Self-inflicted, Part 2: The Chiefs' own worst enemy is themselves and stubbornness
Kansas City would do well to learn from what happened against Cincinnati to hit the playoffs running.
Look, let’s get three of things out of the way right out of the gate.
First, Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Burrow (especially the former) deserve a great deal of credit for coming back and overcoming the Chiefs on Sunday. Chase is a special player who dominated in a way I haven’t seen a receiver dominate in years. They kept firing, didn’t let themselves get overwhelmed falling into an early hole, and picked up a great win. That’s good on them!
Second… Yes, the referees played a wildly substantial role in the Chiefs’ loss to the Bengals. In some places that role was quite literally the difference between winning and potentially losing. As in, the Bengals went from a tie ball game with Mahomes having the ball (with 46 seconds left, to be fair) to having nothing to do but a chip shot field goal to win based on a flag that was, at best, a rather “strict” call. Of course, there were also a pair of missed false starts in key moments. And a phantom pass interference that converted a 3rd down failure into a first down on a crucial drive. All in the 4th quarter. That’s a bummer, and it definitely affected the game. But those are the breaks in close games.
Third, the Chiefs are an excellent team that is a very real threat to win the Super Bowl. A close loss to a good team doesn’t change that.
There, we’ve gotten all the caveats and the potential “why aren’t you talking about X” stuff out the way immediately. Which allows us to talk about what specifically happened that caused Kansas City to lose this game. Because at the end of the day, the Chiefs should still have beaten the Bengals. But they did not do so because of preventable mistakes, both in coaching and in execution.
The execution stuff is pretty obvious. Tyreek Hill had a tough drop (it will likely be called a “pass defensed” in the stat line, but his bobbling the ball allowed for it to be defensed) prior to the half that cost the Chiefs at least 3 points, and perhaps a touchdown.
The Chiefs could’ve collected a field goal here that would have been big late in the game, or even taken a shot at the end zone.
But true to the theme of 2021, the Chiefs remain their own largest obstacle. In addition to this play there were several other drops and preventable mistakes (like an unnecessary hold on a kickoff return, for example) that cost them yards and likely points. It’s been true all year; The Chiefs’ offense is unstoppable unless it stops itself. Also, in terms of execution, the Chiefs’ tackling issues that had been seemingly solved since earlier in the season came SCREAMING back and gave the Bengals fair too many free yards. Those sort of execution issues felt like the return of an unwelcome family member asking to “just crash with you for a couple of days.”
But we already knew about the execution issues that have plagued the Chiefs this year, and have talked about it multiple times here. Today, it’s worth talking about what was easily the most preventable problem from the Bengals game: Stubbornness. Or perhaps hubris is the right word.
The Chiefs, particularly the defense, needed to change their approach and refused to do so, and one could argue that was a larger reason the game was lost than the refs, or Burrow, or Chase, or execution failures.