INDIANAPOLIS -- If there was ever any doubt, there can be none now. The Kansas City Chiefs, who already owned the market on postseason heartbreak, heaped even more misery on their long-suffering fans Saturday, displaying a new way to lose.
Their defense, the one that carried them to a 9-0 start, collapsed in epic fashion in the second half Saturday in a wild-card playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. The Chiefs held a 28-point lead early in the third quarter, and the defense, the one that created so much havoc early in the season, couldn’t hold on.
The 45-44 playoff loss to the Colts was as devastating as any for a franchise steeped in playoff disappointment. If the Chiefs couldn’t hold on with a defense that once strangled opposing offenses, will Kansas City ever win a playoff game?
To do that, the Chiefs will have to bring a defense far better than the one that allowed 372 yards and 35 points to Andrew Luck and the Colts in the second half.
“Sometimes, the game speaks for itself," coach Andy Reid said. “You don’t have to say a whole lot."
He didn’t have to. Reid's defense, a unit that once was on a record pace for sacks and didn't allow more than 17 points in the season’s first nine games, now owns a dubious place in NFL playoff history.
Only the 1992 Houston Oilers wasted a bigger lead than the Chiefs' 28 points in a playoff game, squandering a 35-3 advantage to lose 41-38 in overtime to the Buffalo Bills in a wild-card game.
“It’s hard to put into words, to lose a game we clearly had control over," linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “This doesn’t come around much.
“We had the game won big-time. We’ll take that, 31-10 at halftime, any day. You've got to pull it off. We didn't pull it off."
It’s tempting to say everything the Chiefs accomplished over the first half of the season was a fluke, but that’s too easy. The Chiefs played against plenty of struggling quarterbacks early in the season and their achievements were impressive, no matter the competition.
Just as real were their defensive failures against some of the league’s better quarterbacks, such as Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Luck. The competition picked up and the Chiefs couldn’t keep up.
Now they have to live with the second-biggest playoff collapse in NFL history, plus the fact that they scored 44 points in a postseason game and still found a way to lose.
“It’s hard to comprehend right now," defensive end Mike DeVito said. “There was so much, so fast. All we can do right now is feel disappointed. As we go, we’ll realize more about what happened."
The Chiefs’ playoff losing streak now stands at eight games and 20 years. Kansas City hasn't won a playoff game since 1994, when Joe Montana and Marcus Allen led the Chiefs past the Oilers at the Astrodome.
During that eight-game playoff losing streak, Kansas City lost to the Colts following the 1995 season by missing three field goals.
The Chiefs also lost to Denver after the 1997 season in a titanic struggle between what were probably the NFL’s two best teams.
They lost to Indianapolis again after the 2003 season, when they couldn’t make the Colts punt.
Going back to 1971, the Chiefs lost in overtime to the Miami Dolphins in an epic battle on Christmas Day. Jan Stenerud, who later was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, missed three field goal attempts.
All of those games were bitter disappointments. But never had the Chiefs failed to hold a four-touchdown lead.
The Chiefs should have known how Saturday's game might turn out early in the fourth quarter when safety Eric Berry pried the ball away from Colts running back Donald Brown at the Kansas City 2. The ball bounced off the helmet of a Colts lineman and to Luck, who recovered the fumble and dove into the end zone for the touchdown that cut Kansas City’s lead to 41-38.
They should have known how this playoff game might turn out when their offensive engine, Jamaal Charles, left the game for good with a concussion in the first quarter. Still, they managed 44 points, which should have been more than enough to secure a victory.
The loss of Charles was never bigger than on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Colts left backup running back Cyrus Gray open down the right sideline, but quarterback Alex Smith, in a rare mistake, overthrew Gray.
“Anytime you get an opportunity like that, you expect to hit it," Smith said. “The tough part is that all week with so many reps, and obviously with Jamaal getting all of those, it’s something we never [practiced] with Cyrus. But you’ve still got to hit it, though. You don’t get many opportunities like that."
As with any game decided by one point, the Chiefs will have a large selection of plays they can pick through to torture themselves with by playing the what-if game.
Thanks to a shoddy defense, they’ll now have months to ponder all of them.