For 17 weeks plus today's AFC Wild Card Game in Indianapolis, it looked at times like the Kansas City Chiefs were a team of destiny. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, the former No. 1 draft pick out of Utah, would finally get his day to prove he was among the league's elite quarterbacks. On Saturday, January 4 at Lucas Oil Stadium, Smith indeed showed the world he could play on a big stage -- it's just that his Chiefs fell short, losing 45-44 in a heartbreaker to the Colts.
"They found enough ways to make plays in the end and we didn't," said a dejected Smith at the post game press conference.
Smith made plays in this big game on Wild Card Weekend, yet it's the plays he didn't make that will forever mark this game in particular as a huge failure for him.
Not even 378 yards passing on 30-of-46 from Smith, and four touchdowns against no interceptions would get the job done against the Colts -- nor would 57 yards rushing on just eight carries.
Would losing Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles to a concussion early on make any difference? Not really, the Chiefs carried on with a business-as-usual attitude, plowing ahead with precision passing from Smith -- an occasional QB run -- and a spirited effort from rookie running back Knile Davis of Arkansas.
But this was not the Chiefs day, as even Davis would eventually leave, adding to a never-ending list of Chiefs players sitting on the sidelines in a dome designed to protect players from the elements outside -- but not from injury.
For everything Smith did, including leading Kansas City to a 28-point lead early in the third quarter, it wouldn't be enough to overcome the Colts, whose quarterback Andrew Luck struggled early, throwing three interceptions.
Even Luck found his rhythm towards the conclusion of the game.
But it wasn't like Kansas City didn't try to get the victory. Colts experts knew their team had suffered from slow starts in games. And everybody, including Las Vegas oddsmakers, gave the Chiefs a chance to win on the road in the first place. To boot, Kansas City hadn't won a playoff game in over 20 years, since Joe Montana led the 1994 Chiefs to a win over the then-Houston Oilers.
Even when the Chiefs were ahead 38-10 in the third quarter and Luck was seen pounding his fists into the Lucas Oil Stadium turf after another interception, Kansas City could not put the home team away.
There were a number of reasons, mostly tied to Smith, the boy from Utah who could do no wrong early but who threw away chances to win the game late.
Just as Luck found his fortunes changing with a touchdown-scoring drive to narrow the Chiefs lead to 38-17, the hopes of Smith and his team took a huge hit when Smith scrambled to his left in the third and was sacked, fumbling in Chiefs territory to give the Colts another life line.
Like the Colts needed one, right? With nine minutes to go in the third quarter you can point to this exact moment as the one that changed Wild Card Weekend in 2014.
A little over a minute later the Colts scored again to cut the Chiefs lead to 38-24 -- even with Luck throwing another pick -- but his third interception wouldn't mean much because instead of scoring touchdowns Kansas City kicked field goals. Indianapolis were the ones who scored TD's in the second half -- five to be exact.
Even late in the third when a Chiefs wide receiver was wide open, Smith overthrew him -- something that simply didn't happen in the first half.
Then, if that didn't beat all, Luck got lucky when a hand-off to his running back bounced off of his offensive lineman's rear end, and into mid-air which the quarterback scooped up, propelling his giant 6-foot-4 inch, 239 pound body skyward into the end zone for a rushing touchdown of the weirdest kind.
The Colts now cut the Chiefs lead to 41-38, and Kansas City was stuck in a time warp. That is, kick a field goal, and watch Indianapolis score another improbable touchdown.
The last trade-off was the clincher. Somehow, despite having two Kansas City defenders shadowing Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton it was Hilton who broke free of the two Chiefs on a long post route, catching the ball in stride for a 69-yard game-winning touchdown.
The play would kill Kansas City's hopes of a Super Bowl, and Smith's road to redemption finished just as it began -- with questions. At the Colts 44-yard-line with just 2:29 left to play and plenty of time to move the ball down the field, the Chiefs went more aggressive than necessary on second down and seven yards to go.
Pressured by the Colts pass rush, Smith rolled to his right and threw the ball away, resulting in an intentional grounding penalty which accomplished two things. One, it moved the Chiefs out of field goal range and second, it forced Kansas City to throw the ball -- when the run seemed to be working fine on its own.
Just two plays later on 4th down and 11 Smith looked for his main target, receiver Dwayne Bowe, on an out route along the right sideline.
Smith threw the ball on a rope, landing it between Bowe's gloved hands as Bowe neatly tucked his cleat inside one line -- but his second foot wasn't as lucky, giving the Colts and Luck the ball on downs -- and the ball game.