The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

January 4, 2014

Henry: Chiefs looking to end playoff skid

It’s been so long since the Kansas City Chiefs won a playoff game.

How long?

It’s been so long, the last time the Chiefs won a postseason game, O.J. Simpson was the sideline reporter for the NBC telecast.

On Jan. 16, 1994, quarterback Joe Montana tossed three touchdown passes and the Kansas City defense forced three turnovers and nine quarterback sacks as the Chiefs rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Houston Oilers 28-20 in an AFC divisional game in the Astrodome.

If the Chiefs can follow the same formula — three TD passes from a former San Francisco 49ers QB (Alex Smith) plus a sack-happy defense with some takeaways — it would greatly increase their chances in today’s AFC wild-card game at Indianapolis.

Both teams are 11-5, and they have more in common than their season record.

Both have two-win seasons and the No. 1 overall draft pick in the recent past — the Colts in 2011 and the Chiefs in 2012.

Both teams won 11 games this season despite gaining fewer yards than their opponents. The Colts average 341 yards per game, 15 less than their opponents, while the Chiefs average 337 yards, 30 less than the opposition.

One explanation for the Chiefs’ yardage differential is that their defense and special teams have combined for 12 touchdowns and set up many more short fields for the offense. By contrast, the Chiefs’ opponents did not score a defensive or special teams TD.

Defense and special teams keyed the Chiefs to a 9-0 start this season, highlighted by a 17-16 home victory over Dallas on Sept. 15 and a 26-16 road victory over the Philadelphia Eagles four days later. The Chiefs, after winning two games in 17 weeks in 2012, had three victories in the first 12 days of the 2013 season.

The Chiefs went 2-5 over the last seven games, and all five losses were to playoff teams — two to Denver and San Diego and a 23-7 home loss to these Colts two weeks ago.

The offense, a cause of concern early in the season, became more productive as the Chiefs scored 215 points in the last seven games. They had 215 points in the first nine games.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid did not play most of his starters last week, and the reserves played well enough to beat the Chargers. But Ryan Succop missed a 41-yard field goal in the waning seconds of regulation, and the Chargers won 27-24 in overtime.

No doubt the Chiefs gained confidence because their backups performed well as the regulars rested, but is their confidence in Succop declining? He’s 22-of-28 this season with three misses beyond 50 yards. New Orleans is the only playoff team with more missed field goals, and the Saints released Garrett Hartley (22-of-30) with two games left in the season and signed Shayne Graham. Just four years ago, Hartley kicked the Saints into the Super Bowl.

Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is 35-of-40 this season, and he’s certainly familiar with late-game postseason pressure. Exhibit No. 1 is his 48-yard field goal on the final play to give New England a 20-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI (36) a dozen years ago.

Vinatieri booted three field goals last month at Arrowhead Stadium, and he could deliver more Show-Me State heartbreak again today.

Colts 20, Chiefs 17.

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