs came up short again was a painfully conservative approach by the offense and quarterback Brady Quinn.
Quinn and the offense didn’t commit any turnovers, at least not until the final play when Quinn was intercepted. But while Quinn seemed efficient in completing 13 of 25 passes, he managed only 126 yards passing — the vast majority of his throws were check-downs. His longest completion was a 21-yard, catch-and-run from tight end Tony Moeaki.
Quinn finished with a paltry 49.8 quarterback rating.
“I thought (Quinn) managed the game,” Crennel said, “which is what we asked him to do.”
But two trips to the end zone produced just two Ryan Succup field goals in the first half, and Quinn knew that to beat Manning, field goals aren’t usually enough.
“I personally take responsibility for that,” Quinn said. “When we get down there, we have to finish those drives off with touchdowns.”
The Chiefs’ touchdown drought now stretches almost 12 quarters, all the way back to the Week 10 Monday night game at Pittsburgh when Jamaal Charles scored on a 12-yard run.
Asked if there was any end in sight to the offensive slump, Crennel said, “Well, if we keep playing and give ourselves a chance, then we will make plays to put some points on the board.”
Maybe not, at least not until the Chiefs get a little more aggressive. That seemed to be what tackle Eric Winston suggested.
“I think when you get into the red zone,” he said, “that field becomes two times as wide as it is long. There are not a lot of places you can hide. You’ve got to go after them. Whether it’s throwing or whether it’s running, we’ve got to produce more on each play …
“Maybe we have to scheme up different things, going more to the run, staying with more passes and trying to get guys open, I don’t know. I guess it’s not really for me to say.”