If you honestly thought the Kansas City Chiefs were destined to pen a perfect season, feel free to put down your coconut, hop in a raft, depart Fantasy Island and start paddling your delusional self back to the shores of the real world.
That, or chug a Gatorade, pop a pair of aspirin and sober up.
The Chiefs are human, and with a two-game road stretch (including Week 10's bye) in the rearview, they'll return to Arrowhead for the first time in nearly a month (Oct. 27), attempting to recapture their aura of excellence against the 4-6 San Diego Chargers.
But first, let's comb through some takeaways from Week 11's prime-time heartbreaker, starting with the most important.
7. The Sky Isn't Falling
After the Sunday Night Football loss, isolated pockets of "Fire Andy Reid!" pitchfork-wavers reminded me there are echelons of fandom, and people can be typecast as one of three personalities.
The majority of fans? Decent people who aren't devoid of empathy nor perspective and don't become field-level dictators every time players prove their mortality. At the end of the day, irrespective of outcome, they remember that they're still watching a game. Nothing more. Human foosball.
Next, there's a sliver of people who, despite countless morning regrets and untagging of Facebook photos, are completely oblivious to their alcohol tolerance. During the workweek, they're camouflaged as sane-minded citizens with their priorities in check. But after one beer-bonging Sunday tailgate, their Oakleys morph into beer goggles, jerseys become capes and they're screaming "bro!" while threatening to pimp-slap middle linebackers.
Then, there are the one-percenters. The "Fire Andy Reid(!)s." The prisoners of the moment who toss remotes at TVs and logic out windows. The people who let teams define their self-worth and get in heated, teary-eyed sports arguments where their voices drastically crack like the first time they saw a Carmen Electra poster.
If that's you, rub your temples and woosah yourself. Pop some bubble wrap. Pet a puppy. Turn on some Jackson 5. Google a butterfly. Do something to retract the Nile of forehead veins protruding from your skin and parachute back down to reality.
Last year, your beloved Chiefs were a 2-14 traveling circus who were a loss away from posting bail for Paul Crewe and Switowski. With Reid now at the helm, they're 9-1 and competing for the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs.
Call me crazy, but I think you should try to find it in your (charcoaled abyss and vacuum of soullessness disguised as a) heart to give him a second chance.
6. Sanders Commings Made the Most of His Brief Rookie Debut
This past April, the Chiefs' draft board listed a few names (namely Travis Kelce and Mike Catapano) that had the potential to become steals within the next couple of seasons.
But if there's one pick that I thought was a guaranteed home run, it was Sanders Commings. At Georgia, he was a stalky, bone-jarring corner with deceptive speed and impressive ball skills (he was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks as a center fielder in 2008). His skill set was tailored for the role of an NFL free safety or nickelback.
However, he missed the entire preseason and first nine games of the regular season with a broken collarbone.
The Chiefs activated him from injured reserve in Week 10 and, although he played a paltry total of three snaps, his presence was instantly felt.
On his first play, Commings lined up outside, across from wideout Andre Caldwell. The Broncos hand it off to Knowshon Moreno while the right guard (Louis Vasquez) pulls. Eric Berry launches into the backfield like a taunted missile (Moreno definitely doesn't want those problems again), forcing No. 27 to bounce it outside.
Commings steps up into the fray and angles the ball-carrier back inside before thumping Moreno with an audible thud.
As Cris Collinsworth detailed on NBC's broadcast, "...Fantastic play coming off the edge. For a cornerback to knock a running back down that easily—that was strong."
5. Peyton Manning Arguably Had His Worst Performance of the Year
Peyton Manning posted 323 yards and a touchdown on 24-of-40 passing. For the average quarterback, those kinds of numbers earn you the game ball. Obviously there's nothing average about No. 18 though.
Week 11 marked the first time in Manning's tenure at Denver (27 games) that he's been limited to one touchdown or less while completing no more than 60 percent of his passes.
But that's only one chapter of Sunday's story.
The PFF Analysis Team noted, "Peyton Manning was only 3 of 10 on passes over 9 yards in the air." That, in part, contributed to PFF grading it (-1.3) his worst performance of the season.
4. Eric Fisher Is Slowly Improving, but May Be Sidelined for Week 12
Eric Fisher, like the vast majority of first-year linemen, has endured his fair share of rookie struggles. Sunday was no exception. Shaun Phillips (whose career has caught its second wind in Denver) and Derek Wolfe both sacked Alex Smith on his watch.
Earlier in the season, Fisher's towering frame was a detriment, as veterans' bull rushes periodically knocked him off balance and into the backfield. Lately, and presumably to combat that, he tends to lower his stance and gets caught with his weight shifting forward, which allows rushers to swim or rip past him with relative ease. At other times, he's simply flat-footed.
But every now and then, Fisher strings together flashes of potential that remind you of why he was the first name announced in the 2013 draft. And while Von Miller won a handful of battles against the rookie, he failed to record a quarterback hit or sack.
Unfortunately, it looks like Fisher may miss Sunday's game versus the Chargers.
Back at Arrowhead. Early am flight. Just saw Eric Fisher with arm in a sling— Adam Teicher (@adamteicher) November 18, 2013
Later in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs tackle attempted to repel Phillips and immediately started wincing in pain while favoring his left shoulder (which isn't the one that nagged him during training camp).
His replacement, Donald Stephenson, has been every bit as inconsistent, while drawing half the amount of flags (three) as Fisher in nearly one-fourth as many snaps (157).
3. San Diego's Starting Left Tackle Could Miss Sunday's Game
San Diego could also enter Arrowhead without one of its starting tackles.
Left tackle King Dunlap was absent from the lineup last week due to a strained neck. Like Fisher, his status for Sunday remains up in the air.
Injury Report: King Dunlap out for Sunday http://t.co/1Xkr5JdTth— San Diego Chargers (@chargers) November 15, 2013
The injury forced D.J. Fluker, who's arguably enjoying the best season of 2013's rookie linemen, to slide over and start at left tackle last week. The experiment didn't pan out the way San Diego had hoped.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Fluker struggled to acclimate to the opposite side of the line, forfeiting a pair of quarterback hits and a sack on San Diego's last two drives of the afternoon.
In the loss, the Chargers' offensive line allowed three sacks, three hits and 11 hurries, all of which traced back to errors by the tackles and left guard.
2. The Chargers Are Better Than Their Record Indicates
With nail-biting defeats at the hands of the Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins, San Diego will file into Arrowhead dragging a three-game skid. However, all three matchups whittled down to the wire and resulted in one-possession losses.
In fact, only one of the Chargers' beatings have ended with a deficit greater than eight points.
And the turnover-prone Philip Rivers? He's a ghost of NFL past. Under Mike McCoy, Rivers has sniped 19 touchdowns to a meager eight interceptions. He's also averaging a career-high 298.9 passing yards per game and leading the league in completion percentage (70.9).
San Diego is vulnerable on defense, though. Only two teams allow more yards per rush (4.8), and the Chargers permit a league-high 8.5 yards per pass attempt.
The Chiefs will have squared off with the NFL's two most potent passing attacks in back-to-back weeks. And similar to last Sunday, 17 points will only lead to more questions than answers.
1. The Chiefs Are Letting Their Offense Breathe
Alex Smith was the target for a healthy stream of vitriol following Sunday's loss.
Some of it was justified: He missed a number of downfield throws and, on one particular down, inexcusably ignored that Jamaal Charles was one-on-one with Danny Trevathan on the outside.
That aside, Reid unbuckled Smith's restraints, leading to Kansas City's quarterback hurling far more vertical bombs than in any other contest this season.
Before last weekend, Smith, in nine games, had only launched 70 passes that traveled 10-plus yards through the air—an average of 7.8 per game. In Week 11? Fourteen. Nearly double his per-game average.
PFF's Khaled Elsayed adds:
The previously gun shy Alex Smith (+1.6) would attempt 14 passes over 10 yards in the air and the biggest shame was that his receivers (four drops, three of them critical) couldn’t make the catches to give Smith that stat to go with his excellent throws. These four drops don’t even include his peach of a throw that bested the coverage of Chris Harris with 8:25 to go in Q2 (the play was called back for holding away from the target), where Smith fitted it in between the sideline and Harris only for Bowe to drop.
If drops (four) and throwaways (three) are subtracted, Smith flung the rock for 230 yards and two touchdowns on 21-of-38 passing (he also added 52 rushing yards on five attempts).
Chiefs receivers averaged 11 yards per reception and, as a whole, the offense matched Denver's output with 24 first downs.
The most important byproduct of stretching the field, though? Given that Denver's safeties were obligated to respect the deep ball, Kansas City's four rushers combined to average 5.8 yards per carry on a defensive front that only allows 3.7 yards on average.
Miscues limited the offense to 17 points, but if a few playmakers avoided untimely mistakes, the Chiefs would've had a legitimate shot at hanging up 30-plus points on an underrated defense.
Of course, hypotheticals don't change or excuse Sunday's missed opportunities, but the finger of blame should make a few pit stops before pointing in the quarterback's direction.
Statistics provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
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