I want to be very careful about how I lay out this take. Careful that before I take a blowtorch to the Kansas City Chiefs, I want to make sure the Tennessee Titans get all the respect they earned. And deserve.
Credit to head coach Mike Mularkey, who rallied his team from a 21-3 halftime hole even as he looked like a dead man walking.
Credit to Marcus Mariota for one of the all-time gritty efforts; Passing. Running. Receiving! Blocking?!
Credit to Dick Lebeau — the 80-YEAR-OLD Hall of Fame defensive coordinator who dialed up one of the all-time great halftime chalk talks to turn around his unit. And to the Titans locker room, a group that got all week, was a double-digit underdog at kick-off, and was described postgame by my man Brian Orakpo as “a bunch of underrated savages” a description that might be the greatest, and most well-deserved, self-gloss of all time.
Credit where credit is due. …Now let me say this: Blow up the Chiefs. Seriously, take all the C-4 on the planet, pack it into Arrowhead, and then raffle off the opportunity to push the button.
You can’t lose that game. CAN’T. LOSE…THAT. GAME.
Not at home. Not with an 18 point lead. Not with the NFL’s rushing leader and a quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes.
At this point, this is where I’m obligated to mention the absolute war crimes referee Jeff Triplette and his crew committed during that game. And the sheer statistical improbability of Marcus Mariota’s pulling off that give-and-go touchdown pass to himself. Or the fact that the Chiefs offense changed dramatically once Travis Kelce left the game with the concussion. There. I mentioned it all.
Feel better, Chiefs? You shouldn’t. Because no one gives a damn. And no one wants to hear about it. Not when this keeps happening to your team over and over again.
It would be easy to hang this one on Alex Smith. I mean, isn’t that what we always go to when the Chiefs choke on the big stage. Only problem with that was he played one the best best first halves in the history of the postseason. But last I checked a football game is 4 quarters and the last two quarters Smith played he completed just 5 of 10 throws for 33 yards and zero points. So as much as I can’t peg this loss on Smith, he’s the guy who is going to wear it. And he’s the guy who already wore it — from the moment Andy Reid traded up to get Pat Mahomes in the first round of the draft.
Now on to Reid. I think Andy Reid’s a good coach. I’d call him a very good coach. But very good coaches don’t routinely get gutted in the playoffs. Very good coaches don’t get to the playoffs and lose SEVEN TIMES as a favorite since 2001. Only 4 times in the modern history of the NFL have teams blown an 18-point or larger halftime lead. Reid’s responsible for two of those. And whether he was on the head set calling the plays or not, it falls on the head coach when you’ve got the rushing champ getting just 11 carries in a game — and only 5 in the second half — when you’ve lost your best receiving weapon and you need to hold onto a three-score lead. The Titans rode Derrick Henry in the second half and they were losing.
Look: None of this is going to be easy. But since Reid won the power struggle with John Dorsey, it’s on him to fix it. That means trading Smith and getting what you can get for him — even if it’s not going to be as much as you’d hope it to be. That means saying goodbye to defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who has been with Reid for a long time. It might even mean gassing his own kid as defensive line coach.
Again, I take no pleasure calling for people’s jobs. I take no pleasure in demanding that one of the great NFL stadiums be imploded and that the crater left behind is covered up and never spoken of again. So credit the Titans for going into Arrowhead and ripping that win. But they should’ve done everyone a favor and just hit the detonator on the way out.