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Five things that stood out about the Kansas City Chiefs’ loss to the Tennessee Titans

·5 min read

A turning point is usually a turning point only in retrospect — they’re hard to identify in real-time — but the Chiefs wondered aloud last week if they’d found something. If they had returned to their identify. If they were back to themselves.

No. No. And no, they are not.

The Chiefs are stuck at a crossroads unfamiliar since their superstar quarterback arrived, falling to 3-4 after a blowout 27-3 loss at Tennessee, punctuated when Patrick Mahomes took a shot to the head and left in the fourth quarter. Mahomes remained on the sideline after a visit to the blue medical tent, but down three scores, he did not return.

The Chiefs look nothing like the Super Bowl contender they were billed to be — heck, the contender that their history suggested they should be — and instead are a team that leaves Nashville with even more doubt than when they landed here.

Let’s explore it more with five observations that stood out immediately after the loss:

1. Is this who the Chiefs are?

If a loss to Buffalo two weeks ago ignited voices that maybe the Chiefs simply aren’t the team to beat the AFC anymore, a trip to Nashville put those voices behind a megaphone.

The Titans scored all five times they had the football in the first half. Mahomes turned it over twice and fumbled another time. Derrick Henry threw for more first-half touchdowns than the Chiefs scored, and we’ll remind you that Henry is the Titans’ running back, not their quarterback.

At some point, you are what you are.

The Chiefs are 3-4, now with losses to four teams within their own conference. They lead the NFL in turnovers, have a bottom-five defense that has played well just once in seven weeks. And they are making plays evident of their desperation.

We’re no longer talking about a small sample size, no longer able to point to a bad bounce or a fluky turnover. “If not for one turnover...”

Yeah, those days are gone. That applies to competitive football games. This wasn’t that.

2. The Mahomes turnovers are just part of a bigger story

The most reliable part of the Mahomes Era is no longer reliable.

Even amid his off-script plays, Mahomes has long been one of the league’s best caretakers of the football.

Not anymore.

The turnover train kept rolling, and the nature in which they arrived Sunday felt more alarming than before. In the first five weeks, Mahomes could point to tipped or dropped passes as a culprit. On Sunday, they came as a product of trying to do too much, and you can’t help but wonder — or even assume — that’s a result of just how poorly things are going.

He flicked a pass to Josh Gordon, who was never open and never expected to have a ball thrown his way. It got tipped before it was intercepted, yes, but the ball never should’ve been thrown. Later, as the Chiefs were trying to score before the halftime whistle, Mahomes fumbled because he was carrying the ball carelessly through traffic.

A bad game grew worse — Mahomes left in the fourth quarter after getting blown up on a hit by defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons. He remained on the sideline for the final minutes, even strolling alongside it, but his future status wasn’t immediately known.

3. That defensive turnaround was fun while it lasted

That second-half shutout the Chiefs defense pitched in Washington a week ago? Yeah, it didn’t carry a lot of momentum, after all.

The Chiefs followed their best half of defensive football with their worst — and that’s saying something. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed his first 11 passes. Nine of the Titans’ first 17 plays went for first downs. At one point, the Titans were out-gaining the Chiefs 259-35.

For all of that talk about tackling running back Derrick Henry — warranted, sure — the Chiefs coverage was so bad that a finally-healthy defensive line had no chance to get to him before he released the football.

On the second drive, the Chiefs put the Titans into a third-and-9 from their own 4, only to allow 10 yards on a screen. These are the plays that prompted safety Tyrann Mathieu’s outburst one week earlier.

4. Take your cues from the Chiefs

Are the Chiefs in a rut? Or is it (past) time to significantly alter the expectations for this team?

Let’s follow the clues from the players and coaches themselves.

Mahomes is forcing passes unlike ever before, a sign of plays he feels need to be made rather than plays that can be made. And when the Chiefs defense cannot get a stop — zero punts in that first half — you wonder if he’s even wrong about that.

In the second quarter, tight end Travis Kelce flicked a wild lateral to running back Jerick McKinnon, whose reaction implied it wasn’t a planned play. Another move of a desperate team, not a confident one.

Lastly, down 27-0 in the third quarter, Andy Reid sent his field goal unit onto the field. Down 27-3, he did it again. Is that an indication of a team with a rolling offense?

5. It won’t get any easier

The Chiefs haven’t had it easy. We can acknowledge that.

They’ve already played arguably the four toughest teams in the AFC in the Bills, Chargers, Ravens and Titans. Football Outsiders ranked the Chiefs’ schedule as the most difficult in the league, and that’s before they came to Nashville to face a 4-2 division leader on the road.

Yet after the Chiefs play the struggling New York Giants next on Monday Night Football, the schedule returns to more of a foe than a friend.

As the Chiefs will be in a bigger fight for playoff positioning than either of the past two years, the final nine opponents on their schedule all won at least half of their first six games.

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