Stumbling Chiefs squander comfortable lead in AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs have a Meadowlands MeltdownThe Kansas City Chiefs had a mini meltdown late in Sunday’s 38-31 loss to the New York Jets. Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters was unhappy with a penalty called against Kansas City and he expressed his displeasure by picking up the penalty flag and tossing it into the stands. Assuming he was ejected, Peters then left the field, only to return when he realized he was still eligible to play. The Jets scored the game-winning touchdown a few plays later.

Sunday’s sequence was emblematic of Kansas City’s recent results. The team that looked like a Super Bowl contender after Week 5 has now lost four straight and six of seven, falling to 6-6 and squandering the once-comfortable lead it held in the AFC West. The Chiefs have no one to blame but themselves for their struggles, which led to embarrassing losses to the Jets, the Buffalo Bills, and the New York Giants over the last three weeks. Each new loss seems to highlight a different problem for Kansas City, shifting from offense to defense depending on the week.

The Chiefs started the season with a tricky offense that kept opposing defenses on their toes using misdirection and option plays. That creativity has largely vanished in recent weeks, and the play of quarterback Alex Smith and standout rookie running back Kareem Hunt has suffered as a result. Hunt recorded at least 81 yards rushing in each of the first five games, reaching the 100-yard plateau in four of them, but he’s only topped 81 yards once since then, and he hasn’t reached the 50-yard mark in five weeks. Smith’s career year has slowed slightly, and he entered Sunday with four interceptions in his previous three games after throwing none over his first eight.

Smith bounced back arguably his best game of the year against the Jets, throwing for 366 yards and four touchdowns, including two to tight end Travis Kelce, but it wasn’t enough as Kansas City was let down by its defense this time. The Jets threw for more than 100 yards over their season average against the Chiefs and converted on more than half of their third-down opportunities, as well as scoring on four of five trips to the red zone. Kansas City lost safety Eric Berry to an Achilles injury in the first week of the season and the secondary hasn’t been able to account for his absence, while the defensive line has been unable to mount a consistently effective pass rush.

Outbursts like Peters’ don’t bode well for the Chiefs’ mental state, and they will need their wits about them now that they’re locked in a three-way tie with the Oakland Raiders and the Los Angeles Chargers. Kansas City hosts the Raiders and the Chargers in two games with massive divisional implications over the next two weeks. The Chiefs need to win both games to maintain control of their playoff chances, but to do so, they will need to play well on both sides of the ball, which hasn’t happened in a while.