What was previously one of the Chiefs' strengths became the primary reason they lost a critical division game to the Raiders on Sunday.
In a game in which the defense played well enough to win, Kansas City's special teams let the club down in a 23-20 overtime loss that pulled Oakland to within half a game in the AFC West.
The errors were plentiful and came in a number of areas, but rookie Javier Arenas was the day's biggest goat. First, Arenas failed to get the necessary yardage on a fake punt run early in the game. Then, he coughed up a fumble on a kickoff return in the third quarter that Oakland recovered. He would have redeemed himself on a punt return that he took 72 yards for a touchdown, but the play was called back for an illegal-block-in-the-back penalty.
Probably the game's biggest turning point came during the opening kickoff of the second half with the Chiefs leading 10-0. Kansas City allowed KR Jacoby Ford to zoom past its coverage unit and race 94 yards for a score to cut the deficit to three. It gave the Raiders a pulse and boosted them to an eventual victory.
This was an uncharacteristic performance for a team that had played disciplined football for most of the season. Head coach Todd Haley made sure to point that out.
"It just comes down to the things that will get you beat," Haley said after the game. "We've not been doing a lot of those things — minus plays, penalties and turnovers offensively, and defensively the same thing."
Unfortunately, the Chiefs decided to do them at the worst possible time.
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Pinning Sunday's loss entirely on the special teams wouldn't be fair — QB Matt Cassel threw a key interception as the team tried to add to its lead before halftime, WR Dwayne Bowe had a drop that could have sealed the deal and the running game was never able to get on track. But if not for the special-teams gaffes — in addition to the aforementioned blunders, Kansas City also had a 41-yard field goal wiped off the board by penalty — the Chiefs probably would have been able to squeak out a win that would have created some separation between them and their AFC West foes.
Instead, it's now a very tight race between K.C., Oakland and San Diego, and it's unlikely any of the three teams fades down the stretch. The Chiefs' favorable schedule and four remaining divisional games probably means they still control their own destiny, but their margin for error is suddenly much smaller.
A game like Sunday's proves that while the Chiefs have made progress, they're far from being a finished product. Great teams don't make this many mistakes, and the fact that Kansas City is still this unpolished proves that they have a ways to go before they reach the upper echelon.