KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The first words from Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid Monday cut straight to a key reason for his team’s 19-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arrowhead Stadium.
“The obvious is we need to do better job of staying on the field offensively and getting off the field defensively,” Reid said. “Third downs – it comes down to how you execute on third downs.”
Third down proved devastating to the Chiefs Sunday. The team’s offensive statistics actual look good on paper – 4 of 8 converting third downs into first downs – but the defense surrendered a conversion on 11 of 16 tries for the Buccaneers. That allowed the Bucs to control the clock for more than 35 minutes and dictate the game’s pace and direction all afternoon.
“Time of possession was just completely skewed there, almost 11 minutes there of difference,” Reid explained.
The Buccaneers did not use much trickery or deception to victimize the Chiefs on third down. Tampa Bay faced 16 third downs in the game, and quarterback Jameis Winston dropped back to pass on each of the first 15.
Winston completed 12 of 14 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown on third down, good for a passer rating of 136.9. He scrambled 24 yards on another third down.
The Bucs called a single run play on third down, a 3-yard run by Doug Martin on the team’s final possession designed to keep the clock moving with the Chiefs unable to stop the clock.
Linebacker Justin Houston blamed the team’s inability to generate a pass rush on third down for the defensive breakdown.
“We didn’t do a good job rushing the quarterback,” Houston said. “He had plenty of time in the pocket. We didn’t get in the pocket at all, no penetration. We have to do better.”
Injuries certainly played a role Sunday for the Chiefs. Cornerback Marcus Peters, tied for the NFL lead with five interceptions, did not play due to a hip pointer sustained last week against Carolina. Linebacker Dee Ford, tied for the NFL lead with 10 sacks, left the game at halftime with a hamstring injury.
The blame for third-down failures doesn’t rest entirely on the defense. The Chiefs converted just one offensive third down in the first half. Running back Spencer Ware took a direct snap from the Wildcat formation on third-and-1 for a 15-yard gain just ahead of the two-minute warning. That setup a touchdown scramble by quarterback Alex Smith giving the Chiefs the halftime lead.
But whereas the Buccaneers continually converted third downs, the Chiefs missed several key opportunities to capitalize on scoring chances.
Midway through the third quarter on third-and-7, quarterback Alex Smith missed on a deep pass to wide receiver Chris Conley. The Chiefs eschewed a 54-yard field goal try on a cold, blustery day for a punt.
“We’ve got to be better,” Smith said afterwards. “Those are what you’re trying to get, third-and-1, third-and-2, those are as good as it gets and you’ve got to find a way to move the chains.”
The Chiefs did convert three third downs on a late touchdown drive, but it proved too little too late.
The loss to Tampa Bay stings but doesn’t significantly diminish Kansas City’s opportunity for the postseason. The Chiefs head to Denver Sunday for a primetime showdown. A win over the Broncos gives the Chiefs a perfect 3-0 record in the AFC West and poised to complete for the second seed in the conference.
But fixing what ails the Chiefs on third-down poses a more pressing challenge. Reid said his team played hard, but did not make key plays at the right time.
“It was the actual execution,” Reid said. “That’s my responsibility to make sure that’s right as a head football coach that we get that part done.”
The Chiefs now have a week to find answers ahead of the critical showdown in Denver on Sunday night.
“We’re going to get the mistakes correct,” he said.