Chiefs coach Andy Reid walked a fine line in the wee hours of the night between haranguing the officials and pointing a finger squarely at himself for a letdown against the Oakland Raiders.
He probably should have saved some finger pointing for his defense.
While the Chiefs' offense showed up again Thursday night in a 31-30 loss , and quarterback Alex Smith put together another scintillating performance, the defense failed to uphold its end of things. The Raiders' Derek Carr torched it for 417 yards and three touchdowns, and marched his team 85 yards in the final 2:25 to give it a much-needed win on the final play of the game.
"There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. We had to make a play," Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said. "We had multiple opportunities on defense. Nobody stepped up and made a play."
In truth, that's been the case for quite a while.
Even while the Chiefs (5-2) were rising to the top of just about every NFL power ranking during a perfect start, the defense often looked like a sieve. Four of their first five opponents scored at least 20 points, and Houston piled up nearly 400 yards when it lost a 42-34 shootout a few weeks ago.
Last week, the Chiefs were gouged for 179 yards rushing by Le'Veon Bell, then allowed a 51-yard TD pass to Antonio Brown in the fourth quarter that essentially clinched the Steelers' 19-13 victory .
"It's about making it happen, having the confidence that we are a good defense, and you can lean on us when the game is on the line," Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "And the game was on the line (Thursday night). Just make one play. One of us. And we couldn't make it."
It's not just yards and points, though. It's everything that has yielded them.
They've forced three turnovers total in their last four games, and didn't manage any against the Raiders. They've struggled to get pressure on the quarterback, failing to sack Carr once, despite having one of the league's highest-paid pass rushers in Justin Houston finally healthy.
Star cornerback Marcus Peters has been burned more often than he's made plays. His counterpart, Terrance Mitchell, has been exposed on the other side. And the safety trio of Ron Parker, Daniel Sorensen and Eric Murray has struggled to pick up the slack after Eric Berry's season-ending injury .
Murray was burned on the final drive Thursday night by Raiders tight end Jered Cook, which allowed them to convert a critical fourth-and-11 play and keep their hopes alive.
Then, Parker and Murray were both called for holding in the closing seconds, giving the Raiders untimed downs that ultimately allowed Michael Crabtree to catch the winning pass .
"You want it to go your way at the end of the day and it didn't, so that's all I can say," Murray said. "It hurt. It's not going to feel good. But you got to go back to work."
If there's any silver lining, that may be it. The Chiefs only had a couple days after the loss to the Steelers to prepare for a trip to the West Coast, but now they have a chance to spend some time adjusting a defense that the league seems to have figured out.
They don't play again until Oct. 30, when they face the Broncos on a Monday night.
Reid has been reluctant to criticize defensive coordinator Bob Sutton or any of his players on that side of the ball. In his offensive-minded assessment, the Chiefs would have won their last two games if they simply scored more points, so the onus falls on everybody taking the field.
But when Smith throws for 342 yards and three touchdowns without a pick, and Kareem Hunt surpasses 100 yards from scrimmage for the seventh straight game, it's hard even for Reid to fault the offense.
"We've got to play better, coach and everything," he said. "We've got to do better. We'll go back and we'll evaluate it, look at it and see if we can't do a better job there."
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