KANSAS CITY, Missouri (AP) — In the span of a few hours Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs went from controlling the AFC West and taking care of a playoff spot to watching the Oakland Raiders take everything instead.
The Chiefs, who have already beaten the Raiders twice, were leading Tennessee 17-7 in the second half at a frosty, frigid Arrowhead Stadium. But an offense that inexplicably went conservative down the stretch and a defense that finally cracked allowed the Titans to rally for a 19-17 victory.
When the Raiders beat San Diego later in the afternoon, it was Oakland that had improved to 11-3, moved atop the division and clinched its first playoff berth since the 2002 season — and the Chiefs who were 10-4, in second place and with their own postseason fate still in the balance.
"Everything we want is still right there ahead of us," Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin said. "We just need to go out, get back to the film room, get back to practice, correct our mistakes and learn from them."
There were plenty of mistakes to learn from, beginning with two scoreless red-zone trips, another poor day of third-down conversions and an offense that went into a shell at halftime. It was the third straight week they failed to score an offensive touchdown in the second half.
"We were awful on third down and we didn't capitalize in the red zone," Maclin said. "We could have put the game away much, much earlier, so we have nobody to blame but ourselves."
The loss was damaging on several fronts for Kansas City, but most importantly when it comes to playoff positioning. The Chiefs own the tiebreaker over the Raiders by virtue of their head-to-head wins, but they are now a full game behind their division rivals in the standings. That means the Chiefs dropped from the No. 2 seed in the AFC, which would have meant a first-round bye and at least one home game, to the No. 5 seed and a first-round game on the road.
"You can sit here and point fingers, you can do all that stuff that bad teams do, or you can fix the problems. So we've got to make sure we do that," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "We're still in good position. We've got a good football team coming in here. We need to have a good week of practice. That's what is real. I have enough trust in this team that we'll do that."
That team coming in will be the Denver Broncos, who are in desperation mode of their own after a loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday. The Chiefs play them at Arrowhead Stadium on Christmas night.
By then, they'll know what has transpired Saturday in Oakland's game against Indianapolis.
The Chiefs don't plan to be scoreboard-watching, though, because what happens in that game doesn't much matter to them if they don't take care of Denver. And if they can't right their wrongs from a disheartening loss to Tennessee, the same fate is liable to befall them next Sunday.
That means better execution on third down. Better play-calling across the board. Better everything when the Chiefs get inside the 20-yard line, the scoring zone that has given them fits all season.
"We have to get it figured out," said Alex Smith, who threw an interception in the end zone early in the second half when the Chiefs had a chance to essentially put the game away.
"I mean, it's easy to say (the Chiefs got conservative) when things don't go well," he said. "Certainly we were not in a rhythm at all. We did not get anything going. We were pretty stagnant in the second half, so it's easy to say when things are not going well. You've got to look at it and get better."
Smith paused for a second before putting everything into perspective.
"This time of year, these are all huge games," he said, "and the littlest things make big differences."