Just six days after the Kansas City Chiefs secondary picked off three passes, they were picked on repeatedly in the 32-40 loss to the rival Las Vegas Raiders.
Though the powerful Chiefs offense only scored eight points in the second half, it was their pass defense that let them down.
“Giving up 24 points in the first half,” Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said, “that’s horrendous.”
On paper the matchup between the Chiefs and Raiders looked like a mismatch, but if anything would give Kansas City trouble, most figured the Raiders running game would victimize a Chiefs run defense, which entered the game ranked 28th in the league.
Instead it was more about the Raiders’ passing game.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr completed 22-of-31 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns as the Chiefs’ secondary — particularly cornerback Charvarius Ward — had several breakdowns.
“His hand was bothering him a little bit,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said.
Though he is playing with a surgically-repaired hand, Ward was the Chiefs’ best cover corner during their Super Bowl campaign last season.
In fact the Chiefs likely will try to extend Ward, who is a restricted free agent at season’s end, to a lucrative deal when his three-year, $1.7 million contract expires.
But this game will not help negotiations for Ward, who was replaced on early downs in the second half.
Less than halfway through the first quarter, rookie speedster Henry Ruggs III had a 46-yard catch between Ward and cornerback Rashad Fenton. On the Raiders’ next series, Ward committed pass interference on tight end Darren Waller.
The rest of the second quarter was even worse for Ward. On a 2nd and 5 with 11:58 left in the first half, Nelson Agholor caught a touchdown pass for 59 yards between Ward and Tyrann Mathieu. On 3rd and 2 with 2:50 left in the half, Ruggs hauled in a 72-yard touchdown against Ward.
“We were just beat,” Reid said. “I’m not sure we were doing the right things.”
The worst defensive breakdown might have been a blown coverage on a 3rd-and-18 completion to Hunter Renfrow with 10:33 left in the game that went for 42 yards.
That left Patrick Mahomes on the bench muttering that Renfrow was wide open.
Though Mahomes only engineered one scoring drive in the second half, he made some spectacular throws, the kind that perhaps only he can make.
Off a third-and-goal play in the second quarter, he rolled out and hit Sammy Watkins for a touchdown.
Even more impressively, with 2:22 left in the first half, he faced a 3rd and 15. Mahomes rolled out left, threw across his body and completed a 23-yard pass to Travis Kelce.
But it wasn’t enough to compensate for the defense’s shortcomings.
Through four games the Chiefs secondary had actually played very well, especially considering the offseason defection of Kendall Fuller, the loss of Alex Brown to a season-ending knee injury in training camp, the broken collarbone suffered by standout rookie L’Jarius Sneed and the four-game suspension of Bashaud Breeland.
One of the positives is that Breeland, who is in a contract year for the third consecutive season, came up with the interception on Carr’s overthrow to Waller.
After violating the league’s substance abuse policy, Breeland spent his time away from the Chiefs working out, coaching football at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in Kansas City, Mo. and playing tennis.
“It was a time for me to really work on myself,” he said, “put the past behind me and really focus on what I can bring to this team this year to help us get back to the Super Bowl.”
Four plays after Breeland’s interception, the Chiefs scored on a Tyreek Hill touchdown and had a 14-3 lead at that point.
But the offense stalled in the second half and couldn’t compensate for the defensive issues.
As a result, a once-promising rivalry, which had become one-sided, may have now been reset.
Entering Sunday’s contest the Chiefs had won 10 of the last 11 vs. Raiders and defeated them seven straight times at Arrowhead Stadium.
Reid was 12-2 against the Raiders as Chiefs head coach, and Gruden had not defeated the Chiefs — and his friend and former colleague on the Green Bay Packers coaching staff — in his latest stint as Raiders coach.
“We have to be able to win football games against these guys to make a rivalry,” Carr said. “We hadn’t done that in a long time.”