KANSAS CITY -- The Kansas City Chiefs did not back into the playoffs. They earned their first AFC West championship in seven years by putting it away in Week 16.
Still, it’s difficult to imagine a team limping into the postseason with any less verve than the beat-down Chiefs did Sunday. After an alarming 31-10 home loss to the Oakland Raiders, the Chiefs must pick up their game in short order.
If Kansas City doesn’t straighten out its act this week, its first trip to the playoffs under head coach Todd Haley will be a short one. All the good vibes accomplished in its 10-6 season will be sullied by a bad couple of weeks.
“You want to have a good taste in your mouth going into the playoffs,” Kansas City guard Ryan Lilja said. “Clearly, we didn’t have the kind of performance you need to do that.”
Added Kansas City guard Brian Waters: "Losses like this have a way of staying with you. We can’t let it. We have to let it go by [Monday morning]. We have no choice. We have to focus on the playoffs as soon as we get back to work.”
Ultimately, the consequences of Sunday’s loss were not colossal for the Chiefs. They are still the AFC West champions. They still get to host a playoff game. They are still a wonderful worst-to-first story.
The Chiefs did lose the seed battle. Had they beaten Oakland, the Chiefs would have been the No. 3 seed. But the Indianapolis Colts are now the No. 3 because of the Chiefs’ loss and Indy's defeat of the Titans on Sunday afternoon. The Chiefs are now the No. 4 seed and will play host to the Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card round next weekend.
More than the loss of the higher seed, Sunday’s game can be the type that wears on a team’s psyche. Kansas City was flat and completely outplayed by the Raiders (8-8), who completed a division sweep in the process.
“We were beaten in every phase,” Waters said. “They completely put it to us.”
Offensively, Kansas City was out of sync nearly all game with just a couple of decent drives. Quarterback Matt Cassel had perhaps his worst game of the season. He was 11-of-33 for 115 yards. He threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. The offensive line gave up seven sacks and Cassel was on the run on almost every play. Kansas City receivers dropped several passes. The Chiefs, who had the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL this season, had 115 yards on the ground.
Their poor offensive showing came in the hours after offensive coordinator Charlie Weis decided to leave the team to take the same position at the University of Florida. He will be formally introduced in Gainesville, Fla., on Monday. Several Kansas City players said that Weis’ decision had no impact on their flat performance Sunday. They pointed to the fact that the game plan was installed and the practice week was concluded before Weis’ departure as reasons for it having no bearing on the outcome of the game.
“We put that behind us,” rookie receiver Dexter McCluster said.
Haley said that Weis is headed to Florida for family reasons. Weis will stay with the Chiefs through their playoff run. Haley said that he has no concerns about Weis’ commitment to the Chiefs during the playoffs. Haley pointed to the fact that Weis helped the New England Patriots win a Super Bowl after he took the Notre Dame job six years ago.
If Weis’ pending departure had the potential to be a distraction, the Chiefs found a more pressing issue to overcome: their first home loss of the season on the eve of the playoffs.
“We have a lot to fix,” center Casey Wiegmann said. “But we know what we have to do. This is isn’t the end of the season.”
The end will be near, however, if Cassel -- who will be making his postseason debut -- doesn’t play better, if the offensive line doesn’t keep the heat off him, if the Kansas City receivers don’t hold onto the ball, and if the running game is inconsistent. These haven’t been issues all season, but they definitely were on Sunday. The Chiefs have to focus on correcting mistakes instead of having the luxury of being a team soaring into the playoffs.
This surely will not be a week of celebration in Kansas City, which is perhaps a good thing for a team that now understands it must regain its focus.
“We have to get this out of our system right now,” Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “There’s no way we can afford to do this again next week.”