KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Chiefs had a chance to wrap up a third consecutive AFC West title and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs with two weeks to go, only to watch Philip Rivers lead the Los Angeles Chargers to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns in a comeback.
The Chiefs got a do-over Sunday night in Seattle, only to watch Russell Wilson and the Seahawks shred defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s much-maligned bunch in a 38-31 victory.
Now, they get a final attempt to control their playoff placement Sunday against Oakland.
“We’ve been in every game that we’ve lost,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said, “but we have to find ways to win. As we go into this next week against the Raiders, they’re going to be ready to play us and we’ve got to find a way to win and then get to the playoffs. You have to find a way to win these games and we haven’t been lately. That’s the most frustrating thing.
“Everybody has to step up. We have to find a way to go out there and win big football games.”
The Chiefs (11-4) are already assured of a spot in the playoffs, so at least that pressure is off the table. But if they don’t beat the Raiders, they go from a first-round bye and a paved path through Arrowhead Stadium to a potentially rocky run through the postseason.
If the Patriots beat the Jets, Kansas City would lose out on the top seed by virtue of their head-to-head tiebreaker. If the Chargers beat the Broncos, LA could get the top overall seed with a Chiefs loss. The Chiefs would also lose the division and plummet all the way to the No. 5 seed and an unexpected wild-card game.
“We got to elevate our play,” Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley said. “We can all look and find areas where we can improve: offense, defense and special teams. Come out and really attack this game and not wait a quarter, or two, to really get rolling.”
The offense probably deserves a little bit of slack.
Mahomes and Co. have already scored 530 points, shattering the franchise record by 46 points with another game to play. Mahomes is already the club’s single-season passing champion, his 48 TD passes are tied for third most through 15 games in NFL history, and his 12th game this season with a 100-plus quarterback rating extended his own Chiefs record.
The offense has kept rolling, too, after losing reigning NFL rushing champion Kareem Hunt to an off-the-field issue, backup running back Spencer Ware to hamstring and shoulder injuries, No. 2 wide receiver Sammy Watkins to a foot injury, and several linemen.
Now, the defense is another matter entirely.
Sutton’s group has been under pressure all season, even though some players — such as pass rusher Dee Ford and defensive tackle Chris Jones — are putting together career years.
The league’s No. 1 team in total offense is 31st out of 32 teams in total defense.
“We’ve got to get better,” said Jones, who has at least one sack in an NFL-record 11 consecutive games, and 15 1/2 sacks for the season. “We’re going to find a way. We’re going to find a way to get better. We still control our own destiny. We’re going to finish this last game strong.”
It would be the first time the defense has stepped up in a crucial showdown.
The Chiefs allowed Tom Brady to march the Patriots to the winning field goal as time expired in a 43-40 loss in their first marquee matchup this season. In their next, a month later against the Rams, the Chiefs coughed up the go-ahead touchdown with 1:49 left in a 54-51 shootout loss.
In an opportunity to clinch the AFC West at home, the Chiefs allowed the Chargers to score twice in the closing minutes, then convert a 2-point conversion that gave Los Angeles a 29-28 victory.
Then came Sunday night in Seattle, when the Chiefs allowed 464 yards total offense.
There have been plenty of other problems, of course. The Chiefs are the most-penalized team in the NFL by a wide margin, and their special teams have been shaky at best. But it’s their defense that is providing the most indigestion for their fans this holiday season.
They have one more opportunity to provide some relief on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
“If you take care of business, you don’t have to talk about anything,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We play the way we can play and we’re going to play, we’re a tough team right there, and as good as anybody in the National Football League. So let’s take care of that, and let’s see how that works out. I think that we’ll be fine if we take care of our business.”