As much as the Kansas City Chiefs have struggled of late, they’re still in much better shape than the reeling Washington Redskins.
Though the Chiefs are trying to avoid a fourth consecutive loss, they have a chance to clinch a playoff spot and hand the Redskins a fifth straight defeat Sunday.
Kansas City is the first team in NFL history to win its first nine games then lose three in a row. However, it leads the AFC wild-card race and can secure its first playoff berth since 2010 with a win at Washington (3-9) and a loss or tie by Miami or Baltimore on Sunday.
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If the Chiefs tie the Redskins, they would need the Dolphins or Ravens to lose.
“We still have everything we want in front of us,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “It’s no time to point fingers or do anything like that. Just continue to do what we’ve been doing.”
What the Chiefs have done since their Week 10 bye has not worked.
Kansas City allowed 111 points through the first nine games while facing two teams that currently have winning records — Dallas and Philadelphia, both 7-5. The Chiefs since have sandwiched two losses to Denver around a defeat to San Diego, giving up 103 points.
All three defeats came by 10 or fewer points. Six of their first nine results were decided by the same margin.
“Earlier in the year we were coming out the other end of it,” Smith said. “We just have to continue to fight. I think this team has that kind of character.”
Kansas City didn’t allow more than 283 passing yards in the first nine weeks but the Broncos and Chargers averaged 371.0 in the last three. Peyton Manning threw for 403 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in a 35-28 win at Kansas City last Sunday.
Kansas City’s struggles against the pass might stem from a recent lack of pressure. The Chiefs recorded 35 sacks in the first seven games but have two in the past five and one during the skid.
Justin Houston, the team leader with 11, could miss a second straight game with an elbow injury.
Kansas City coach Andy Reid won’t use injuries or facing the AFC-leading Broncos twice as an excuse for his team’s poor play.
“I told the team this isn’t college football. This isn’t the end of the season,” said Reid, who went 17-11 against the Redskins during his 14 years in Philadelphia. “Now it’s important that we get ourselves back and ready to go, and finish the season like we’re capable of doing, and our guys, coaches and players, will do that.”
Despite the slide, Kansas City ranks ninth in the league with 24.8 points allowed per game.
The Chiefs have posed a difficult challenge for the Redskins through the years, going 7-1 and winning five straight in the all-time series. Dwayne Bowe had six receptions for 109 yards and Tamba Hali recorded a safety during Kansas City’s 14-6 win at Washington in 2009 in a game that did not feature a touchdown.
Ending the head-to-head losing streak may not be easy for the Redskins, who have been eliminated from playoff contention after winning the NFC East last season.
“You don’t like to play for pride, but sometimes that’s the card that’s dealt,” said coach Mike Shanahan, whose team last dropped five straight during a six-game slide Oct. 16-Nov. 20, 2011. “That’s where we’re at right now.”
Washington blew a 14-0 lead at home and lost 24-17 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday. Though the officials’ incorrect movement of the down marker on the Redskins’ final drive led the team to believe it had a first down when instead it was third, Pierre Garcon had the ball stripped after a reception two plays later that would have given them the actual first down but instead sealed the loss.
The Redskins also committed eight penalties and Alfred Morris ran the ball twice after halftime en route to finishing with a career-low 26 yards on 11 carries.
Though Washington’s postseason hopes have ended, Shanahan insists his team will not quit.
“You play just as though you were in the playoffs,” he said. “You want to spoil somebody else’s year. You want to play at a high level. You’re always being evaluated for the future. And that never changes.”
Robert Griffin III, who completed his first 12 passes for 111 yards, finished with 207 and a TD to become the fourth player since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to throw for at least 3,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. He also ran for a season-high 88 yards on 12 attempts.
Garcon has a career-high 84 receptions and is 20 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season. He caught five passes for 125 yards and two TDs against Kansas City in 2011 while with Indianapolis.
Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles is second in the league with 1,463 total yards and tied for third with 11 overall touchdowns.