KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The losing locker room sounds like the DMV. The most distinctive sound is feet shuffling across carpet. Quiet. Heads down. Nobody wants to be here.
Does anything in sports move as fast as the NFL? At 8:04 p.m. Sunday, Patrick Mahomes performed a magic trick, retreating twenty-some yards behind the line of scrimmage before firing a spiral into the end zone for a touchdown, then taking a victory lap around the field and screaming into the night and living rooms across the country: LET'S (BLEEPING) GO!!!
At 10:12 p.m., with the Chiefs down six, a run on second-and-forever is greeted with unmistakable boos. Within minutes, the mass fan march to the parking lot began, hope disappearing and taillights filling the roads back home.
The Chiefs lost 19-13 to the Indianapolis Colts, a good-but-not-great team that followed a simple-but-coldblooded game plan - attack the Chiefs' most glaring weakness without mercy, so that you face the Chiefs' most remarkable strength as little as possible.
"It's no mystery what these teams are coming in here to do," Chiefs defensive lineman Frank Clark said.
He was talking about the Chiefs' inability to stop the run, but he could've been talking about so much else. This is two weeks in a row the Chiefs have played their worst game, a rocket ship turned into a station wagon, and the film of both games is dotted with similarities.
The Colts exploited the Chiefs in plain sight, rushing for 180 yards. They did this by bullying the Chiefs at the line of scrimmage. It was simple. It was direct. It came without apology or decoy. They ran the ball on more than 60% of their snaps and held the ball for more than 60% of the game.
Most importantly, the Chiefs went a stretch of six consecutive possessions without points, unable to solve the same riddle that's confused them before.
That's part of what makes this outcome feel significant. Football is never perfect. Even great teams lose. The Chiefs retain a vice grip on the AFC West.
But even beyond a head-shaking list of injuries - their top two receivers, starting left tackle, starting left guard, best defensive player and starting middle linebacker are all varying degrees of hurt - the Chiefs are starting to trend the wrong way.
Bashaud Breeland's 100-yard, nobody-knew-if-it-counted-until-replay touchdown return and Patrick Mahomes' first last-minute game-winning touchdown drive saved them in Detroit last week.
Against the Colts, the Chiefs looked slow, hesitant and overpowered physically. On both offense and defense.
Clark and others will focus on an inability to stop the run, and they should. This exact game plan has been openly discussed the last two seasons.
If only that was the only problem.
Last season, Bill Belichick wrote the specs on how to beat the Chiefs. Oversimplified, the Patriots' plan was to run the ball on offense to give Mahomes fewer chances, and on defense double-team Tyreek Hill and play man everywhere else.
Last week, Lions coach Matt Patricia - Belichick's old defensive coordinator - used a similar strategy. With Hill injured, the doubles went to tight end Travis Kelce, and the Lions used their safeties a little differently than the Patriots. But, still. Overall it was mostly the same.
On Sunday night, the Colts took all of this to new extremes. Run the ball over and over again. Defensively, the Colts - ravaged in the secondary by their own injuries - built on what their predecessors had done to the Chiefs. They dressed the coverages differently, sometimes with safeties over the top, others with linebackers dropping to the middle of the field.
But for the most part, it looked awfully familiar. Create pressure, particularly against the left side of the line, limit big plays, punch the ball out whenever possible and don't let Mahomes attack seams in zone.
"We see the trend," Mahomes said. "Teams are going to play us in man coverage, and we're going to have to find ways to beat it. If we don't, we're going to keep getting it."
A disclaimer. The Colts did not get the best version of the Chiefs. Man coverage will become a riskier proposition when Hill is healthy, and the left side of the line won't be as vulnerable when Fisher returns.
But the outline of the way to beat the NFL's funnest show has been drawn, and now it's up to the Chiefs to create a solution.
They can start by cleaning up unforced errors and sloppy execution. Running back Damien Williams dropped a touchdown on the Chiefs' first drive. Offensive lineman Cam Erving was called for a stupid and unnecessary roughness penalty on an interception return, which was bad enough but became even worse when the interception was overturned.
Without the penalty, the Chiefs likely would've gone for (and converted) a fourth and 2. With the penalty, they punted.
They made plenty of other mistakes. So many mistakes. Eleven penalties for 125 yards. Protections broke down, with Mahomes sacked four times and scrambling for safety on several other snaps. Once, a lineman's foot accidentally landed on his ankle.
On a fourth and 1 - the Chiefs' last chance to win without recovering an onside kick - the line left Justin Houston unblocked, the former Chiefs star streaking through and dragging Williams down behind the line of scrimmage.
Houston rose to his feet and screamed loud and long toward the Chiefs' sideline, a fitting exclamation to an awful night.
Look, this isn't the end. This is only five games. The Chiefs have time to fix everything that's currently broken and - particularly if they're even marginally healthy - the players to do it.
But at the moment they're losing ground. This season was never about making the postseason but winning the Super Bowl. This team should be judged accordingly.
Right now, two clear obstacles stand in their way. Like Clark said, it's no mystery what opponents want to do. The only mystery is how the Chiefs can beat it.
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