Same as it ever was: The Chiefs continue their annual trend of disappointing me

Dorian DeBose | Senior Sports Editor

I knew how the game would end before it even began.

When I turned on the game, seconds before Sony Michel punched in his first score of the day, I knew that victory was already out of reach. Watching us struggle through the first half on both sides of the ball was almost comfortable. I remember watching Todd Haley’s Chiefs struggle to score as balls petered out of Matt Cassel’s pathetic arm and into the dirt. I remember when we thought Ricky Stanzi might be the quarterback of the future, even though we all knew how bleak of a future that would be. I remember watching Alex Smith look like a deer in the headlights in a sleepy slugfest against the Bills in 2017. A decade of fandom has produced this exact scene, in different colors, on repeat. Watching Patrick Mahomes fail to create something from nothing was a reminder of how things have always been.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws deep to wide receiver Sammy Watkins late in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots during the AFC Championship game on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws deep to wide receiver Sammy Watkins late in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots during the AFC Championship game on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

DJ Swearinger is trash. A cheap shot on Travis Kelce put the only real playmaker on the Chiefs out for the second half of the 2017 NFL Playoffs. The second half was painful to watch. Alex Smith is useless with no weapons. Bob Sutton is useless. Period. Marcus Mariota looks like an NFL quarterback as the Chiefs show him remedial defenses and dare him to come back from an 18-point deficit. He does. Not only does he lead the Titans with his arm, he is rushing effectively and, to seal the game, he throws a block against Frank Zombo. Mariota outdueled the entire Chiefs team. And in doing so, he created a fresh way to serve up our annual playoff suffering.

The Chiefs aren’t losers. They’ve dominated their division for the last three years. They have made the playoffs in five out of the last six seasons. Yet in the playoffs, they’re a trainwreck. They find ways to lose in profoundly disappointing ways. And they’re always entertaining.

At the goal line, Tom Brady looks as unflappable as ever. There is no cracks in the armor. I know that the Patriots are going to score. I had already counted the points. Then, a miracle: Anthony Hitchens, the worst linebacker in the NFL this season (No. 92 out of 93 according to Pro Football Focus), covers the most dominant tight end in the game so well that it forces a bad pass. Reggie Ragland intercepts the greatest player in NFL history in the endzone. I yelped in surprise, then screamed in frustration as he attempted to forfeit the 20 yards he’d get by just kneeling by running out of the endzone. If there is one lesson I’ve learned watching the Chiefs play defense this year, it is that Chiefs linebackers are not that smart. Still, Ragland’s interception was a welcome reprieve at this point in the game. Suffocating play from an opponent punctuated by moments of fleeting hope is familiar for the Kansas City in the winter.

In 2016 playoffs, against the Steelers, the Chiefs allowed six field goals, but only six field goals. LeVeon Bell ran the ball with such…patience. Stopping, shuffling, darting through gaps that appeared suddenly and vanished before anyone could have perceived them. As I watched him take the air out of the ball, I gained a quiet admiration for him. He is a rare talent, almost like a modern Barry Sanders. But instead of 60-yard explosions, his almost sagacious waiting games net six yards and first down. The Chiefs’ offense struggled to produce for most of the game (scoring early to lead 7-3 and again in the third to bring the score to 10-15), but last in the second half, down eight points, the Alex Smith converted a fourth down to get the Chiefs to the one yard line and Spencer Ware punched it in to bring the score to 16-18. The Chiefs went for the two-point conversion and got it. At this point, my dad and I were jumping up and down in glee. But Eric Fisher tackled the person he was blocking, taking that conversion off the board. There was a kind of hopelessness in watching the Chiefs attempt to convert a 12-yard two point conversion, knowing that they struggled to gain 12 yards in one play all season. But here we were, with the game on the line, praying for a miracle. But God must have been busy. The conversion failed, the Steelers ran the clock down, and we lost. As always.

Kicking off the second half, I was already counting the Chiefs out. The Patriots were clicking. They were running the ball well and we had one of the worst running defenses in the league this year. It wasn’t the Patriots’ running game that characterized the second half, though. It was the Chiefs’ passing game. Pat Mahomes completed a deep pass to Sammy Watkins, then finished the drive with a dart to Travis Kelce. Suddenly, we had a ballgame. It’s almost refreshing to be chasing the Patriots. I know very well that comebacks are in the question.

Up three scores against the Colts in the 2013 playoffs, Andrew Luck built his legacy by crushing the dreams of Chiefs fans. Losing to Andrew Luck is as painful as beating Andrew Luck. He is impossible to dislike, which is most hateable quality. His constant smile, cheery demeanor and beautiful style of play is endearing, but watching him mount a historic comeback against your hometown team is like watching your dad get mauled by the family dog. He threw a strike to TY Hilton to give the Colts a 44-45 lead. This game was 41-24 at one point. People talk about comebacks from the perspective of the leader of them often. There is no guide to watching your team be on the receiving end of one. As Alex Smith tried to will his demoralized team back into the game, his supporters were in a state of stunned acceptance. We knew we weren’t going to win this game. Andrew Luck is the NFL’s protagonist: Jon Snow in a league filled with characters to be sacrificed. It would be bad writing to have the hero come up short after accomplishing something so incredible. So, the Chiefs failed to convert a fourth and 11, and the game was over. Sobbing, I turned to my father and I asked, “Are we cursed?” He wiped my tears away and said, reassuringly, “maybe.”

There is a different aura around this Chiefs team. I love Alex Smith, but Pat Mahomes is an entirely different beast. Even the Chiefs’ losses this year were spectacular: the shoot-out against the Rams, the almost-comeback against the Patriots, the grudge match against the Chargers. This team is exciting. And for the first time ever, it seemed like we could really do it. And nothing was in the way to derail us. No major injuries. No insurmountable holes. This year was different. Pat Mahomes was slicing up the Patriots. Tom Brady was making mistakes. Daniel Sorenson, my least favorite player in the league, was making incredible plays. He intercepted the greatest player in NFL history. And someone demolished Julian Edelman for good measure. I was trying to remain calm as we take a 21-17 lead, but I was starting to believe that we can win this.

With two minutes left, Brady lead his team down for a touchdown to take the lead. I would have been genuinely shocked if he hadn’t. But the wrinkle in the formula is that this time, Pat Mahomes lead the Chiefs on a drive that ends in a game-tying field goal. We were going to overtime. We survived a Brady comeback. We looked the devil in his beady little eyes, and said, “not today”. I am on top of the world. But only briefly.

The turning point of the game wasn’t a play. It was the overtime coin toss. New England Patriots running back James White called it correctly and took the ball. I knew then we were going to lose. I was convinced that the Patriots were going to score a touchdown and end the game. Tom Brady got the ball and led the most milquetoast game-winning drive I have ever seen. It was methodical—nay, it was mechanical. It was not a trainwreck; it was watching a tree burn. Bob Sutton blitzed one time total. It was a five man pressure with no stunt and no coverage change up. Bob Sutton was useless. Period. As the Patriots get down within the five yard line, I began bracing myself for the inevitable. Then, on second down, two yards away from the goal line, I see it end. Rex Burkhead is going to run directly at Anthony Hitchens and stomp into the end zone. Five seconds before the ball was snapped, I was laughing maniacally because it was already over. There is the optimistic child in me—the one that had his heart ripped out and eaten year after year—that entertains the notion that the Chiefs could be something more than what they have always been. But my sheer optimism cannot deny destiny. Burkhead bangs in. 37-31. It’s over.

I couldn’t have predicted overtime. Or that Mahomes would have three touchdowns and match Brady. Or that our defense would come up big down the stretch. But I knew that there was only one way this would end: disappointment.

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