KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — In a somber Kansas City Chiefs locker room, not long after a disheartening loss to a previously winless team, linebacker Derrick Johnson uttered the words everyone must have been thinking.
“It kind of looked like the beginning of the season again,” he said.
Kansas City lost its first two games, to Buffalo and Detroit, by a combined 89-10, setting a franchise mark of futility that few thought would ever be matched. But the Chiefs nearly did that on Sunday, when Miami spanked them 31-3 at Arrowhead Stadium for its first win of the year.
The Chiefs lost despite not turning the ball over once, nearly matching the Dolphins in yards of total offense and winning the time of possession battle by an incredible 10 minutes.
“I really believe our guys knew this was a dangerous, dangerous team,” Chiefs head coach Todd Haley said. “We went through every aspect of this team: Where they were, why they were there. And there’s a reason why you lose games, and there were a couple of things that got us beat.”
They just weren’t the same things that got Kansas City beat early in the season.
No, this was something else entirely.
While the Chiefs turned the ball over 10 times over the first three games, they never gave away a free possession to the Dolphins. The offense was unable to move the ball against the Bills and Lions, but piled up 20 first downs and churned out 343 yards against Miami’s defense.
So what went wrong?
Well, the Chiefs were tagged for eight penalties that cost them 70 yards. They were 0 for 2 in the red zone, failing on fourth down twice from the 5-yard line or closer. They averaged about 16 yards on kickoff returns, which resulted in lousy field position all afternoon. And quarterback Matt Cassel was sacked five times and forced to run for dear life at least a half dozen more.
The Chiefs’ bend-but-don’t-break defense finally snapped, giving up seven plays of at least 20 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown pass from Matt Moore to Anthony Fasano, and a 28-yard touchdown run by Reggie Bush, during which the Kansas City defense barely laid a hand on him.
Perhaps most unsettling was the complete failure of the defense to get any pass rush on Moore, who took over a few weeks ago when Chad Henne had season-ending shoulder surgery.
The Dolphins’ quarterback threw for 244 yards, his third-best total, and matched a career high with three touchdown tosses. His rating of 147.5 was easily the best of his four years in the NFL.
“Moore did a terrific job of getting the ball out fast. That guy played really well,” Haley said.
Even a journeyman quarterback can dissect a defense given enough time, though. Kansas City didn’t record a sack and only hit Moore twice the entire game.
By comparison, Cassel was hit nine times in addition to the five sacks he endured.
“You go out there and play your game, and sometimes that happens,” Cassel said after the game. “They have a good pass rush and we knew that coming in.”
While the outcome looked eerily similar to the way Kansas City began the season, there are certainly some differences. Just look at the record for the most glaring one.
Back then, the defending AFC West champions were in the midst of a three-game slide. They rattled off four wins in a row after that — albeit against lowly Minnesota and Detroit, and struggling teams in Oakland and San Diego — to climb into a tie for the division lead.
That’s exactly where the Chiefs (4-4) remain with half the season left.
“It’s been an adventurous first half of the season,” said Haley, who gave his team an extra day off Monday. “Our guys have shown great resolve, great resiliency, which are characteristics I like to see in my teams.”
The Broncos’ win over Oakland the Chargers’ loss to Green Bay on Sunday left Kansas City tied atop the crowded AFC West with Oakland and San Diego, with a game in hand over the Raiders. The Broncos, who visit Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, are just a game back after their best performance of the season.
“We’ve been through this type of loss before. We’ll bounce back,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to have a short-term memory in this game. But things like this — gosh — you have to somehow forget it.”