As the Chiefs prepare for a playoff matchup with the Titans, there’s little doubt that head coach Andy Reid and company are looking back on the team’s shocking 2016 home loss to Tennessee to learn what went wrong and how to avoid such a fate in 2018.
Just like in 2016, the Chiefs are coming off a string of wins and widely considered the favorites against a generally average Titans team. But for those counting the Titans out, they have accomplished something at Arrowhead not many other teams have.
Tennessee holds one of just four opposing victories at Arrowhead in Kansas City’s last 22 home regular season games, and one of just seven in Kansas City's last 30.
The Titans victory also came in the December cold weather and still is the Chiefs’ only December home loss in the team’s last 10 December games. It’s also just the second game in that time which an opposing team has scored more than 13 points.
Kansas City’s started off strong en route to a 19-17 loss, with Tyreek Hill lining up in the backfield and taking a handoff 68 yards for a touchdown early in the first quarter. Alex Smith then reached the end zone on third and goal to put the Chiefs on top 14-0 with 4:24 left in the first quarter.
After scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions, the Titans defense buckled down and kept Kansas City out of the end zone for the rest of the game. After Hill’s touchdown, the speedster did not receive another carry or catch for the rest of the game.
Travis Kelce turned in three catches for 41 yards on the day, while Smith finished with just 163 yards passing, zero touchdowns and one interception. The offense’s struggles were on full display in the red zone, converting a touchdown only one time in the team’s four trips, along with a red zone turnover and turnover on downs.
The poor red zone performance can be a major takeaway from the game, as the Titans were a perfect two for two on the day. The offense’s inability to capitalize on good field position negated the defense’s turnover packed day.
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s unit forced three turnovers on the day. Eric Berry and Marcus Peters combined for a forced fumble when a Titan receiver was just about to gross the goal line, while a Chris Jones sack led to a Marcus Mariota fumble. Ron Parker’s one-handed interception capped the three turnover day.
Even with back-breaking turnovers, the Chiefs struggled against the Titans running attack. Both backs return in 2018, after Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry totaled 147 yards rushing in the team’s last meeting. Henry was responsible for both of Tennessee’s touchdowns.
However, instead of D.J. Alexander and Ramik Wilson in at inside linebacker, the Chiefs figure to have Derrick Johnson, Reggie Ragland and Kevin Pierre-Louis rotating at the all-important run stuffing position.
While 19 points is a solid day for the defensive side, the way in which Sutton’s unit collapsed at the end shows what Tennessee is capable of. An 88-yard drive with 3:12 left in the game brought the Titans within one point, highlighted by three third or fourth down conversions.
Then with just 1:07 left in the game, Mariota and the Titans marched 40 yards down the field, setting up a Ryan Succop game-winning field goal. The majority of the offensive plays in the final drive came against a zone defense, with Mariota finding holes in the defense with very little Kansas City pass rush.
The Chiefs turned in just one sack on the day, which led to a Titans fumble. Rishard Matthews led all receivers with 105 yards receiving on 4 catches, having more success than most do against cornerback Marcus Peters.
Overall, Smith was very much the x-factor in the game. He unleashed one deep ball, a 44-yard completion to Jeremy Maclin, which led to a Chiefs touchdown. One of his biggest mistakes, misreading the defense and throwing an interception on third and goal with KC up 10, cost the team at least 3 points.
His offense had a chance to seal the game up one at the 2-minute warning, facing a 3rd and 3, but an option run fell short and Kansas City had to punt. It was a game of missed opportunities for Smith and the offense, including a Chiefs failed attempt to score from one yard out on 3rd and goal and 4th and goal.
In summation, the Chiefs offense stopped utilizing its top weapons after the first two scores, the run game couldn’t convert on key situations and Smith could not pick the team up after a back-breaking goal-line interception. A formula that likely results in another loss on Saturday.
While the defense was better, this is an example of how sometimes turnovers do not also lead to victory. A non-existent goal line defense, overall lousy run defense and inability to consistently get pressure kept the Titans in the game. Doing so again this time around will lead to even more stress for every fan at Arrowhead.
A loss in 2016 was not the end of the world, but a loss this time around in the playoffs would be pretty close for Chiefs fans. While many look ahead at potentially the Steelers or Patriots, Kansas City must first amend the problems that much of the 2017 team displayed in 2016.
It’ a game the Chiefs should win, but for a franchise with just two playoff wins in their existence, it’s far from a guarantee. Maybe this time around, Kansas City will learn from its history.
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