KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- These were the images the Kansas City Chiefs provided in the wake of yet another devastating loss in the middle of a season that started with such great promise: A couple Pro Bowl players vanishing from the locker room without commenting on the defeat; a frustrated head coach standing at a press conference podium and trying to explain his team's continual demise; a quarterback who once inspired talk of an MVP with his head bowed, his shoulders slumping and his sullen eyes betraying any sort of determination he hoped to convey. The Chiefs were once the rage of the NFL. On Sunday, they looked like a team that might never win again.
No offense to the suddenly recharged Buffalo Bills but that was the lone takeaway from Kansas City's 16-10 loss in Arrowhead Stadium. This contest was about two teams hoping to turn their fortunes around, with one actually finding a way to do just that. The Chiefs, on the other hand, gave their critics one more reason to think their 5-0 start to the season was merely a well-executed combination of smoke and mirrors. The longer they keep playing, the worse their performances eventually become.
It was hard to believe a week ago that a team atop its division could lose to a New York Giants squad that had one win all season prior to that contest. The Chiefs incredibly proved that there is a level below rock bottom just seven days after that humiliation, as their latest defeat means they now have dropped five of their last six games.
Give Johnson credit for agreeing to talk about this one, regardless of the pain. This defeat was so crushing that both tight end Travis Kelce and cornerback Marcus Peters left the locker room before reporters ever arrived to ask questions after the game. Given that both players are reliably outspoken, particularly when frustrated, that probably was the best outcome for a team that is trying its best to stay the course. The last thing head coach Andy Reid wants to hear is a star player erupting at a time when his team's season is careening off the rails.
The truth is that there really isn't much the Chiefs can say at this juncture. The loss to the Giants was disturbing, but it could be explained away as an overconfident playoff contender taking a team going nowhere for granted. This latest defeat was something far more disturbing. The Chiefs had everything they needed for a rebound effort -- a home game against a Bills squad that had surrendered a combined 101 points in its previous two games (both losses) -- and still they produced a big, fat dud.
For those who haven't been paying attention, the same Kansas City offense that averaged 32.8 points a game during that five-game winning streak has now scored 36 total points in three consecutive losses. The irony is that the Chiefs' major problem used to be its defense, which has ranked among the league's worst all season and just tried to improve its fortunes by signing seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis. It seems laughable now to think Kansas City can turn things around with his arrival. The bigger question is whether this offense will ever look right again.
After starting the year with 16 touchdown passes and no interceptions through his first eight games, quarterback Alex Smith now has three touchdown passes and four interceptions in Kansas City's last two defeats. His interception in the final minutes of this game -- a throw that Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White snatched with 1:25 left -- sealed the Chiefs' loss. Kansas City also struggled on third down all day (converting just two of 13 attempts), and their running game continues to be disastrous. The same Kareem Hunt who was ripping through the NFL in the first five weeks managed just 17 yards on 11 carries, marking the sixth straight game in which he's failed to reach 100 rushing yards.
The Chiefs tried to provide answers after the game, but one major point kept coming up: Everyone needs to step up.
"Everybody has a piece on that," Reid said when asked about his offense's slump. "[Alex] would stand up here and tell you that. I can do a better job of putting him in better positions to make plays. The offensive line can block better ... So we've all got a little of this."
"We all lean on each other," Smith said. "It's a team game, a unit, especially on offense [where] it takes all 11 guys doing it. We're certainly not getting it done. We didn't get it done today and that's frustrating. I think that confidence, and the momentum and rhythm, it's kind of the same thing I've been talking about the last two weeks. It can come and go and certainly it took us a long time today to get it going."
The Chiefs' offensive problems also have opened the door to a debate that was coming as soon as Smith endured a stretch of futility like he's currently in: The inevitable discussion about a move to backup Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs traded up to use the 10th overall pick in this year's draft on the rookie quarterback, largely because Reid and former general manager John Dorsey thought they saw elements of Brett Favre in his game. Mahomes has a bigger arm than Smith and he's progressed nicely as an understudy. However, Reid has been unwilling to even consider Mahomes as an option this season and he re-emphasized that point on Sunday by saying "That's not where I'm at."
That answer speaks volumes to Reid's faith in Smith and his ability to weather a storm. The last time the Chiefs looked this awful, they were off to a 1-5 start in 2015, a slump that was made all the worse by the loss of their best player, Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles, to a season-ending knee injury. Reid rallied that team to 11 straight wins after that point, with Smith playing a crucial role in that turnaround. The Chiefs also won their first playoff game since 1994 in that year, which was a huge accomplishment at the time.
Reid is hoping the veterans on this current team can remember what it took to orchestrate such a dramatic change in fortunes back then. As Johnson said, the coach's message to his team afterward was as straightforward as it gets.
"He said we have to stick together," Johnson said. "We can't point fingers. Everybody needs to look in the mirror and he always calls out himself as well. He has to look in the mirror and be hard on himself and he asked us to be hard on ourselves as well."
That really shouldn't be a difficult task. After all, this was supposed to be the easy part of the Chiefs' schedule, a time when they could shake of some difficult losses by feasting on an assortment of teams going nowhere. Buffalo, at 6-5, is actually the only team on Kansas City's second-half schedule that currently has a winning record. What we now know is that it really doesn't matter who the Chiefs play moving forward.
The most important thing to remember here is Chiefs' playoff hopes rest entirely on their mindset in the coming weeks. They still have most of the same players that contributed to that fast start, and they're optimistic about what Revis might offer as well. The only question now is whether the Chiefs still believe they can be the team they were back in September. Judging from what happened against Buffalo, that's going to be a much tougher task than anybody ever imagined.