Chiefs win at end, but miss playoffs

Chiefs-Justin Houston

JANUARY 2015 – In 2006, an improbable series of events on the final regular season weekend got the Kansas City Chiefs into the playoffs.

The Chiefs beat Jacksonville 35-30 to finish with a 9-7 record, but still needed Pittsburgh to beat Cincinnati, New England to beat Tennessee and the most unlikely San Francisco to beat Denver to back into the playoffs as a wildcard. Check, check and check.

Of course, the Chiefs were one-and-done in the playoff losing at Indianapolis and Peyton Manning.

“That year it happened for us,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said. “This year it didn’t. This year probably now feels more like 2005 where we won enough games (10), you would think, to get in the playoffs, but it just didn’t happen for us.”

Despite losing four of its previous five games, the Chiefs still had a chance to make the playoffs in 2014. They had to beat the San Diego Chargers at Arrowhead to keep any hopes alive. But all the Chargers had to do was beat the Chiefs and they were in. The Chiefs dashed the Chargers’ hopes, but still needed Baltimore and Houston to lose to be a wildcard entry. Both won. The Ravens are in the playoffs, while the Chiefs will spend January at home watching the playoffs.

The Chiefs easily could – make that should – have been 11-5, not 9-7, and in the playoffs. Two inexcusable losses knocked Kansas City out of the playoffs. They opened the season with a 26-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium. The Titans would win only one more game and finished with a 2-14 record.

When the Chiefs played a Thursday game Nov. 20 at Oakland, the Raiders were winless, But not after that night, upsetting the Chiefs 24-20. The Raiders would finish with a 3-13 mark.

Put those into the win column and the Chiefs are playing in January.

Sponsor-Chiefs“I think it’s hard not to,” play the what if game, Hunt said. “Although during some of those games when we let those opportunities get away from us, you had the thought in the back of your mind, ‘wow, those could come back to bite us.’ And at the end of the day it sure did and it’s disappointing.

“At the same time, I’m proud of the team, proud of the coaching staff – Andy (Reid), two winning seasons in his first two years. There are a lot of positives. We go into the offseason with a win, a winning season and we get to figure out how we can come back next year stronger.”

The Chiefs could be very good on any given Sunday. They manhandled the New England Patriots and Tom Brady 41-14 on Sept. 29, a Monday night game at Arrowhead Stadium, and then upended the defending Super Bowl champions Seattle Seahawks 24-20 on Nov. 16 at Arrowhead. Those are the two top-seeded teams in their conferences entering the playoffs.

“We beat some pretty good ones,” said Reid, who has coached the Chiefs to 20 victories in his first two seasons. “We have to do it on a more consistent basis. Then the sky is the limit.”

Grandsons Titus and Jace accurately pointed out to me they had as many touchdowns catches this year as Dwayne Bowe or any Chiefs wide receiver. That would be ZERO. That is a sad commentary on the ineffectiveness of the Chiefs’ passing game.

Quarterback Alex Smith threw for 18 touchdown passes – five each to Travis Kelce and Jamaal Charles and four to Anthony Fasano. It is difficult to be a contending playoff team with the wide receivers inept.

While the Chiefs could not pass, the Kansas City defense was good at preventing the pass. No individual passed for more than 300 yards or had a completion of more than 50 yards against the Chiefs in 2014. They are the only team to accomplish that this past season.

Opposing quarterbacks found scant time to pass with All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston harassing them. He sacked Phillip Rivers of the Chargers four times in the season finale to hike his sack total to 22. Only Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan, who had 22 ½ in 2001, has more in one season. Houston has six career games of three or more sacks.

“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Houston said of his sack-full season. “I’m still disappointed we’re not going to the playoffs. I think that hurt more than anything. It’s a team game, it will mean a lot one day, but I’m more disappointed we’re going home instead of playing for the big thing.

“I’m still heartbroken. I feel like every game we lost, we gave it away, we weren’t just beat. When you look back on a season like that and think about the games you should have won and are supposed to win, I think it hurt more than anything.”

Houston is eligible to become a free agent, but if the Chiefs fail to sign him to a multi-year contract expect them to drop the franchise tag on him.

“I haven’t even thought about that,” Houston said. “Like I said, I’m still heartbroken about not going to the playoffs. That’s what I set my goals on. Individual records, it will mean something when I’m done playing, but it’s a team game. There’s nothing more important than putting that ring on your finger. That’s what I play this game for. I guess in the next couple of weeks it will hit me, but right now I’m still disappointed that we’re not playing next week.”

The Chiefs’ defense permitted only four rushing touchdowns all season, which was a franchise low. They were the only team not to allow at least 30 points in a game this season.

While the defense was superb, the offense proved unworthy of a playoff spot.

Charles, again, was the offense and selected to another Pro Bowl. He rushed for 54 yards on 13 totes against the Chargers to hike his season total to 1,033 yards on 206 carries, a 5.0 average.

It is the fifth time he has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season, which extends his franchise record. After missing 2011 with an injury, he has rushed for 1,000-plus yards in the past three years.

So the Chiefs’ offseason must start with acquiring wide receiver upgrades. That would open up the game more for Smith and Charles. Until they do, they may be a playoff team or contending for a playoff berth in the final week, but they will not be considered Super Bowl threats.

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