This one will hurt forever.
The Kansas City Chiefs looked to exorcise 20 years and seven straight games worth of frustrating playoff losses, jumping out to a 38-10 lead early in the third quarter, but instead gagged up the second-largest lead in NFL playoff history, losing 45-44 to Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts Saturday night.
Luck hit wide receiver T.Y. Hilton with a 64-yard TD pass with 4:21 left in the fourth quarter to give Indy their first lead of the game. The dazed Chiefs made one last drive to win, but when Dwayne Bowe couldn’t pull down Alex Smith’s pass inbounds on 4th down, the game was over.
So make that eight straight playoff losses (an NFL record) and at least 21 years between playoff wins for the Chiefs Nation.
The final result ruined an otherwise terrific performance by Smith, who more than made up for the loss of All-World running back Jamaal Charles on the sixth play of the game. Smith, who set franchise playoff records with four TD passes and 379 yards passing, was nearly flawless in the first half completing 14-of-24 passes for 217 yds and three touchdowns, guiding KC to a 31-10 halftime lead. He should probably never hear the words, "game manager" linked with his name again after Saturday's performance.
Knile Davis came in for Charles and rushed for 51 yards and a touchdown in the first half, and long-lost wide receiver Donnie Avery got behind the Colts defense for his only catch of the game, a 79-yard strike in the opening minute of the second quarter.
But the best surprise of the first half was the reappearance of Bowe who had 3 catches for 81 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter alone. The yardage was Bowe’s highest output of the season.
Even the defense, ultimately the harbinger of doom for the team’s playoff success, recovered from the Colts opening touchdown drive (74 yds in 7 plays) to hold Indy to just 90 total yards and an Adam Vinatieri field goal for the rest of the half.
Chiefs fans hit their emotional high for the season in the first four plays of the second half. Luck threw his second interception on the first play from scrimmage, giving the Chiefs the ball on the Indianapolis 18-yard line. Three plays later, Smith hit Davis with a 10-yd TD pass and the Chiefs had their historic 38-10 lead, the most points the franchise had ever scored in a playoff game.
Despite the Colts scoring a TD on the next series to cut the lead to 38-17, there was a confidence that the 21-point lead would be safe since the Colts defense had given up a score to the Chiefs offense on six of seven series.
But unfortunately on the next series, on a 2nd-and-6 on the Indy 46-yd line, Alex Smith held onto the ball for far too long looking downfield for a receiver. NFL sack leader Robert Mathis sacked Smith for an 8-yd loss and stripped the ball for a fumble. Indianapolis recovered and the football gods seemingly flipped a switch inside Lucas Oil Stadium because the Colts woke up … the fans got loud … and the Chiefs defense disappeared.
It was also here that Andrew Luck’s career might have taken off into the next level. Luck led the Colts offense on a blitzkrieg of the Chiefs defense, scoring five touchdowns on the next six drives. Even a fluke interception couldn’t derail the Colts on their improbable comeback. All the drives but one took less than two minutes to complete.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, the Chiefs continued to lose key players to injury. Brandon Flowers was concussed trying to make a tackle on a Colt touchdown. Any hope of trying to grind out the clock with the running game ended when Knile Davis went down with a knee injury early in the fourth quarter. Donnie Avery sat in the locker room with concussion symptoms for most of the second half. And even Justin Houston, the only Chiefs defender that seemingly could get any pressure on Luck, left the game with injury just before Hilton’s game-winning catch.
Chiefs fans will probably spend the next 30 years lamenting two plays in the fourth quarter that summed up everything crazy about this loss.
On the first play of the fourth quarter with the Chiefs hanging on to a 41-31 lead, running back Cyrus Gray broke free along the right sideline due to a blown coverage by the Colts. Smith lofted a pass towards Gray, but overthrew him by a few inches missing out on a sure-fire touchdown. Gray could have waltzed into the end zone had the pass connected.
The Chiefs punted the ball back to the Colts and then with Luck directing things from a no-huddle shotgun formation, he drove the Colts 88-yards down to the KC 2-yd line. Chiefs safety Eric Berry put his helmet on the ball when Colts RB Donald Brown tried to run up the middle. The ball popped up into the air and was heading towards several Chiefs defenders.
At almost any other time in the season, the ball would have landed in the hands of a Chiefs defender. But the football gods decided to let the ball hit a Colt lineman in the helmet and the ball bounced into the waiting arms of Luck, who snatched it up and dove into the end zone for a touchdown. Chiefs 41, Colts 38 and just a matter of time for heartbreak in every Chiefs fan’s mind.
The suddenness and severity of Saturday’s loss when the Chiefs had such a dominating lead make this loss the worst in the playoff history of the Chiefs. Whether it’s the Christmas Day Longest Game Ever loss to the Dolphins … the Lin Elliott loss to the Colts … the No-Punt loss to the Colts … or the Dave Szott Phantom Holding Call loss in 1990 to the Miami Dolphins, they all now pale to this turd-bomb kick in the gut.
The Chiefs are no lock to make the playoffs next year, given the strength of their schedule next year. However, despite the crushing disappointment that will eventually fade (by the year 2045 probably), the Chiefs are in a much better state than they were a year ago.
However, there will have to be changed made – especially on the defensive side of the ball – if the team wants to get another chance to break that now-21-year run of disappointment in the playoffs.
It might be heresy to mention this now, but if their stomachs can handle it, most Chiefs fans should root for Peyton Manning and the Broncos to win the Super Bowl. It’s probably the best chance to get Manning to retire to the broadcast booth and out of Chiefs nightmares forever. Unfortunately, it looks like Andrew Luck might be around to take Manning’s place.
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