The Chiefs are still in the infancy of the Patrick Mahomes Era. Monday night’s loss may ultimately prove a necessary step in their progression toward a larger goal. You have to crawl before you can walk. You have to walk before you can run.
Their high-powered offense led by a first-year starting quarterback, and without a starter older than 29, has now lost two games by a total of six points this season. All losses sting, but the 54-51 loss to the Los Angeles Rams left an extra-bitter residue in their collective mouths because the Chiefs walked away feeling they contributed heavily to their own defeat.
“There were several plays that needed to be made tonight, and we didn’t make those plays. It’s a team effort,” veteran outside linebacker Justin Houston said outside the visiting locker room in the tunnel at L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
That frustration was evident by the low tone in which tight end Travis Kelce described his own miscues as “unacceptable.” It also showed when Houston quickly got defensive when reporters asked about his reaction to mistakes made by his teammates. The veteran outside linebacker snapped that he wasn’t going to let reporters “do that” — in his eyes, place blame on any individual.
Along with the ache of the defeat, the underlying theme among at least handful of the Chiefs’ players appeared to be optimism. Yes, optimism.
After committing five turnovers, giving up 455 yards of total offense on the road and giving away another 135 yards on 13 penalties, the Chiefs found their silver lining in the fact that they’ve got time to learn from and correct their myriad errors.
“I think we’ve shown a lot of potential, but you know the way they talk about potential in this game — it means you haven’t done anything yet,” wide receiver Chris Conley said. “I think we’ve continued to get better. I think tonight opens our eyes and shows us that we need to be even better. This was a heavyweight fight, shots thrown by each team. We responded and came back from a lot of those, but we’ve got to be able to finish.”
While many will view the 54 points the Rams scored as an assessment of the defensive performance, the Chiefs offensive stars from Monday night like Tyreek Hill, Conley and Mahomes each pointed to the 21 points given up by the offense via turnovers — including two defensive touchdowns for the Rams.
“We were in this game with three scoring turnovers,” Conley said. “We gave them 21 points off turnovers, and they’re a good team. They took advantage of them. If we can eliminate those penalties, those turnovers, this game is a different game. If we can score off of those drives, it’s a different game. It comes down to being disciplined and executing.”
Mahomes placed the blame on his own shoulders after having thrown for 478 yards and six touchdowns. Along with those awe-inspiring statistics, he also coughed the ball up five times — three interceptions and two fumbles lost. Samson Ebukam returned a fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter followed by an interception return for a third-quarter score.
While in different circumstances, Mahomes misfires and errors in judgment put the Chiefs’ backs against the wall early on in an eventual three-point loss to the New England Patriots on the road in October. Mahomes tossed a pair of first-half interceptions, including one in the red zone, and also failed to connect with receivers on several potential big plays.
Twelve games into his career as an NFL starting quarterback, Mahomes understandably still has lessons to learn and polish to add to his game.
“Yeah, I mean it’s the same as when we played New England,” Mahomes said. “I mean it’s just — you can’t make mistakes against great teams and when you play these games, you know, these are the games you’re going to play hopefully in the playoffs and so you want to make sure that you limit your mistakes and that still at the same time be aggressive and still score points.”
Several Chiefs players echoed the sentiment that the game took on a playoff atmosphere — down to the fact that errors were magnified. Similar thoughts were expressed about the matchup with the Patriots.
Outside linebacker Dee Ford described his takeaways from the two games as simultaneously similar and different. They were different in the specifics of the challenges faced, yet similar in that the outcomes were indicative of the Chiefs’ performance more than that of the other team on the field.
“Those are two different teams, great offenses, great defenses,” Ford said. “We’re going to take everything (we can from it). It’s really all about us. We’re talking about what we’re doing. It shouldn’t matter the opponent. In big-time games like this, we just can’t (mistakes). We’ve got to capitalize and execute and minimize mistakes. We had a lot of penalties. Those are things we’ve got to fix.”
Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Chiefs and NFL for The Star.