KANSAS CITY, Mo. –- The Kansas City Chiefs weren’t overly concerned with the scoreboard as they met in their locker room at halftime Sunday.
Sure, the Baltimore Ravens were leading 10-7, but the Chiefs knew they were the faster, fresher and crisper team in the first half. They just didn’t have the points to show for their first-half success. But the score was irrelevant. The Chiefs outplayed Baltimore for much of the first half and they knew it.
The game plan for the second half? More of the same and find the end zone.
The Chiefs went back on the field and it all went so wrong. Baltimore completely took over the game, fueled by uncharacteristically sloppy play by the home team, and the suddenly perky Chiefs -- the feel-good story of the NFL season -- became a one-and-done playoff participant. Baltimore outscored the Chiefs 20-0 after halftime on its way to a 30-7 win.
Everything changed in 30 minutes.
“I tell you this,” Kansas City guard Ryan Lilja said. “We felt a lot better at halftime than we do right now ... We thought we had a chance, we really did, and that’s why this stinks so bad.”
The game was Kansas City’s seventh straight playoff defeat, an NFL record. The Chiefs’ last playoff win came in the 1993 season, when they were led by Joe Montana. On Sunday, the Matt Cassel-led Kansas City offense was nowhere near up to Montana’s postseason splendor.
Sunday’s defeat and the end of an unexpectedly positive season in Kansas City must be pinned on poor offensive execution, which was not a problem for much of the season. Coincidentally or not, Kansas City’s offense took a nap after news broke Dec. 31 that offensive coordinator Charlie Weis would take the same position with the University of Florida.
Several Chiefs players have said Weis’ pending departure had nothing to do with their sudden offensive failures, but Chiefs fans will likely question that. In fairness to Weis, he didn’t miss any time with the Chiefs after he took the Gators’ position. Weis is now done with his duties in Kansas City as he heads back to the college ranks.
But the truth is Weis’ offense was awful in Week 17 against Oakland and on Sunday. The Chiefs were outscored 61-17 in the two home losses after starting the season 7-0 at home with the hopes of home dominance being a major factor in the playoffs.
The biggest reason for the Chiefs’ inability to score in the final two games under Weis was their sudden lack of ball security. The Chiefs committed five turnovers Sunday and two last week. They had 12 turnovers in the first 15 games of the season.
Cassel threw three interceptions (one when the game was out of hand) and Kansas City lost two fumbles. Two of Kansas City’s turnovers came in the third quarter, when the Ravens stretched their lead to 23-7.
“We hadn’t done that all season,” Lilja said. “Ball security was a point of emphasis all season and was this week as well. It was just stuff that snowballed.”
Added rookie Dexter McCluster, who had one of the fumbles: “We’ve been a disciplined team all season. That got away from us today and it hurt us.”
Cassel -- who threw just five interceptions in the regular season -- couldn’t get anything going. Betrayed by poor offensive-line protection for the second straight game, Cassel finished 9-of-18 for 70 yards with a passer rating of a startling 20.4. ESPN Stats & Information, through Pro-Football-Reference, reports that it was the third time since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 that a quarterback threw for less than 75 yards and had three interceptions in a playoff game. The others were Craig Morton in 1977 and Dave Krieg in 1983. Cassel was historically bad in his final game under Weis, a coach who helped him develop into an effective player this season.
Cassel didn’t get any help from his favorite target, Pro Bowl receiver Dwayne Bowe. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bowe wasn’t targeted once Sunday.
It was the first time all season Cassel didn’t throw to Bowe’s direction. Bowe, who had 15 touchdown catches this season, missed practice Wednesday because he had the flu, but he practiced fully the rest of the week.
The Chiefs did everything they could to avoid a flu outbreak this week, but they couldn’t avoid a putrid offensive performance Sunday. Coach Todd Haley’s penchant for going for it on fourth down hurt the team in the third quarter when running back Jamaal Charles -- who gave Kansas City a short-lived 7-3 lead on a 41-yard touchdown run in the first quarter -- was stopped for a 4-yard loss on fourth-and-1 from the Baltimore 33-yard line on the Chiefs’ first possession of the second half. It signaled the end of the game for Kansas City.
“We really couldn’t do much after that,” Kansas City center Casey Wiegmann said of the fourth-down failure.
This is a team that transformed from a weak outfit that won 10 games in its previous three seasons to a 10-6 division winner by playing complete, mistake-free football on offense for much of the season. Its old standbys disappeared. Weis’ play calling wasn’t working. Cassel’s efficiency was gone. Bowe’s route running was absent. Charles’ ball security was out to lunch. The protection was on vacation.
And now so are the Chiefs.
“A lot of guys grew up this season, but the disappointing thing is how it ended,” Wiegmann said. “We fell apart at the end.”