The temperature was 1 degree with a minus-19 wind chill when the Kansas City Chiefs kicked off at Arrowhead Stadium against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
The cold temperatures, however, were nothing compared to the cold blow the Chiefs took to their season when Titans kicker Ryan Succop nailed a 53-yard field goal as the time expired to secure a 19-17 Tennessee victory.
Entering the game at 10-3, one game up on the Oakland Raiders in the AFC West and sitting in second place in the AFC standings, this game was important for the Chiefs. A win would have clinched Kansas City’s playoff berth in the AFC and brought the Chiefs one step closer to securing a first-round playoff bye.
Instead, with the loss, the Chiefs drop from their top spot in the AFC West and fall to the fifth seed in the AFC, meaning they would play on the road in the first round of the playoffs if the season ended today.
The Chiefs came out hot, scoring a touchdown three minutes into the the game off a 68-yard handoff to wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Ten minutes later, Kansas City took advantage of a Tennessee turnover, scoring another touchdown, this time on a run by quarterback Alex Smith, to go up 14-0.
Though the Titans would make their way onto the scoreboard, they struggled to keep up with Kansas City in the first half, and the Chiefs entered halftime up 17-7.
The second half of the game was an entirely different story. On offense, the Chiefs were unable to score, failing to score from the 1-yard line twice. This marked the third consecutive game in which the Chiefs went without a second-half touchdown.
"It’s easy to say when things don’t go well," Smith said in a news release. "Certainly we weren’t in a rhythm. We didn’t get anything going. We got pretty stagnant in the second half.”
The Titans, on the other hand, did exactly what they do best — hang around. They mustered a field goal in the third quarter to make it 17-10 and stayed in the game by keeping the Chiefs off the board.
Midway through the fourth quarter, with the score still 17-10, quarterback Marcus Mariota led the Titans’ offense down the field for an 88-yard scoring drive. The drive ended with rookie running back and 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry pounding the ball in for the score with 4:42 remaining in the game.
An inexplicable failed two-point conversion attempt by Tennessee-as opposed to an extra point attempt to tie the game-left the score at 17-16.
Tennessee forced a Kansas City three-and-out on the next possession, giving them one more shot to put points on the board. After a series of methodical plays from Mariota put the Titans in field goal range, Succop, a former Chief, put the game away with a 53-yard field goal as time expired.
What to take away from the game:
The Chiefs left too many points on the field. The two opportunities to score from the one-yard line are the glaring missed chances, but the offense was stagnant for the entire second half. Conservative offensive play and an inability to score in the latter parts of games have been the Achilles’ heel for this Chiefs team that has struggled to put opponents away, and that was apparent once again on Sunday.
Failing to put away the Titans after having a two-touchdown lead after the first quarter was the Chiefs’ biggest problem in their loss against Tennessee.
“When your defense creates three turnovers you have to be able to take advantage of them,” Kansas City head coach Andy Reid said in his postgame press conference.
What can happen next:
Sunday’s loss was not apocalyptic for the Chiefs, but it was a game they should have won. Kansas City is now has a wild card spot in the AFC playoff race with two games remaining. The Chiefs are still in contention for the AFC West title, but they find themselves a half-game behind the Oakland Raiders for the division lead.
This loss won’t keep the Chiefs out of the playoffs. It would take a catastrophic three-game losing streak for that to happen. But in all likelihood, the Chiefs will remain the fifth-seed and have to travel to Indianapolis, Houston or Tennessee in the first round.
“Everything we want is still right there ahead of us,” Chiefs wideout Jeremy Maclin said in a press conference. “ We just need to correct our mistakes and learn from them.”
The biggest ramification of this loss is that the Chiefs are no longer in line for a first-round bye and will most likely not being hosting any playoff games at Arrowhead Stadium. A first-round bye provides an immense advantage on the road to the Super Bowl, and missing out on that week off may prove fatal to the Chiefs’ season. With Arrowhead being one of the most hostile venues in the NFL, losing home-field advantage is a huge blow.
Next, the Chiefs face the Denver Broncos on Christmas Day. The game starts at 8:30 p.m. and will air on NBC.
Edited by Eli Lederman | firstname.lastname@example.org