KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs did their playoff aspirations no help on Sunday.
Nor did they help out their fans trying to figure out what it’ll take to get them in.
After losing 20-12 to the Steelers, the Chiefs are suddenly desperate for a whole lot of help.
They must beat the Chargers in their regular-season finale next Sunday, and then hope Cleveland can beat Baltimore and three-win Jacksonville can somehow upset Houston.
At least one hurdle is out of the way: The Chiefs also needed Buffalo to lose one of its final two games, and their AFC West brethren Oakland took care of that on Sunday.
“We’re not even looking at it like that,” wide receiver Dwayne Bowe said. “We’re just trying to get better at what we do, and if the chips fall like they may that’s great.”
Kansas City has not been to the playoffs in back-to-back years since 1994 and ‘95.
Lost in this whole mess is that the Chiefs (8-7) have won just once in their past five games, a precipitous decline that closely mirrors last season. Kansas City began 9-0 in Andy Reid’s first season but won just two of its final seven games, limping into the postseason.
Ever since the Chiefs collapsed in the second half of a 45-44 loss to Indianapolis in the first round, they’ve repeated the mantra of “finish.”
In the largest sense, they’ve been referring to the entire season, but in a smaller sense, they mean games, drives and even individual plays.
They failed to finish anything on Sunday.
On individual plays, there was the gamble that Reid took to go for it on fourth-and-inches at the Pittsburgh 12 late in the first half.
Reid could have kicked a field goal to get within 10-9 at the break, but instead had Jamaal Charles run over left tackle. His star running back was bottled up for no gain, and the Chiefs instead took a four-point deficit into the half.
“We just couldn’t get it,” Charles said, “and the Steelers defense, they wanted it more than us, I think. Somebody came free, and he made the play.”
On drives, there was the Chiefs’ inability to pick up that critical first down. But perhaps more crippling, they had to resort to a trio of field goals when drives stalled in the red zone.
“Poor execution happened sometimes and got ourselves in some bad situations. Other times, I felt like we flowed and were moving the ball, staying on schedule, ahead of the chains, but then in the red zone we would have a negative play, a sack or something,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “So many little things make a difference down there and they get magnified.”
It all added up to an inability to finish the game.
Kansas City closed to 17-9 on Cairo Santos’s third field goal early in the fourth quarter, but its defense softened. The Steelers chewed up six minutes before kicking a field goal, making it a two-possession game and giving the Chiefs little chance of mounting a comeback.
“We just have to play as a team. Sometimes we find a way to play as a unit, sometimes we don’t,” linebacker Tamba Hali said. “Most of these games we lose, it’s not because the other team is whipping us. We shoot ourselves in the foot sometimes and we don’t know how to bounce back from it.”
Kansas City had better learn how to bounce back from a loss.
The Chargers, who lost to the Chiefs on a last-minute field goal earlier this season, will show up at Arrowhead Stadium with just as much desperation.
And if the Chiefs’ playoff picture is hazy at best, the Chargers’ couldn’t be simpler: Win and they’re in, lose and they’re out.
“Not only do we need to take care of business this weekend, but we need some other people to do the same thing for us to get in,” Reid said.
“If you get in, then anything goes, you’ve seen that year-in and year-out for many years here. When teams get in the playoffs, you can throw the records out and you go play. But we have to take care of business here first this week.”