KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It had to be a painful experience for Chiefs coach Andy Reid, someone who prides himself on being an offensive innovator, to relive the first quarter of last Sunday’s game in Denver.
The first 19 plays included a false start penalty, a fumble in the red zone, another fumble on a snap, a dropped pass, a sack and a three-and-out.
When it comes to lousy execution, that about covers it.
It was the latest and most glaring evidence of a troubling trend in which the Chiefs offense struggles to get out of the gates. They’ve scored just one offensive touchdown in the first half of their last three games while punting seven times over the same span.
“We’re not starting fast enough right now,” Reid said. “I’m going to work on that part and make sure I do a better job of getting the guys an opportunity. But during those first 19 plays, now those are some things that we need to get corrected.”
The Chiefs, who host the Chargers on Sunday, actually punted on their first three possessions against the Broncos, and then had another series scuttled by the halftime whistle. They also had to punt on their first three possessions in their previous game against Buffalo.
The result both times was a halftime deficit.
Kansas City managed to overcome it against the Bills with a dominant second half, led by its defense. But it couldn’t do the same against a much more talented team in the Broncos, who built on their advantage en route to a 27-17 victory and share of the AFC West lead.
It was the seventh time in 10 games that Kansas City had managed one offensive touchdown or fewer in the first half of a game. Three times the Chiefs haven’t scored any. The last time they scored a touchdown on their first series? Against the Cowboys on Sept. 15.
Since then, the Chiefs have had to punt on their first offensive series in every game except a win over the Browns, when they settled for field goals on their first two possessions.
“I think the biggest thing is getting into a rhythm,” quarterback Alex Smith said, “moving some chains, getting consecutive plays ran, getting into the flow of the game, changing field position at a minimum. I think that’s where it starts.”
The Broncos took advantage of prime field position to jump out to a 10-point lead on Sunday.
“When you change some field position and get some first downs, that carries into, ‘Let’s get into field-goal range. Let’s get into the red zone. Let’s score a touchdown,’” Smith said. “Those are the steps I look at, but offensively it starts with a first down.
“Let’s get a first down,” he said, “let’s move the chains and put a chunk of plays together. When you have a few three-and-outs, it’s tough. You never get in a flow.”
Part of the problem with stringing together drives has been the costly miscues that have resulted in third-and-long situations. Brandon Albert’s false start on the first play Sunday eventually put the Chiefs in third-and-12, while a drop by Donnie Avery and an incomplete pass to tight end Sean McGrath left the Chiefs facing third-and-10 on their ensuing possession.
“It’s not like we’re not trying, it just so happens that’s the way the games have gone,” McGrath said. “You want to start fast and finish faster. That’s the idea. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way.”
The Chiefs have tried different tactics to get going early.
While they’ve ridden running back Jamaal Charles most of the season, they have yet to be able to break many big plays, so they tried to take some shots down field against the Broncos. A couple of drops by wide receivers and a couple missed throws by Smith scuttled those chances.
“We did take more shots down the field, and we’ll continue to work on that,” Reid said. “That hasn’t necessarily been our strength in this offense up to this point, but we’re continuing to get better at the things we need to get better at, and that’s one of them.”
Reid certainly wasn’t going to divulge his game plan for the Chargers, but Smith acknowledged that there’s an emphasis on executing in the first quarter this Sunday.
“I look back at myself and how I played Sunday night and didn’t play very well early,” he said. “You turn on the tape, little thing here, little thing there, we all had our share, and that’s what results in inexecution. Is that a word? An inability to move the football.”