When a team loses a 21-3 halftime lead in the playoffs, there will be fingers pointing in a number of directions. Deservedly so, even given the by-its-nature small sample of football games. At the most critical juncture of the season, you simply cannot lose a game like that.
In the wake of that particular Kansas City Chiefs loss on Saturday, many of those fingers landed on now-Bears head coach Matt Nagy, who was at the time, the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator, and nominally the man calling the plays that led the NFL’s leading rusher, Kareem Hunt, to receive just 11 carries overall, and only five in the second half when the Chiefs were clinging to that lead. Without any additional context, oh man, that looks really bad.
But when you actually dig into the context of the game situation, I’m not really sure you can say that the lack of touches for Hunt – *in isolation* – is a damning indictment of Nagy’s performance.
By the time the Chiefs got the ball for the first time in the second half, the clock stood at just 6:25 left in the 3rd quarter, and the lead was down to 11 points. That’s hardly just-salt-the-game-away-by-pounding-the-run territory.
On the first second half possession, after a first down incompletion, the Chiefs ran Hunt and then quarterback Alex Smith, but didn’t get the first down. They recovered a fumbled punt – you could call it a second possession, though the Titans never had the ball – and immediately gave the ball back to Hunt, who lost a yard. Behind the sticks, the Chiefs dropped back to pass on 2nd and 11, and 3rd and 13. Understandable.
The Chiefs didn’t get the ball back for a third possession until 14:08 in the 4th quarter, at which point the Titans had reduced the lead to 21-16. After getting an early first down, the Chiefs gave the ball to Hunt for back-to-back runs, but the second was stuffed to set up a 3rd and 2. Smith threw on 3rd and 2 and would have had a big gain on an even bigger conversion had Orson Charles not dropped the ball. Throwing after a stuffed run, again, understandable.
Then, by the time the Chiefs got the ball for a fourth second half possession (their final of the game), they were trailing 22-21 with 5:58 left in the game. They went pass heavy at that point (with one Hunt run mixed in), and moved the ball from their own 27 to the Tennessee 44. That Hunt run came on first down of their final series, and he gained just one yard. Again, pretty understandable that they were forced to go back to the pass from there.
And it’s not like Hunt was gashing the Titans, either. His 3.8-yard average in the game was far below his 4.9-yard regular season average, and he gained just 17 yards on those five second half carries. Once Travis Kelce went out with a concussion, the Titans seemed even more focused on stopping the run.
In the end, Hunt got just five carries in the second half, but the Chiefs had only four short possessions in the half. You can argue that the playcalling was otherwise problematic, but the context for that second half makes it pretty clear why Hunt didn’t see more touches. Of the Chiefs’ 20 plays in the second half, Hunt got a carry on 25% of them.
It’s also not entirely clear that Nagy was calling the plays:
Respected Chiefs blog; Interesting, if true.https://t.co/AMn1kFdWbM
Bombshell! Nagy to Bears was a done deal before Chiefs playoff game. Reid took back play scheming and calling to allow Nagy time to prep for his interview. Nagy helped script first 15 plays with Reid, who then took over play calling.
— The Chiefs Kingdom (Ver 2.0) (@1_ChiefsKingdom) January 8, 2018
You can scroll through Chiefs Twitter here to see all the fans who seem quite confident that Nagy was not calling those plays alone (or at all) on Saturday. Maybe they’re just angry at Andy Reid, or maybe they’re close to the situation and know better what was really going on.
Arrowhead Pride pointed to a moment in the second half when – to their local eye – it certainly seemed like Reid was calling the plays:
Jon Gruden gettin cameras to zoom in on Andy Reid’s play chart? 🤔😂 pic.twitter.com/5yWMIEl62n
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) January 6, 2018
For his part, Reid was not going to get into the matter after the game, only quipping that the good plays were called by Nagy and the bad plays were called by Reid.
We might never know who called the plays in the second half of that loss, but when you consider the context – and the possibility that Nagy wasn’t even calling those plays – I don’t think it makes sense to say that the playoff loss should be held up as this obvious ding against the Bears’ new head coach.
That’s all I’m sayin’.