By Sam McPherson
If someone had told the Kansas City Chiefs they would score 44 points in their first-round playoff contest against the Indianapolis Colts, the team probably believed they would be winning that game.
If someone told the Chiefs they’d run up 513 yards of offense against the Colts, they’d be confident of a victory.
If someone told Andy Reid both those things above would happen without Jamaal Charles playing beyond the first possession, he’d have been incredulous.
All that actually happened, as the Chiefs built a 38-10 lead in the second half against the Colts in an NFL playoff game Saturday, but the Kansas City defense took a beating — giving up 536 yards themselves — as host Indianapolis came back to win the game late, 45-44. A last-minute KC drive ended when wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was pushed out of bounds on a 4th-and-11 pass play before he could get his second foot down to give the Chiefs a chance to try a game-winning, field-goal attempt.
And so it goes on for Kansas City, which now has an NFL record they don’t want all to themselves: eight straight postseason losses, dating back to 1993 when Joe Montana was the team’s quarterback.
Offense Grade: A
The Chiefs got three carries and 18 yards from running back Jamaal Charles, before he suffered a concussion and was lost for the rest of the game. And still, quarterback Alex Smith led the Kansas City offense to all those yards and points. Not sure what else the offense could have done in the absence of their best player — and perhaps the most valuable player in the NFL this season, east of the Rocky Mountains.
Smith posted a 119.7 QB rating in this game, going 30-for-46 with 378 yards and four TDs. There was a costly intentional-grounding penalty on the final drive, but the call was somewhat silly as Smith was being hit as he threw, altering the flight of the ball. But no one is going to say Smith didn’t outplay his counterpart in this game (Colts QB Andrew Luck threw three costly interceptions to put his team in a big hole).
RB Knile Davis stepped up and ran for 67 yards and a touchdown, while Bowe had a huge day: eight catches, 150 yards and a TD. Overall, the Chiefs held the ball for 37:33, went 9-for-16 on third down and converted four of five red-zone opportunities.
The team’s one turnover, a fumble by Smith, could be viewed as a catalyst for the comeback, but overall, no one could have asked for more from the Chiefs offense under the circumstances: you take the best player out of any team’s offense, and they’re in trouble. The Chiefs overcame the loss of Charles in the game, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.
Defense Grade: D+
If you have to point fingers, point it at the defense here: there’s no excuse, with the way offense played sans Charles, for blowing a 28-point, second-half lead. The secondary, especially, gets the blame here, allowing Luck to overcome those three picks and throw for 443 yards and four TDs. Wideout T.Y. Hilton seemingly was uncovered the entire second half, as he pulled down 13 receptions for 224 yards, including the game-winning, 64-yard TD catch with less than five minutes left in the game.
That TD followed yet another injury departure of a Pro Bowl player for the Chiefs on the previous play: Justin Houston, who played well after a long absence to injury, left the game with a knee injury. He had a good game, totaling four tackles, a sack and three QB hits on the day.
(Overall, Kansas City lost three Pro Bowl players to injury in this game, further aiding the Indianapolis “miracle”: in addition to Charles and Houston, offensive lineman Brandon Flowers also left the game hurt. WR Donnie Avery also had to leave the game with a concussion, adding to the ridiculously unlucky Chiefs’ challenges in this game; Avery had caught a 79-yard TD prior to leaving the contest.)
But the secondary really struggled once they had that big lead: perhaps it was conservative game management, but when you play well enough to intercept three passes and take a 28-point lead, there’s just no excuse for doing a complete 180 and allowing the big comeback — especially when your franchise hasn’t won a playoff game in 20 years now.
Quarterback Grade: A
While this isn’t a season-long grade, it could be. No one could have asked more of Smith in this game (see above). The fumble and the penalty noted above hurt, but he did what he needed to in the absence of his best offensive weapon. The Chiefs had to be going into this game thinking they would shred Indy’s poor run defense with Charles all day long, considering he has the best yards-per-carry average of any RB in NFL history, etc.
When he went down, so did the game plan, probably. And Smith thrived nonetheless.
Luck will get all the press for his “comeback”, but people forget Luck put his team in the big hole in the first place with his terrible decisions in the first half. Smith made no such mistakes in this game, really, leading his team to five TDs and three FGs. Perhaps one of those FGs could have been a TD, and Smith did miss an open receiver or two on the day, but that’s nitpicking. When your QB posts a 119.7 QB rating for the game, he did his job excellently.
When the Chiefs traded for Smith in the offseason, they wanted a QB who wouldn’t lose games for them. Today, he almost won the game for them with Charles out of commission.
Special Teams Grade: A-
Overall, the Chiefs were fine on special teams: Quintin Demps averaged 26.7 yards in seven kickoff returns, although many times he returned kicks out of the end zone and failed to reach the 20-yard line. That doesn’t hurt you when you’re up 38-10, but it hurts you when the other team keeps scoring a lot. Placekicker Ryan Succop was perfect on the day and was denied a chance to win the game at the end when Bowe’s last play was ruled incomplete.
With both teams scoring so frequently, there really wasn’t much to see in the punting game in this one: there were a combined three punts, with just one return, in the game.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.