Underachieving Chiefs fail to deliver on their early-season promise

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs ended the season with a 22-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Saturday in the wild-card round of the playoffs at Arrowhead Stadium. Here's a recap of the season and what's next:

Season grade: Average. The Chiefs won the AFC West championship, but that should have been only the starting point for this group. They were too talented to lose as they did in the playoffs. Quarterback Alex Smith acknowledged the Chiefs underachieved this season.

Season in review: The season began with so much promise as the Chiefs beat the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots in New England in the opener, then went on to win the next four games as well. Kansas City appeared to establish itself as the Super Bowl favorite in the AFC, but that was as good as things would get. The Chiefs faded quickly by losing six of their next seven games to fall to .500. They recovered to take the AFC West by winning their final four games to finish 10-6. None of those four victories came against a playoff team. The season was then colored by the collapse Saturday against the Titans. The Chiefs led 21-3 but were dominated in the second half.

Biggest play of season: The Chiefs lost an apparent two points in the fourth quarter against the Titans when officials blew dead a play on which Kansas City forced Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota to fumble on a two-point conversion attempt. Linebacker Frank Zombo recovered and returned it to the end zone, but the play had been stopped and the Chiefs didn't get the reward.

He said it: "I've been playing this game for a long time and 21-3 at halftime, you win. We didn't. I've been through some tough ones but this is one of the tougher ones." -- linebacker Derrick Johnson on yet another bitter end to a Chiefs season.

Key offseason questions

Biggest draft need: The Chiefs are without a first-round pick, so their chances of getting immediate help aren't great. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because Kansas City won't have a lot of pressing needs. Depending on what they accomplish in free agency, the Chiefs should be looking for help at cornerback.

Free-agency targets: Defense would seem the most logical place for the Chiefs to spend. They searched all season for reliable help at cornerback before signing veteran Darrelle Revis. But Revis isn't guaranteed to return, and even if he does, the Chiefs could use help at corner. The Chiefs could also be looking for a pass-rusher depending on the health of Dee Ford and help for the defensive line. If they trade or release Smith, the Chiefs will need a veteran quarterback to serve as the backup for Patrick Mahomes.

Smith or Mahomes? Having to choose between a productive veteran (Smith) and a promising young player (Mahomes) at quarterback is an extremely odd position for Kansas City to be in. But the Chiefs find themselves with that franchise-altering decision. Switching to Mahomes, who overcame a slow start to play well in his one start this season, would make the most sense. The Chiefs could acquire something of value for Smith and reclaim $17 million in salary-cap space. Look for the Chiefs to trade Smith.

Franchise icons departing: Smith isn't the only veteran who could have played his final game for the Chiefs. Linebackers Johnson and Tamba Hali could join Smith in that category. The Chiefs have in recent years drafted or traded for their eventual replacements (Mahomes for Smith, Reggie Ragland for Johnson, Ford and Tanoh Kpassagnon for Hali). Johnson and Hali are former first-round draft picks, Johnson in 2005 and Hali the following year.