Chiefs own desolate end to this could've-been season
By the time the Super Bowl was over Sunday night, all the luster and promise of the Chiefs' so-called #RunItBack quest had fizzled flat and landed hollow.

Their 31-9 loss to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium was part dud, part meltdown and just about all fiasco - an unsavory end to the most remarkable 12 months in franchise history. The defeat was so thorough, so deflating, that it's almost hard to quantify all that went awry.

The Chiefs couldn't contain Tom Brady, who quarterbacked his seventh Super Bowl victory in 10 appearances and first in a Tampa Bay uniform. Unable to compensate for a hideous run of offensive line injuries, they couldn't generate a semblance of the typical offensive output we've seen since the dawn of Patrick Mahomes - a liability magnified by a spree of dropped passes, including two that caromed off would-be receivers' helmets in the end zone.

There was an equally bizarre outbreak of penalties, 11 for 120 yards overall, including eight in the first half - all of which seemed pivotal. (And, yes, there were a few disturbingly flimsy flags, like those pass interference calls on throws that were absolutely uncatchable.)

Despite the fact the Chiefs beat this very team on this very field 27-24 in November, the better team won so emphatically as to leave the question whether it made for a blueprint for muzzling Mahomes.

But you can't tell the true tale of this game without also acknowledging the piercing matter hovering over it all, and doubtless tormenting Chiefs coach Andy Reid. His son Britt, an assistant linebackers coach, on Thursday was involved in a three-vehicle collision that injured two young children, including a 5-year-old girl who sustained life-threatening injuries.

After the game, in Reid's first public comments since the accident, he immediately offered a statement about the matter: "I haven't had a chance to address you since the accident happened that my son was involved in. My heart goes out to all those who were involved in the accident, in particular the family with the little girl who's fighting for her life … Just from a human standpoint, man, my heart bleeds for everybody involved in that."

To know the compassionate and thoughtful Reid is to know how sincerely he means that, and how this must have been consuming him. And how it will continue to for the foreseeable future, with the girl's life in the balance and his son still hospitalized.

Moreover, KC television station KSHB reported that a police officer at the scene said they could smell "a moderate odor of alcoholic beverages"; Britt Reid allegedly told police he'd consumed "two to three drinks," as KSHB reported, citing a search warrant application. However all of this must have despaired Andy Reid, though, he rejected any notion of "distraction" ... as well he should.

To treat it as such would have trivialized the dire situation. And it was telling of Reid's character, and crucial to owning the defeat, that he avoided that. This was neither something to rally over nor something to compartmentalize … just a tragic situation that was intimately present and infinitely complicated to handle.

When he was later asked if the crash and its aftermath affected the outcome of the game, Reid said, "I'd be lying if I didn't tell you my heart bleeds for the people involved in it. … But we had put the game plan in the week before. The distraction wasn't a distraction, as far as the game plan goes. That was already in - and how we were going to work with it and go forward. "It's a loaded question. From a human standpoint, yeah, it's a tough one. From a football standpoint, two separate things. From a football standpoint, I don't think that was the problem."

Likewise, Mahomes wasn't going to indulge the idea that somehow the Chiefs were victimized. This is how he responded when asked how the crash might have affected their performance and preparation:

"It's hard to kind of put into words. It didn't take the air out of it. Guys were still ready to go. But, I mean, it's a very tragic situation. And you know you want to keep that in the back of your mind, and you give prayers to the families that were involved, especially the child that was involved. I don't want to say it affected us on the field. They beat us. There's no excuses on that. But you're definitely praying for those families."

Meanwhile, this loss itself was too lopsided, too raw and too much in the craw to appreciate the bigger picture just now. But that's also why it bears mention. Because if the finale was a wretched, chicken-scratch signature to the season, the story itself still was the unprecedented nature of the journey through a pandemic to be in position to become just the ninth team to win back-to-back Super Bowls. That way back doesn't feel so important right now, especially when we all know how rare it is to get back to a Super Bowl, and how fleeting windows of opportunity are in the NFL.

But it doesn't erase the achievement, either, summoned somehow amid the onset of the pandemic and hurdles and question marks that emerged. Guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a medical doctor, opted out of the season to help fight COVID, and teammates Damien Williams and Lucas Niang opted out for personal reasons. Every week, it seemed, the Chiefs' offensive line suffered another loss and ultimately was left in tatters … and that clearly factored into the team's offensive futility Sunday.

Even their franchise-best 14-2 record (14-1 in games they suited up the varsity) was subject to skepticism, as they won eight of those regular-season games by a touchdown or less. But the grit that came with that girded them through the crucible of losing a wobbly Mahomes to concussion protocols in their AFC Divisional Round playoff game against Cleveland, in which they fended off the Browns 22-17. And it sustained them in one form or another through a 38-24 victory over Buffalo in the AFC Championship Game.

With that, from one Super Bowl to the next, the Chiefs were a major boost to Kansas City - including as a point of pride and diversion when such things were perhaps more welcome than ever. As he considered the season Saturday in Tampa, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas pondered the endless drought between Super Bowls IV and LIV. He thought about how many fans had been apt to think, if not say out loud, "‘What I would give to have the Chiefs win a Super Bowl. We'd make a deal with the devil. I will never need anything else.'"

Then, presto, they were poised to do it again only a year later before everything turned foul Sunday. Time will tell when they'll get back, but with Mahomes, Reid and a fertile nucleus returning, here's betting there's plenty more to come. As for now, the Chiefs can only own this and start anew. Or as Reid told the team after the game, "Stand tall … And keep your eyes looking up and forward."

Vahe Gregorian, Kansas City Star, published 8 February 2021