KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Indianapolis Colts were hot, but their streak — and their season — came to an end Saturday night on the weathered field of Arrowhead Stadium.
Winners of 10 of their previous 11 games, the Colts came into this weekend’s Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs as the AFC’s sixth seed facing the top-seed Kansas City Chiefs and their red-hot offense led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
The Colts failed to gain any true momentum in the matchup, however, and ultimately fell, 31-13.
The game was expected to potentially be a shootout between quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Mahomes, but self-inflicted wounds such as drops, penalties and uncharacteristic, sloppy play did the Colts in and prevented them from finding a groove when all was said and done.
"It's very stunning,” Colts head coach Frank Reich told reporters after the game. “We just talked about in the playoffs just wanting to play good football. Minimize the mistakes. All year long, we've been good on third down, and we came out early and we just couldn't convert and they were converting. Against that offense we knew we were gonna have to be sharper than that, and we did not do that."
The Colts finished the game with 10 penalties, coughing up 70 yards, with six of the calls being of the pre-snap variety. There were two separate drives on defense in which the Colts were called for multiple penalties.
"Last game, our first playoff game, we had two penalties, I think. We just said, 'That's the formula. No penalties, no penalties,'" Reich said. "We talked about the offsides — Mahomes was No. 1 in the NFL in drawing people offsides — and so we knew that going in, we talked about it and he still got us. For a young guy, the way to work the cadence the way that he does, I give him credit for that."
The Colts' offense — facing Kansas City’s 31st-ranked defense — could barely muster any effectiveness, achieving just 15 first downs and going 1-of-10 combined on third and fourth downs. Four of their five first-half drives were three-and-outs.
The Chiefs were able to get to Luck for three sacks, causing him to fumble on one, which was recovered by the defense. They also batted four of Luck’s passes down at the line of scrimmage.
Another unexpected turn of events Saturday was a couple of misses by the normally sure-legged Adam Vinatieri, who has made a name for himself kicking in the elements. Vinatieri missed a chip shot 23-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half, which was the shortest distance of a missed field goal in his entire career, according to the NBC broadcast.
He would also later miss an extra-point attempt following the Colts’ only offensive touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Before the Chiefs put the game away with a touchdown of their own on their ensuing drive, those missing four points would have had the Colts within one score of the Chiefs.
"I know it was tough conditions out there for kicking,” Reich said. “I don't know the specifics, but it was just one of those days where it was all three phases. It seemed like that was indicative of we were going to make a mistake like that in all three phases, and certainly had it there as well."
The Colts had been playing relatively cleanly since the start of the second half of the season, but these self-inflicted wounds unfortunately killed any momentum they could put together. As a result, the Colts' defense was forced to stay on the field for an overwhelming portion of the game; Indy was outgained by nearly 20 minutes in time of possession.
In the end, it was a disappointing conclusion to the Colts’ season, but they far exceeded outside expectations, especially considering the team’s 1-5 start. Without a doubt, there is reason to be excited for 2019 and beyond.
"I mean, we struggled early. We were not able to convert on third down, they were, and that was a struggle. And it really wasn’t a question of what they were playing, we just didn’t quite have our best stuff today, coaching or playing," Reich said of Saturday's game.
"It’s crazy. As bad as that game was for how long it seemed bad, there was still a time there at the end when I thought we got it to 11 points and we’ve still got a chance. Just a credit to the guys to keep fighting."