Sorry Kansas City, You Gotta Have The Quarterback

Andy Reid, wildly successful in the regular season, continues to come up short in the playoffs

by John Furgele

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  That sums it up for the Kansas City Chiefs with yet another frustrating ouster in the NFL playoffs.  Is Andy Reid the second coming of Marty Schottenheimer?  You know, the guy wins 10 to 13 games per year in the regular season, but can’t get over in the playoffs?  In fairness to Reid, he did coach the Philadelphia Eagles to five NFC Championship Game appearances as well as one Super Bowl appearance, but time and time again, his troops come up short in big games in much the same way as Schottenheimer’s teams did in Cleveland, Kansas City and San Diego.

The Chiefs are not only frustrating, they are agonizingly frustrating.  The dink and dunk their way and in the end, can never score enough points to win the big games.  Last year, they hung tough at New England, but settled for too many field goals and lost.  This year, even though they scored two touchdowns to Pittsburgh’s zero, quarterback Alex Smith threw 34 times to get 172 yards, a paltry 5.08 yards per attempt.  Pittsburgh kicked six field goals and still managed to win the game 18-16 to advance to the 2016 AFC Championship Game at New England while the Chiefs will be left scratching their heads for yet another off-season.

Why is it like this in professional sports?  Why do some teams do the same thing year after and time after time?  The Cleveland Browns were so close in 1986.  They had a seven point lead and had the Denver Broncos pinned at their own two-yard line.  The Broncos drove 98 yards to tie it and won the game in overtime.  The next year, they had taken over the AFC Championship Game at Denver.  Down 38-31, they were driving for the tying touchdown only to have Ernest Byner fumble at the Denver two.  The franchise hasn’t recovered.  Their coach:  Marty Schottenheimer.

The Kansas City Chiefs just can’t get over the hump.  Like the New York Jets, they won one of the first Super Bowls when they beat the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 in Super Bowl 4, but since then, they haven’t done much.  They reached the 1993 AFC Championship Game and were buried by the Buffalo Bills; most of the time, they bow out in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.

Marty Schottenheimer took over the Chiefs in 1989.  In 10 seasons, he guided them to the playoffs seven times, but only once (1993) did they reach the AFC Championship Game.  The 1995 team was loaded at 13-3 but played conservatively in a 10-7 home divisional round loss to Indianapolis. The 1997 team was also 13-3, but lost in the divisional round at home to the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.

Andy Reid usually wins games the way he lost on Sunday.  He tries to minimize mistakes, likes to settle for and kick field goals and wins white knuckler affairs.  On Sunday, he was out done by six field goals by his opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers.  In four seasons Reid has won plenty of football games.  His Chiefs have made the playoffs three times and his record is a sparkling 43-21.  You don’t fire guys with records like that, but do guys like Reid win Super Bowls?

Reid uses the dink and dunk approach on offense.  In the regular season, that works fine, but in the playoffs, not so much.  It’s the opposite of baseball.  In that sport, the teams that slug home runs all regular season usually get beaten in the playoffs by teams that “dink and dunk and play small ball.” And, we know that great pitching beats great hitting.  Is Reid too conservative, ala Schottenheimer, or were both men plagued by not having the great quarterback?

Alex Smith is also one of those enigma guys.  He wins games; he plays smart, minimizes mistakes, and is labeled as a good game manager.  The problem with game managers is that in the playoffs, you sometimes need your quarterback to go out and win the game for you.  Smith doesn’t have that in him.  He’s not going to do what Aaron Rodgers did at Dallas.  He can’t do what Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger do and that’s throw two picks but still get you over the top.  People forget that in Super Bowl 49, Brady threw two picks and still guided the Pats to victory.

Today’s NFL requires the great quarterback.  Since 2006, all the Super Bowls have been won by Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson and Joe Flacco.  The first five are Hall of Fame locks and Wilson and Flacco still have time to get there.  There are no aberrations on that list.  Back in the day, you could win a Super Bowl with Jim Plunkett, Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, Jim McMahon and Doug Williams, but no more.  This year’s final four proves that with Brady and Roethlisberger in the AFC and Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers in the NFC.  Many teams think they are close and think they can sneak their way to a title with an Alex Smith or a Brock Osweiler but we all know better.  Peyton Manning won one on guile, but that was all-time great guile.   You can surround your team with great runners, receivers and defensive players, but as the Chiefs found out, you have to win the games with your offense and for three plus quarters, the Chiefs had 10 points and were losing to a team that was doing nothing more than kicking field goals.  Smith is a solid quarterback; you’re not going to find anybody better quickly, but you’re not going to win the Super Bowl with him.  You’ll make the playoffs three of every four years, but you will torture your fans in the process.  It is football purgatory.

If you’re the Philadelphia Eagles and the Oakland Raiders, you pray that you’ve found your man.  If you’re the Indianapolis Colts, you think you have your quarterback, but you know that the window is closing unless you fortify him with a better supporting cast.  The same goes for the Baltimore Ravens.  You have a Super Bowl winning QB in Joe Flacco, yet you think he is better than he really is.  He isn’t Aaron Rodgers, so get a running back to help him.  That worked for John Elway at the end of his career.  He didn’t have to win the games; he could let his offensive line and Terrell Davis help him.

If you’re the Bills, you know you can’t win with Tyrod Taylor, but you also know that the next quarterback won’t be as good.  The Jets, the Browns, the Cardinals can all relate.  The Bengals and Redskins have decent quarterbacks, but are they good enough?  Both have made playoff appearances, but neither has won a playoff game.  They’re both good enough to keep their jobs, but not good enough to win the Lombardi trophy.

Since 1986, the Chiefs had made the playoffs 14 times; 14 times in 30 seasons, roughly every other year.  To me, a great season is ensured if the franchise reaches a conference championship game and in those 14 appearances, the Chiefs have made one.  And, their quarterback?  Joe Montana; an aging Montana, but Montana nonetheless at the ripe old age of 37.

That was 23 years ago.

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