Smith, Chiefs make unexpected exit from NFL playoffs

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Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs played near perfect football during the first half of their NFL wild card playoff game against the visiting Tennessee Titans on Saturday, Jan. 6.

Smith, a Helix High School alumnus in his 13th season in the NFL, completed 19 of 23 passing attempts for 231 yards and two touchdowns as the AFC West champion Chiefs built a commanding 21-3 halftime lead.

Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs played near perfect football during the first half of their NFL wild card playoff game against the visiting Tennessee Titans on Saturday, Jan. 6.

Smith, a Helix High School alumnus in his 13th season in the NFL, completed 19 of 23 passing attempts for 231 yards and two touchdowns as the AFC West champion Chiefs built a commanding 21-3 halftime lead.

But football games consist of two halves and Smith and the fourth-seeded Chiefs could not maintain their momentum and, in the process, absorbed a 22-21 loss to the fifth-seeded Titans that shocked not only the 73,319 in attendance in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium but a national cable television audience as well.

For many in the Chiefs Kingdom, it was the simply the latest defeat in a long string of postseason letdowns by the team.

The Chiefs fell to 0-6 in their last six home playoff games; the last time the Chiefs won a home playoff win was on Jan. 8, 1994.

But this one was particularly brutal.

Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers, was visibly trying to contain his emotions as he walked off the field while scrutinized by a horde of television cameras.

The 33-year-old Smith called the swing from halftime to the final whistle “definitely a shock.”

“It just happened so fast, especially when you get the swing from halftime to the final whistle,” he told the media after the game, “Definitely a shock. Didn’t feel like we played up the way we’re capable of playing and that’s what’s disappointing. Nothing against the Titans, they played great. They made the plays there to win the game. Certainly felt like we could have done better.”

Smith admitted the Chiefs missed opportunities on both sides of the ball.

“It felt like the opportunity we had in front of us, with the talent, the group … When we played the way we were capable of playing, the sky was the limit,” Smith offered while trying to find the right words to describe the crushing defeat. “Tonight was an example of that. Not consistent enough. We didn’t come out in the second half and make the plays we needed to.

“I mean at the point every team’s good. These are all going to be hard fought games that are going to come down to the tiny little things, there were a lot of them out there and they add up. For sure, missed opportunity.

“Certainly I feel like we’re all kicking ourselves in the second half, we’d all love a do-over. But that’s just not reality.

“We had a good chance, and it’s gone, it’s over. ”

Game on

Smith threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Travis Kelce in the first quarter and completed a 14-yard scoring pass to DeMarcus Robinson three seconds before halftime to stake the Chiefs to an 18-point lead.

But the KC offense flat-lined in the second half with just 61 total yards and zero points compared to 264 yards and 21 points in the first half.

The Chiefs ran just six plays in the third quarter. Smith completed just five passes in the second half for 33 yards.

The Chiefs' offense was obviously hindered when Kelce suffered a concussion late in the second quarter. He had four catches for 66 yards and one touchdown when leaving the game.

When Kelce, Smith’s favorite receiver, went down, it took a lot of air out of the KC passing attack. Kelce, a large target at 6 feet, 5 inches tall and 260 pounds, logged 83 catches for 1,038 yards with eight touchdowns this season.

Kelce’s departure from the game proved pivotal as Tennessee defenders could blanket Smith’s remaining receivers and stack the line of scrimmage against the run.

Rookie Kareem Hunt, the regular season's league rushing leader, carried the ball just 11 times in the game for 42 yards. The lack of carries by Hunt, especially with the hosts nursing an ever-shrinking lead in the second half, puzzled many observers.

Hunt had just five carries in the second half.

Not to be understated, a stiff defensive performance in the second half by the unheralded Titans helped contribute to their upset win.

The Tennessee offense, led by 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, also showed up in the second half.

Mariota completed seven of 13 passes for 81 yards and an interception in the first half but bounced back to finish the game 19-for-31 for 205 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

One of the game's most bizarre plays occurred on the Titans’ first touchdown when Mariota threw a pass and wound up catching the resulting deflection off a Kansas City defender for a touchdown reception.

Mariota's TD pass to himself trimmed the Chiefs lead to 21-10.

The former Oregon Duck standout engineered three second-half scoring drives as the Titans outscored the Chiefs 19-0.

Derrick Henry, a bruising running back (6-3, 238), racked up 156 yards on 23 carries to carry the Tennessee team on his back. Henry gained 151 yards to spearhead the Titans' dramatic second-half comeback.

It was the first playoff win for the Titans in 14 years.

The Chiefs did create one scoring attempt in the second half but Harrison Butker’s 48-yard field goal attempt hit the upright and bounced away. Butker had been a diamond for the team since replacing injured place-kicker Cairo Santos, the first Brazilian born players in NFL history, early in the season.

The missed three points proved critical in the loss. But Butker — and Smith — should not be made the game’s scapegoats.

KC head coach Andy Reid defended Smith in his post-game media address.

“Listen, he did some good things,” Reid told reporters. “He really put together a nice year but he’s feeling as empty as we all are here. These players are hurting. Nobody knows better than the players and feels worse than those guys. They put so much time and effort into this thing. He had a good year this year.”

After a sterling 5-0 start, Smith had entered his name into MVP consideration but his future with the Chiefs in now in question.

Kansas City traded to draft quarterback Patrick Mahomes in 2017. Mahomes played well in the Chiefs' final regular season game, a 27-24 win at Denver while the team rested Smith for the playoffs. Mahomes appears to be the man of the future in the Chiefs Kingdom.

While Smith produced the best season of his career, statistically speaking, the fact remains that he is just 1-4 in playoff games while leading the Chiefs.

Smith said it's too early to say what will happen during the offseason and whether he will be back in a KC uniform next season. He still has one year left on his current contract with the Chiefs.

“The game just ended,” Smith responded to anxious reporters when questioned about his future with the team. “We'll get into all of that in the next couple of weeks.

“I’m under contract for another year … I’m not thinking about anything else. Right now, (I’m) obviously disappointed.”

Predictably, Reid took the brunt of criticism following the letdown loss.

“The tough part about this obviously that it's final, the season ends up being over,” he explained in a post-game press conference.

“We appreciate the fans and the great support they gave us all year. Particularly tonight, the fans were unbelievable, and deserve more than what we gave them. That’s my responsibility as the head coach of the football team.

“There are lot of things we could have done better. It didn’t work lout in our favor. There are a million things we could go back through and go over. It should never have happened the way it did. We were up with that lead. You’ve got to learn how to win games like that, put your foot down.

Tennessee (10-7) will face the top-seeded (and defending Super Bowl champion) New England Patriots (13-3) in Saturday’s upcoming AFC division playoff game (5:15 p.m. PT kickoff, CBS-TV).

Wildcard weekend

There were two upsets in the four games played last weekend. Both games on Saturday featured upset outcomes, with the sixth-seeded Atlanta Falcons (11-6) eliminating the third-seeded Los Angeles Rams, 26-13, and Kansas City losing to Tennessee.

Both home teams won in Sunday’s playoff matchups. The host Jacksonville Jaguars, seeded third, edged the sixth-seeded Buffalo Bills, 10-3, in an AFC wild card matchup while the host New Orleans Saints, seeded fourth, held on to top the fifth-seeded Carolina Panthers, 31-26, in a NFC wild card game.  

Four playoff games are scheduled this weekend. Besides the Titan-Patriot game, Saturday’s other featured contest showcases the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) against the sixth-seeded Falcons (1:35 p.m. PT kickoff, NBC-TV) in a NFC tilt.

Sunday’s pigskin double-header features the third-seeded Jaguars (11-6) at the second-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3) in an AFC divisional showdown (10:05 a.m. kickoff, CBS-TV) and the fourth-seeded Saints at the second-seeded Minnesota Vikings (13-3) in a NFC divisional contest (1:40 p.m. PT, FOX-TV).

Conference championship double-header games are scheduled Jan. 21 — AFC at 1:05 p.m. PT on CBS-TV and NFC at 3:40 p.m. PT on FOX-TV.

The Super Bowl LII is set for a Feb. 4 telecast (3:30 p.m. PT, NBC-TV).

Extra points

Five teams with winning records did not qualify for this year’s NFL playoff field: the Baltimore Ravens and Chargers, both with 9-7 records, in the AFC, and the Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys, all with 9-7 record, in the NFC.

The Arizona Cardinals finished 8-8.

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