KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In many ways, it was a dream, going from 2-14 and the first overall pick in the NFL draft to 11-5 and a spot in the playoffs. Yet it ended in just about the most nightmarish way possible, a second-half collapse and another round of postseason heartache.
No wonder the Kansas City Chiefs had such a hard time summarizing their season in the minutes and hours after a gut-wrenching 45-44 loss at Indianapolis on Saturday.
“You know, I certainly think you use this as drive,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said Sunday between wrap-up meetings. “I think it’s good to be playing in these types of games. I think these types of games are contagious. You go back to playing in just regular-season games, you want that itch. You have that urge to try to get to these types of games.
“I certainly think that foundation has been laid for next year.”
The Chiefs have lost a record eight straight postseason games, their last victory coming after the 1993 season. Most of the current members of the team were in grade school, some of them still in diapers, the last time Kansas City tasted any success in games that truly matter.
It appeared for most of three quarters Saturday that things would be different. Kansas City had raced to a 31-10 halftime lead, and then took advantage of an interception early in the third quarter to tack on a touchdown that several Chiefs would say later should have sealed the game.
The problem was that they started playing as if the game was in hand, while Andrew Luck and the playoff-tested Colts started to play as though they had nothing to lose.
The result was a furious second-half rally, one made possible by unconscionable breakdowns by a defense that was spectacular during a 9-0 start. Luck torched a secondary that wilted when it faced premier quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, and his 64-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton with 4:21 left finished off the second-biggest comeback in NFL playoff history.
“I sat there and talked to them this morning and there were a lot of long faces,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Sunday. “They had their hearts ripped out. I can work with that.
“They should hurt,” Reid said. “That’ll make us better.”
The last time the Chiefs won a playoff game, Joe Montana was the quarterback and the Titans were still the Oilers. Since then, there have been all manner of playoff heartbreaks:
— The Chiefs missed three field goals against Indianapolis after the 1995 season, when they had gone 13-3 during the regular season and harbored championship aspirations.
— Two years later, the Chiefs lost a 14-10 heartbreaker to the Denver Broncos, who would go on to beat the Green Bay Packers and win the Super Bowl.
— After the 2003 season, the Chiefs lost again to the Colts in a game featuring two of the league’s premier offenses — and in which nobody punted.
But the way that Kansas City melted down Saturday may trump all of those disappointments.
“It’s hard to put in words, to lose a game that we clearly had control over,” said linebacker Derrick Johnson, who is now 0-3 in playoff games in his nine-year career.
“Coming from having the first pick last year to making the playoff this year, we did accomplish some things,” Johnson said. “At the same time, our standard is very high and this one hurts.”
While players were going through final meetings Sunday, Reid met briefly with reporters at the team’s practice facility. He said that no changes are planned for his coaching staff, though he did acknowledge that some of his assistants would be pursued by other teams.
Reid also said it was too early to discuss personnel issues.
The Chiefs have most of their key players already under contract for next season. Their biggest loss figures to be left tackle Branden Albert, whom they gave the franchise tag to this season. But even he may be allowed to leave in free agency with viable replacements already in house.
They’ll be seeking help at wide receiver and in the defensive backfield in free agency and the draft, but for the most part, the Chiefs should return intact next season.
When they make another run at ending two decades of playoff futility.