From Arrowhead Stadium
As the final pass of the game fluttered through the air towards the end zone, the Chiefs hope of victory hung by a very slim thread. Here was one last chance to make up for an afternoon of mistakes.
When you are a bad football team β like 3-10 bad β the bounces, the tips and the calls seldom go your way. That’s why a team so desperate for another “W” can’t put itself in the position to have all the eggs of their basket resting on a single, last-moment snap of the ball.
That’s why the Chiefs fell 16-10 to the Buffalo Bills. QB Matt Cassel’s throw as the clock showed 0:00 found the hands of safety George Wilson and the Bills fourth interception of the afternoon. The victory has Buffalo now 5-8 on the season, while the Chiefs are 3-10.
“The biggest thing is not capitalizing on opportunities on the field,” said head coach Todd Haley. “Whether it was giving up a sack in field goal range, or coming out of the red zone with zero points. We had good opportunities and we didn’t produce.”
There were four or five Chiefs receivers in the end zone. Several jumped way too early and had no chance to catch the ball. TE Brad Cottam was interfered with as he tried to throw his 6-7 frame towards the heavens and the ball. That’s the stuff that happens when you scramble your own chances of winning and have to rely on a wing and a prayer.
“It’s frustrating not to be winning,” said Cassel, who heard from the Arrowhead Stadium boo-birds throughout the game. “You put so much work during the week and not to get the results you want on Sunday, it’s frustrating for the fans, for us, it’s just frustrating.”
Cassel’s four interceptions led only to three points for the Bills. The Chiefs three takeaways on defense led to zero points for Kansas City. They were minus-one on turnovers and minus-three points off those giveaways. That was enough to make them minus-one in the victory column.
“We went into the game with a clear cut key that if we could win the turnover battle, we would have a very good chance to win the game,” said Haley. “We were unable to capitalize on the turnovers we were able to create and then in the end our turnovers put us in a position where we couldn’t win.”
Wasted was another good performance from RB Jamaal Charles, who had a 76-yard touchdown run and finished the game with 27 touches for 181 yards in total offense.
There was so much about this game that was so familiar to the rest of the Chiefs season. They gave up big plays on defense, they had too many negative plays on offense, they got nothing from their first possession of the game, they allowed one mistake to lead to others and they dropped several passes. All the themes that have characterized the 2009 season were repeated.
The Chiefs defense got its first takeaway in the opening period, when OLB Mike Vrabel sacked Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and forced a fumble that was recovered by NT Ron Edwards at the Buffalo nine-yard line.
First-and-goal, Charles ran for two yards. Second-and-goal, Charles ran up the middle for two more yards. Third-and-goal at the Buffalo five-yard line, Charles goes over right guard for four yards.
Fourth-and-goal at the Bills one-yard line, and Haley had to make a decision. The Chiefs took a timeout to ponder their possibilities. That alone tells you it was a big, big play because Haley does not like to use timeouts that early in the game; there were four minutes to play in the first quarter. Vrabel went into the game as a tight end and there were visions of the 11 touchdown passes he’s caught over his career as a part-time receiver.
The decision was made to go for the touchdown, rather than putting a 19 or 20-yard field goal on the board.
“As a head coach, you’ve got to make some of those decisions early in the game,” said Haley. “It was just outside the one-yard line and it was a great opportunity for us to make a statement. We didn’t get it done.”
The play call was a bootleg left for Cassel. It was a designed run. Everybody else crashed to the right, and Cassel was supposed to run to his left. Bills DE Aaron Schobel, a nine-year Pro Bowl veteran, didn’t bite. He tackled Cassel for a seven-yard loss.
“I just got out a bit and got wide,” said Schobel. “He sorted of acted like he was going to release and I tried to stay square so I could react either way (pass or run.)”
Said Bills coach Perry Fewell: “When the quarterback kept the ball, it was a Schobel play. That guy makes plays.”
That’s one takeaway and no points for the Chiefs.
Actually, it turned into a 10-point swing as the Bills took over at their eight-yard line and moved 92 yards on eight plays, picking up four first downs along the way. The big play of the possession was the first one, when RB Marshawn Lynch ran around the right side for 47 yards. Later, Fitzpatrick hit TE Shawn Nelson for a 17-yard gain. He found WR Terrell Owens for nine yards and the touchdown. Rian Lindell added the PAT kick and it was 7-0 Buffalo.
They would never trail after that.
The Chiefs came back and got at least a field goal on the board, as they put together a 13-play, 74-yard drive, with four first downs. The big plays were a 24-yard Cassel to WR Chris Chambers play and a pair of big third down runs by Charles that moved the sticks. They got to first-and-10 on the Buffalo 12-yard line, gained nine yards on three plays. Haley faced another fourth-down decision, at the Bills three-yard line.
This time he opted for a 21-yard FG from Ryan Succop that made the score 7-3.
“I thought the second time around we needed some points at the time and it was the thing to do at that point,” said Haley.
The Chiefs defense immediately got the ball back, as CB Brandon Carr ripped a completed pass to Nelson out of the young tight ends hands and recovered the ball at the Buffalo 49-yard line. But the Chiefs offense failed to do anything with the gift. They got one first down, when Charles converted a fourth-and-one run at the Bills 40-yard line. But on seven offensive plays they gained just 17 yards.
Buffalo got another field goal before half-time, as Lindell hit a 41-yarder at the end of a 10-play, 57-yard drive, helped along by a 15-yard facemask penalty against Chiefs CB Brandon Flowers.
Early in the second half, Cassel’s second interception was picked off by Buffalo CB Terrence McGee on a very bad throw from his own end zone. The Bills took over at the Chiefs 24-yard line. But four plays later, Fitzpatrick’s pass in the end zone was picked off by Flowers, ending that scoring threat.
The Kansas City offense couldn’t do anything with the ball, and Buffalo’s offense took over at its 44-yard line. The Bills chipped away and picked up four first downs and drove deep into Chiefs territory, but they had to settle for a 24-yard Lindell FG and a 13-3 lead.
The stand by the Chiefs defense kept the team in the game, because when the offense got the ball back, Charles ripped off a 76-yard touchdown run that sent a charge through the team and Arrowhead fans. The PAT kick by Succop left the Chiefs down just 13-10.
In the fourth quarter, Lindell missed a 51-yard field goal. Cassel had a pair of passes tipped, caught by LB Paul Posluszny and DB Jairus Byrd, the last one in the end zone. Both passes were intended for Chambers. The Posluszny interception set up a 36-yard FG that gave the Bills a 16-10 margin.
That’s where it stayed right up until the final few plays. Taking over at their own 27-yard line, the Chiefs offense hit a couple of plays as Cassel connected with TE Leonard Pope for 15 yards, Charles for seven and Chambers for 14 yards.
With two minutes, 24 seconds to play, Cassel went deep down the middle to Chambers. He was open. He got his hands on the ball. He dropped it. Cassel’s next pass was picked off by Byrd.
Then came the fourth interception at the end of the game, and the Chiefs were six points short.
“We didn’t do a good enough job,” said Vrabel afterwards. “We had some mistakes, some penalties and some plays that we didn’t make. I dropped a (interception) and that led to three points. You do those sorts of things in tight games and it usually gets you beat.”