“There’s always next year.” The mantra of the Kansas City Chiefs fan.
This year the Chiefs failed spectacularly to put up any points on a Pittsburgh Steelers team that struggled to stop what the Chiefs do best for most of the season. Sure the defense allowed Le’Veon Bell to rush for 170 yards with a ridiculous average but they stopped them in the red zone. The Chiefs could barely sniff the other side of the 50-yard line.
The truth is that the city and the fans deserve better than the ineptitude that is playoff football in Arrowhead. Where was Alex Smith’s playoff prowess? When was Travis Kelce being smart and reliable? Where was Andy Reid’s innovation and preparation? These are questions that every Chiefs fan is asking as they leave One Arrowhead Drive. In yet another promising season ending too soon here are the grades from one who was in the stands.
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The first drive had the stadium pumping and jumping. This was it. It was finally going to be the Chiefs’ time to shine. Methodically and surgically Alex Smith carved up the defense of the Steelers and ended with a touchdown pass to Albert Wilson. The fans showed up and that crowd was LOUD. Then the wheels fell off. Despite opportunity after opportunity the Chiefs failed to get any rushing game going and first downs became extremely difficult.
Part of this was the result of penalties and dropped passes. Part of it was Smith’s unwillingness to push the ball down the field until he absolutely had to. I don’t believe this game falls directly on Smith’s shoulders. He didn’t lose the game, but he didn’t go out and win it either. That’s the difference between a game manager and an elite signal caller. Alex Smith cannot win the big game when his team needs him to. His team and his fans needed him to play better.
The final possession of the game gave the fans another reason to cheer. The Chiefs marched down field and though they needed a couple of fourth down conversions and penalties to keep the drive going. They scored another touchdown but a holding call on the two-point conversion pushed them back to a near impossible distance. One play doesn’t lose the game but it soon became clear that the Chiefs gave up another great opportunity in front of its loud and loyal fan base.
When you hold a prolific offense to six field goals, you do at least one thing right. When you allow 170 rushing yards to one player, you’re doing a lot wrong. Dontari Poe had one of his worst games in his career. Bell was able to pick and choose his hole behind one of the best offensive line performances I have ever seen. Poe got pushed back away from the line of scrimmage nearly every running play and because of it, freed up blockers to prevent any other Chiefs from getting to Bell.
The secondary fared well in mostly shutting down Antonio Brown. He had a few big plays but one came at the end of the half and another when a creative blitz failed to get home and Justin Houston ended up being the cover man. The other receivers struggled to gain yardage after the catch and for the most part they forced Ben Roethlisberger to hold the ball. The only pass plays that really hurt the Chiefs came over the middle when some coverage men got a little too aggressive on a crosser and let the tight end get behind them.
Overall the defense did what it was supposed to do and shut down the Steelers in the red zone. They limited the killer bees to just six field goals and were able to hold when it really counted. If the Chiefs hold on the other side of the 50 at least once then we may be talking about playing next week. Then again, it’s hard to win a playoff game when you don’t score points.
Everyone was so excited that Tyreek Hill had taken over the kick return duties again. Then they saw him get plastered on the 10 yard line. The Steelers focused on stopping Hill before he got going and they accomplished their mission. Not once on Hill’s four returns did he get it past the 25 yard line. When a team relies so heavily on big plays from special teams it can be real deflating when they can’t do what they’ve been doing all year.
The punt game was solid and when Colquitt was able to pin the Steelers deep it allowed the defense to finally force a fourth down that resulted in their own punt. The kicking game and field goal game remained solid but a lack of opportunity keeps the grade low at a C.
Many will be calling for the head of Andy Reid after this game. That I don’t agree with. Reid didn’t have a good game but he didn’t have a bad one either. The plays were there and the players failed to make them. Dropped passes and penalties are rarely on the head coach but the players executing. Reid had some great things dialed up that just didn’t work out.
There were some puzzling moments to be sure. The decision to take two of his timeouts away when they could have helped give the Chiefs the ball back at the end. The defensive scheme lacked blitzing and relied to heavily on the front four to hold their gaps. Bob Sutton should have realized that his defensive line was not getting the push it needed and changed things up. Instead he kept most of his players back and let Bell have his way with the defense.
Andy Reid will likely get an extension this off season and I would say that he deserves it. More wins in his first four years that any other coach will do that for you. Chiefs fans have the coach and GM they need. They have built a solid roster and should continue to do so. The issue remains an elevating quarterback. Not a take what you get QB, but a takes what he wants QB.
“There’s always next year. I’m so tired of saying that,” a fan walking down the concourse remarked. We all are, friend. We all are.