If the Andy Reid experience could be bottled and served like a fine wine, Sunday’s game against the Packers would be vintage. The Chiefs lost to Green Bay 31-24 with a performance that was both wildly impressive and disappointing, combining Reid’s mastery of scoring points with his inability to work the clock or make in-game adjustments. Kansas City’s ability to play so well through so many injuries suggests the team’s floor is immensely high, but the in-game coaching issues that still impact the team shows the Chiefs will have a hard ceiling even when healthy.
The Chiefs’ inactives list entering this game essentially doubled as their list of top players not named Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill. On offense, Patrick Mahomes (dislocated knee), left tackle Eric Fisher (groin), and left guard Andrew Wylie (ankle) missed the game, and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (ankle) left during the game. On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs were missing 2018 second-team All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones (groin), offseason trade addition defensive end Frank Clark (neck), and talented cornerback Kendall Fuller (thumb). Defensive end Alex Okafor also left with an ankle injury midgame. Collectively, the injuries were enough to make the Chiefs more than five-point underdogs at home in Arrowhead Stadium, perhaps the league’s loudest venue after Seattle.
Of course, Mahomes’s injury dwarfed all the others. Sudden starter Matt Moore signed with the Chiefs after training camp in late August—it seemed like Kansas City was doomed before the game even started. But Andy Reid’s offenses work wonders for just about anyone, and Moore played surprisingly well on Sunday night. He completed 24-of-36 passes for 267 yards (7.4 yards per attempt), two touchdowns, and no turnovers while taking just two sacks. Moore passed for 16 first downs, one more than Aaron Rodgers, and the Chiefs converted 6-of-11 third downs. There were certainly moments when Moore clearly was not Mahomes, particularly on the first play of their third drive when Hill was open deep and Moore underthrew him by about 5 yards. But Moore rebounded and found Hill for 14 yards on third-and-12 and turned the series into a 12-play, 89-yard methodical touchdown drive that was reminiscent of the Alex Smith era in Kansas City. Moore finished the drive by lofting a ball to a wide-open Kelce while getting creamed for a 29-yard score to make the game 14-7 Green Bay.
The second quarter illuminated just how well designed Andy Reid’s offenses are. Green Bay cornerback Kevin King played so far off of Hill that he had third-down comeback routes open more often than not, and the speed of Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson plus Kelce stretching the defense vertically created seams for Moore to spread the ball around. Kansas City has been scoring in the second quarter all season. Their 104 points in the second quarter this year are the sixth most since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, and they put up 17 unanswered on the Packers in the second frame on Sunday.
More impressive than their offense was Kansas City’s defense in the first half, which harassed Rodgers after two early touchdown drives. Rodgers had been sacked just seven times for 63 yards in his last six games but was taken down five times for 49 yards in this one. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo unfurled blitz after blitz at the Green Bay line. Entering Sunday, the Chiefs blitzed roughly 27 percent of snaps, but midway through the third quarter they were hovering around a 45 percent blitz rate in this game. Linebacker Damien Wilson pressured Rodgers with ease in the second quarter as Kansas City stopped the Packers’ last three drives of the first half. Given the Chiefs’ health issues, their 17-14 halftime lead was a huge testament to Reid’s abilities as a coach.
Then the second half happened. The Chiefs defense that had thrived was rendered helpless by the Aarons of Green Bay. Rodgers finished with 23 completions on 33 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns, none finer than this immaculate touchdown pass to Jamaal Williams in the back of the end zone that is one of a handful of throws in consideration for best of the year.
When you play an all-time great, sometimes they just beat you on a play. It happens. Where the Chiefs need to be concerned is the other Aaron that burned them. Packers running back Aaron Jones ran 13 times for 67 yards and added seven catches for 159 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the air. The Packers’ game plan was simple. When Jones was covered by a linebacker, particularly Anthony Hitchens, Green Bay would split him out wide and have him embarrass his defender on a route—short, intermediate, deep, it didn’t matter. On the Packers’ opening possession, Jones caught a flip pass on a jet sweep for Green Bay’s first touchdown. On their third drive, Jones caught a 60-yard touchdown pass deep down the sideline but stepped out of bounds at the 10-yard line. He got the score back later with a 67-yard weaving touchdown pass on a screen to put the Packers up 31-24 with just over eight minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Kansas City’s defense was unable to adjust. When Jones was covered by a linebacker, he beat them wide and when the Chiefs put six defensive backs on the field, the Packers ran the ball down their throats. It’s a tough way for Kansas City to lose,considering Spagnuolo was brought in after former defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was unable to adjust in overtime against the Patriots in the AFC championship game last year. Still, the Chiefs’ defensive breakdown is understandable in light of the rash of injuries affecting them.
It is harder to justify the late-game coaching decisions from Reid, a sentence that has been evergreen for 15-plus years. Reid’s latest questionable decision was a punt on fourth-and-3 at the Chiefs’ 40-yard line with 5:13 left and his team trailing by seven. The Chiefs had been unable to stop the Packers since halftime, so their odds of getting a stop on defense were low. Surprise! The defense couldn’t stop Jones. Moore and the offense never took the field again.
Reid has been monumentally impressive since moving to Kansas City, turning Smith into a viable starter, Mahomes into an MVP, and now Moore into a decent Sunday Night Football starter. But the maniacal focus on his offensive scheme seems to detract from the attention to detail elsewhere in the game. The Chiefs defense is incapable of guarding running backs who can split wide, and that doesn’t bode well for their Super Bowl chances considering the Patriots have two of those in Rex Burkhead and James White. Despite firing Sutton, hiring Spagnuolo, signing safety Tyrann Mathieu, and trading for Clark, the Chiefs defense looks exploitable enough for its opponent to keep the quarterback—whether Mahomes or Moore—off of the field. And when Mahomes is on the field, Reid’s coaching and timeout decisions are still baffling enough that Mahomes’s opportunities won’t be maximized. If Kansas City can’t do that, they may not get much farther than they did last season.