Kansas City, Mo. — He walked back to the locker room alone Monday night through a long tunnel lined with the Kansas City Chiefs’ greatest accomplishments — several banners celebrating division crowns, AFC championships and Super Bowls.
Marquez Valdez-Scandling, the Chiefs’ veteran receiver at 29 years old, said only one word, a four-letter expletive. He used his helmet to show his frustration, provoking a sharp, loud thud as he slammed it into the wall. Then Valdez-Scandling bowed his head and took several more steps to walk to the locker room.
Minutes earlier, Valdez-Scandling had a chance to help his teammates leave Arrowhead Stadium. Sprinting toward the end zone away from the Philadelphia Eagles’ last defender, cornerback Bradley Roby saw Valdez-Scandling get his hands on a released ball on a perfect deep pass from quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Three seconds later, after falling to the turf, Valdez-Scandling watched the ball roll away from him and heard the sound no receiver wants to hear while in the end zone: the roar of the home crowd.
Instead of a heroic moment, Valdez-Scandling’s drop with less than two minutes left capped another second-half offensive slump for the Chiefs, another 30-minute loss, this time leading to a 21-17 loss.
Many fans in Arrowhead Stadium — on a night where the weather constantly shifted from rain to rain to drizzle again — had the same reaction Mahomes did after the play: They put their hands to their heads and gagged in disbelief.
“We’ve got to find a way to finish games aggressively,” Mahomes said.
As the reigning champions of the NFL, the leaders are Andy Reid, a future Hall of Fame coach known for his offensive innovations, and Mahomes, the league’s most talented quarterback. After 10 more games, the Chiefs’ biggest problem is their offense. In a rematch of one of the league’s biggest marquee matchups of the season — and perhaps a preview of Super Bowl LVII — the Chiefs offense made mistake after mistake, scoring zero points after halftime. Monday’s defeat confirmed an embarrassing and worrying trend: the Chiefs have not scored in the second half of their last three games.
“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” Reid said. “I have to do a better job to help that. My guys have to do the same. We’re not as sharp. I can put guys in better spots.
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Before Monday’s game, the Chiefs were averaging 23.1 points. But Monday’s game should be a turning point for the offense, a chance for the unit to re-establish itself as one of the most effective in the league. Every member of the offense was a full participant in every practice during the week against the Eagles (9-1). The Chiefs (7-3) were coming off a week in which Reid had a perfect 27-4 record before Monday, including 5-0 as Mahomes’ starter.
Utilizing a significant amount of new plays that haven’t featured in the picture this season, the Chiefs scored 17 points before halftime, executing the final two drives of the second quarter.
After building a 10-point lead in the third quarter, the Chiefs had two drives to build another cushion.
“I don’t think it’s an energy or focus thing,” receiver Justin Watson said of the offense’s struggles. “We have to correct the errors that this is not forcing.”
Reid and offensive coordinator Matt Nagy leaned on Mahomes in the second half as the coaches, in a joint effort, called nine designed running plays. Of 28 dropbacks, Mahomes completed 14 of his attempts in the second half for 99 yards.
Mahomes failed to connect on four deep passes with his receivers, three of which the receiver — Valdez-Scandling or Watson — got past the Eagles’ last defender. As the Chiefs entered the red zone, star tight end Travis Kelce fumbled the ball. As the Eagles celebrated, Kelce hit his right fist for the team’s 19th of the season, tied for third in the league.
Five players held the offense back with penalties.
“I want to be good,” Kelce said. “I’m not playing as much as I have in the past. I want to be good. (It was) turnovers and penalties in our half. What they did was nothing. Everything is us”
Perhaps the offense’s biggest problem is that Reed and Nagy haven’t developed one of their receivers into a better, consistent and reliable secondary option, a top pass catcher behind Kelce.
While rookie Rushie Rice was a great contributor among wideouts, Mahomes only targeted him five times against the Eagles’ zone coverage. Kadarius Toney, perhaps the Chiefs’ most dynamic receiver, was more effective on special teams as a punt returner than on offense as he finished with two receptions on two targets for 12 yards.
“I didn’t make good enough passes in certain situations,” Mahomes said. “I threw an interception in the red zone.”
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In the box score, the Chiefs finished with as many turnovers as touchdowns in the red zone (two).
“They’re undefeated when they win the turnover battle,” Reid said of the Eagles, who received a gift. “Then you add the fines to that, two drops to that. We have to take care of it. “
Mahomes’ receivers, including Kelce, dropped five passes, increasing the Chiefs’ league-leading total to 26.
“They know I’m going to keep shooting it,” Mahomes said of his receivers. “That’s me. I’m going to shoot it to the open guy. Usually, they’re going to make plays.
Despite their many mistakes, Reid and Nagy called the perfect passing play after the two-minute warning. With the Chiefs near midfield, Mahomes said, the Eagles put three defenders near Kelce in the middle of the field, creating a one-on-one opportunity for Valdez-Scandling against Roby. Valdez-Scandling, known for his speed, was 4 yards in front of Roby when he dropped a potential game-winning, 51-yard touchdown pass.
Had Valdez-Scandling caught the reception, the Chiefs would have improved another stat that is particularly troubling at this point in the season: They’ve scored just one touchdown in the fourth quarter this year, the fewest of any team in the league.
Valdez-Scandling was not available to speak to reporters after the game, but on Tuesday morning, she posted her thoughts on social media. “I’m grateful and I’ll be fine. And I appreciate the criticism and the support. God put this on me because He knew I could handle it. Thank you for everything that comes with it.”
“The game definitely doesn’t come down to one play,” Watson said of Valdez-Scandling. “I’ve seen Marquez make that play 99 times out of 100. That’s what he didn’t do. He’ll make that play for us next week or next time he’s called.
Injury Update: Receiver Mecole Hartman suffered a right thumb injury in the first quarter after a 5-yard reception. He returned to the field late in the third quarter. As the starting punt returner, Toney replaced Hartman, who had three stellar returns, making 58 yards on six chances.
(Photo by Marquez Valdez-Scandling: David Youlit / Getty Images)
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