In football, there may be nothing worse than losing in a close game. Even worse than that is losing in a game, where your team clearly outplayed the opposition only to come up short in the only statistic which really matters; the final score. Certainly, the Chiefs 10-13 loss to the Raiders on Sunday falls into this category. What hurts most, though, is that the game clearly could have turned on any one play. This is what gnaws at the hearts of most fans, the dream that something could have been different, the feeling that if just one mistake could have been fixed that a victory would have belonged to the Chiefs. In this way, a blowout is easier to accept because there isn't any second-guessing to be done. However, in close game one or two plays, decisions or players are scrutinized and often given the blame for the loss.
Of course, it isn't that simple. In reality, there is plenty of blame to go around. Who is to say that an unnoticed play might not have been as big as a noticed one? Perhaps a missed block kept a run going for a touchdown. Perhaps a seemingly meaningless dropped pass might have turned into a big play. One of the wonderful things about football is that it is a complicated team game. Football is the only sport, where you will regularly hear the phrase "we lost in spite of outplaying them". This doesn't happen in baseball, basketball or hockey. There, if you outplay your opponent you win. This isn't the case in football, where the all best effort and execution can be wasted on just one mistake, leading to no points or a big score. So when the blame is to be passed out for Sundays game, it isn't just a simple proposition. This was a team loss: offense, defense, the coaching staff, front office and even dare I say the officiating crew.
On Offense, the Chiefs only mustered 10 points on the day in spite of racking up 409 yards of total offense. The most notable mistake by the offense was a short completion to Dantrell Savage with 14 seconds left in the first half, which kept the Chiefs from being able attempt a field goal. While, this one falls squarely on both Cassel and Savage, some have attributed it to the coaching staff, stating things like "how do you call a flat pass with 0:18 left?" For those who are doing this, let me welcome you to the world of modern football. Teams do not simply call "X-out" anymore, like they may have done on your NFL Strategy game. Plays do not have "primary" targets anymore (save screen passes). Instead, plays simply have patterns, which are designed generally to attack a specific part of a defense. If the defense manages to cover the deeper routes, then the quarterback usually checks down to a shorter "dump off route". This also, incidentally explains why teams regularly throw 7-yard routes on 3rd and 20's. The reason is that the 20-yard route is covered, so the quarterback, rather than risking a likely interception, throws a checkdown route in hopes of a run getting the first down.
While every team has endzone packages, no team likely has endzone packages for specifically for situations with little time left and no timeouts. Therefore, a flat pass, which would be a better option than an incompletion in normal circumstances, still exists in a particular play. The quarterback needs to recognize the situation and realize that in a situation such as the Chiefs were in if the downfield routes are covered then the ball needs to go out the back of the endzone. Savage also bears some responsibility since if he knew he couldn't get out of bounds he should have intentionally dropped the ball.
Matt Cassel did a number of good things on the day, but ultimately bears the responsibility for other mistakes as well. His miss of an open Dantrell Savage at the eight yardline, early in the 4th quarter, turned a potential touchdown in to a turnover, while his failure to look off a safety in the 3rd quarter resulted in another interception as well.
The Chiefs offensive line also bears some responsibility for the loss. Although the Chiefs wracked up 173 yards rushing, this is a misleading number. Larry Johnson, who was seemingly running hard, averaged only 3.3 yards on his 24 carries. Further, 34 yards belonged to Cassel on five scrambles, where he eluded the Raiders pass rush. Although Cassel was sacked only twice, the Chiefs were also flagged three times for holding and Cassel was hit half a dozen times. Finally, for the second week in a row, the Chiefs pass protection fell apart on a critical final drive. On the Chiefs last two offensive plays, Cassel was sacked and then forced to make an early throw with a defender in his face.
On defense, it is hard to find much wrong with the Chiefs performance up until the last 2:30. After having held the Raiders to 99 yards and six points, the Chiefs defense suddenly allowed to the Raiders to drive the field and score a winning touchdown. On one hand, it is difficult to expect any defense to hold a team to under 10 points in the NFL, but on the other hand, when your defense is given a 4 point lead with 2:30 to play, they have to make a stop.
Additionally, Brandon Flowers drop of a potential pick six in the 3rd quarter kept the Chiefs from jumping ahead at that point and adding a badly needed six points to the their total. It is little things like this that ultimately magnify other mistakes later in the game.
As to the Chiefs coaching staff, if you are looking to point fingers, some will say that the buck ultimately stops here. To the extent that the Chiefs staff could have made changes that would have changed the outcome, I agree. Among the things one has to question, is the Chiefs playcalling on offense, to me this goes directly to Haley. In spite of the Chiefs runningbacks having 15 carries for a miserable 47 yards, in the second half, the Chiefs insisted on running the ball on 10 of 15 first downs in the second half. In this regard, the Chiefs seemed to be becoming predictable on first down and the running game suffered. Additionally, for all the running the Chiefs were doing on first down, there was not as much play-action as I would have liked to have seen. Particularly since the Raiders linebackers seemed to be biting on the run. As to individual calls, I agree with Haley against the idea of second guessing any and every call that is made in a particular situation, however, these situations both speak to trends in play-calling that hurt the Chiefs chances.
Second, on defense, the Chiefs generally, only brought four players in a rush against the Raiders on the Raiders final scoring drive, after having blitzed more most of the game. Once again, the prevent defense prevented a team, this time the Chiefs, from winning the game.
One play I would like to comment on, however, is the Chiefs attempted onside kick in the 2nd quarter. I thought this was a great call, even though it didn't work. It is ironic that the Chiefs ran this play this week, when their opponent will be the Eagles next week. Older Chiefs fans, may remember that eight years ago the Eagles used a similar surprise onside kick to beat the Chiefs 23-10 at Arrowhead. It was a gutsy call, it was playing to "win the game".
As to the front office, one thing that is frustrating is that nothing has been done to seriously address the Chiefs situation at right tackle. Raiders left defensive end Greg Ellis had a field day against Chiefs right tackle Ikechuku Ndukwe, getting both Raider sacks and hitting Matt Cassel three other times. Even if we grant that Ndukwe is the right tackle of the future, both Langston Walker and John Runyan are available free agents and unless there is something I am missing I am not sure why we haven't signed one of them.
Finally, just a word about the officiating, the penalty on the Chiefs for roughing the quarterback on the Raiders final drive, which converted a 2nd and 18 from the Raiders 37 to a 1st and 10 at the Chiefs 48 was terrible. If the Chiefs had not fallen on JaMarcus Russell, he could have gotten up and run. Terrible.
Ultimately, one thing is for certain, this loss is a team loss, in every sense of the word. On the upside, this is the most dominating performance I have seen from the Chiefs defense, win or lose, in a long time. Even though Russell was doing his best to make people think Ryan Leaf wasn't so bad after-all, the Chiefs still held the Raiders to 166 yards of total offense. The last time the Chiefs held a team to under 200 yards of total offense was October 1, 2006 in a 41-0 win over the San Francisco 49ers. On offense, while Matt Cassel made some mistakes, he did show off some excellent pocket presence, stunning accuracy at times and a fiery, competitive spirit. At receiver, Bobby Wade stepped in and made six grabs for 72 yards, which is an encouraging sign to say the least, since one thing the Chiefs are still looking for is someone to aid in filling the gap left by departure of Tony Gonzales.
When all is said and done, come next Sunday, the Chiefs will have put this loss behind them and hopefully of learned some things that will help them to grow and become better. A win this week in Philadelphia and suddenly this loss will become a distant memory. In the meantime, there is plenty of blame to go round.