It has been a most uncommon season for the NFL, and as the calendar marches toward Christmas, it doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. Key injuries have derailed numerous teams with Super Bowl aspirations, and injuries in general have watered down the level of competition, making 2023 one of the ugliest seasons in recent memory. Even players and teams that were considered the gold standard in the NFL have struggled with consistency, injuries, and lackluster play.
As the playoff picture begins to take shape, many teams are jockeying for the last couple of Wild Card spots, particularly in the AFC, where parity, mediocrity, and disappointment have been the stories thus far. For one AFC heavyweight, the curse of high expectations has led to disappointment and finger-pointing as the season teeters on the brink of unraveling. It all boiled over Sunday afternoon in Kansas City and resulted in an ugly scene that is likely to hit numerous players and coaches squarely in the checkbook.
The defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs have had an up-and-down season thus far, and lately, there have been more downs than ups. While the team still holds the top spot in the AFC West, they suddenly find Denver one game behind and facing the very real prospect of having to play a road playoff game in January. Lost in the constant media coverage of Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift is the fact that the team has struggled for the better part of two months. Patrick Mahomes hasn’t been sharp, his offensive weapons aren’t helping, and the defense hasn’t been bailing out the offense as they so often do.
Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs played the rival Buffalo Bills with a chance to effectively end their season with a win at home. It was a physical, back-and-forth affair, as expected, and with the Chiefs driving late to win or tie the game, a controversial call by officials caused Mahomes and coach Andy Reid to criticize the zebras after the game and Mahomes to completely lose it on the sidelines. With just over a minute left and Kansas City down by a field goal, the Chiefs were driving for a potential winning score, and the controversial play that wasn’t will almost certainly draw fines from the league.
On second and ten, Mahomes hit Travis Kelce for a 25-yard gain, and before he was brought down, Kelce spied wide receiver Kadarious Toney streaking across the field by himself. Kelce fired a bullet backward pass to Toney, who cruised into the end zone for what the Chiefs thought was a game-winning touchdown. However, Toney was clearly lined up offsides on the play by almost a full yard, and the officials threw a flag, nullifying the score. That appeared to have a completely deflating effect on the team and stadium, and the Chiefs promptly turned the ball over on downs.
As he came off of the field, Mahomes furiously slammed his helmet on the sideline and was screaming at the officials, causing teammates to have to physically restrain him. After the game, Mahomes said about the call, “I’ve played seven years and never had offensive offsides called. That’s elementary school. You point to the ref, do all that different type of stuff and it doesn’t get called and if it does, they warn you, and there was no warning throughout the entire game, and then you wait until there’s a minute left in the game, you make a call like that.” Mahomes didn’t note that replays clearly showed Toney never checked with the ref whether he was offsides or not, leaving the officials with no choice but to drop the flag.
On the sidelines, Mahomes said after the game: “We played our f—ing a–es off. That’s f—ing terrible, man.” Even Coach Andy Reid weighed in, saying: “Normally, if it’s even close, you get a warning. The head coach gets a warning. I don’t know. I didn’t have a protractor out there. It’s a bit embarrassing. I’ve been in the league a long time and I haven’t had one like that. At least for that kind of position there, it’s not given a heads up to.” It is just another pothole in the road for the Chiefs as they try to make their way back to the Super Bowl. However, the road no longer goes through Kansas City, and the embarrassment Sunday against Buffalo could sink the team’s postseason hopes.
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