No NFL team has had more playoff heartbreak at home than the Kansas City Chiefs. While there are several reasons why it’s been 50 years since the Chiefs’ last Super Bowl win, their inability to win more playoff games at home is among the main reasons why Super Bowl IV remains the Chiefs’ lone championship during the Super Bowl era.
On Sunday, the Chiefs will try to avoid another home playoff letdown when they host the Texans, who are fresh off of their overtime win over the Bills in the AFC wild-card round. Sunday will mark the third time in four years that the Chiefs will host a divisional playoff game, with Kansas City routing the Colts in the second round of the 2018 playoffs before falling short against New England in the AFC Championship Game.
As Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs get ready to face Deshaun Watson and the Texans, we decided to rank the Chiefs’ most heartbreaking home playoff defeats, a list the Chiefs are surely looking to avoid adding to during the 2019 postseason.
5. Manning outscores Priest, Chiefs’ offense in historic offensive showdown
Four years after leading the Rams to their first Super Bowl win, Dick Vermeil appeared poised to become the first coach in NFL history to lead a third different franchise to the Big Game. After helping create the “Great Show on Turf” in St. Louis, Vermeil’s offense in Kansas City put up similar numbers to the Rams’ dynamic offense during the 2003 season.
Led by Pro Bowlers Trent Green, Priest Holmes, Tony Richardson, Tony Gonzalez, and Dante Hall, the Chiefs led the NFL with an average of over 30 points per game during the regular season while winning 13 regular season games.
In the divisional round of the ’03 AFC playoffs, the Chiefs faced the Colts in arguably the greatest offensive showdown in playoff history. In a game that didn’t see either team punt, the visiting Colts outlasted the Chiefs 38-31 in a game that featured 51 first downs, nine touchdowns, and 842 total yards.
After Hall’s second-quarter touchdown trimmed the Chiefs’ early deficit to 14-10, a field goal and two Peyton Manning touchdowns gave Indianapolis a 31-17 lead with just under two minutes remaining in the third quarter. The game was far from over, however, as Hall’s 92-yard kick return near the end of the quarter made it a 31-24 game entering the final stanza.
The Chiefs’ defense, could not stop the Colts, however, with running back Edgerrin James capping off Indianapolis’ 11-play, 81-yard with a 1-yard touchdown run with 11:18 left. Despite a late score by Holmes, Kansas City was unable to complete the comeback while losing their third-consecutive home playoff game.
4. ‘Captain Comeback’ leads Colts to shocking upset over top-seeded Chiefs
After running away with the No. 1 seed following a 13-3 regular season, the Chiefs, who finished the 1995 regular season with the No. 1 ranked rushing attack and top-ranked scoring defense, were heavy favorites to defeat the Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs. While the Colts did pull off an impressive win over the defending AFC champion Chargers in the previous round, Indianapolis — a pedestrian 9-7 during the regular season — was playing without future Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, who missed the Colts’ playoff run with an injury. The Colts’ offense was instead led by quarterback Jim Harbaugh, a journeyman who enjoyed a career year in 1995 at the age of 32.
In a defensive slugfest, the Chiefs took an early 7-0 lead before Indianapolis tied the score on a five-yard pass from Harbaugh to Floyd Turner. A 30-yard field goal by Colts kicker Cary Blanchard proved to be the final score of the game, as the Colts survived a furious final drive by the Chiefs’ offense that ended with Lin Elliott’s missed 42-yard field goal attempt on the second to last play of the game.
While Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas, edge rusher Neil Smith and the rest of the Chiefs’ defense held Harbaugh and the Colts to just 249 yards of offense, the Colts’ defense, led by defensive end Tony Bennett, linebackers Jeff Herrod and Quentin Coryatt, and defensive backs Ray Buchanan, Ashley Ambrose, David Tate, and Jason Belser, recorded two fourth quarter interceptions of Chiefs quarterback Steve Bono while holding Kansas City 15 first downs. Kansas City did receive a noble effort from running back Marcus Allen, who rushed for 94 yards on 21 carries in a losing effort.
3. Broncos upset Chiefs en route to their first Super Bowl win
The Chiefs left little question that they were the best team in the AFC during the 1997 regular season, winning 13 games and edging out the Broncos for the AFC West division title. That season, Kansas City boasted fifth-ranked scoring offense and top-ranked scoring defense while earning the No. 1 seed going into the playoffs. In the divisional round, the Chiefs would face the rival Broncos, who lost two of their final three games of the regular season before rebounding with a convincing wild-card win over the Jaguars, the team that had upset them the previous postseason.
The big question entering the game was who would be the Chiefs’ starting quarterback. While Elvis Grbac led the Chiefs to an 8-2 start, backup Rich Gannon went 5-1 down the stretch after Grbac sustained an injury. Instead of riding the hot hand, Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer went with Grbac, a decision that he probably regrets today.
While Chiefs’ offense struggled to move the ball with Grbac under center, the Broncos’ offense was also struggling to score points, with Terrell Davis’ one-yard scoring runs in the first and fourth quarters serving as Denver’s only touchdowns of the game. Instead of relying on John Elway and the Broncos’ dynamic offense, Elway knew that the Broncos would heave to instead beat Schottenheimer — a defensive-minded, ground-and-pound coach whose conservative nature was the stuff of legends — at his own game.
“We had fourth and one at our own four-yard-line, and I can see it in Mike (Shanahan)’s head: he’s gonna go for it,” Elway recalled during an NFL Films documentary on the ’97 Broncos. “And we really struggled on offense; they had played great defense the whole day.
“And I remember saying to Mike: ‘Beat Marty at his own game.’ Which meant, punt the ball, push ’em back and let’s play defense because that’s what got us there. And he ended up punting the ball.”
With the Broncos playing “Martyball,” the game came down the whether or not Denver’s defense, a unit that failed in the same situation one year earlier, could make the game-winning stop.
“All the years, Denver always had the opportunity to stop someone but they never did,” said former Broncos edge rusher Neil Smith, who spent his first nine seasons in Kansas City before signing with Denver the previous offseason. “So this was the centerstage for us to make a play.”
The Broncos’ defense did just that, as defensive backs Steve Atwater and Darrien Gordon combined to break up Grbac’s pass in the end zone on fourth and goal with just seconds remaining.
The 14-10 victory was the second in what would turn into a four-game postseason run for the Broncos that culminated with a 31-24 win over the defending champion Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. For the Chiefs, the loss symbolized the team’s final shot at a championship under Schottenheimer. It was also the final game in the Hall of Fame career of Marcus Allen, who had announced before the season that the 1997 campaign would be his last.
2. Patriots break hearts in 2018 AFC title game
This is the only game on the list that did not take place in the Chiefs’ first playoff game. Trailing 17-7 through three quarters, two touchdown passes from league MVP Patrick Mahomes to Damien Williams and a two-yard touchdown run by Williams gave the Chiefs a 28-24 lead with 2:03 left. And despite the Patriots regaining the league on their ensuing possession, Kansas City was able to force overtime on Harrison Butler’s 39-yard field goal with 11 seconds left in regulation.
Mahomes and the Chiefs would never get on the field in overtime, however, as two completions from Tom Brady to Julian Edelman and a 15-yard completion from Brady to Rob Gronkowski set up Rex Burkhead’s game-winning touchdown run less than five minutes into the extra session.
Chiefs fans continue to be haunted by several calls that didn’t go their team’s way. A controversial roughing-the-passer penalty helped set up the Patriots’ first fourth quarter touchdown, while an offsides penalty wiped out what would have been the game-clinching interception with the Chiefs protecting a 28-24 lead with a minute left in regulation.
The Patriots went onto win their sixth Super Bowl of the Brady-Bill Belichick era, while Andy Reid and the Chiefs suffered another devastating playoff setback.
1. Dolphins dodge Chiefs in longest game in pro football history
Two years removed from their 23-7 win over the Vikings in Super Bowl IV, Hank Stram’s Chiefs appeared bound for another Super Bowl run after going 10-3-1 during the regular season. While Len Dawson and Otis Taylor anchored a Chiefs’ offense that finished eighth in the NFL in scoring, Kansas City’s star-studded defense, led by Hall of Famers Willie Lanier, Buck Buchanan, Emmitt Thomas, Bobby Bell, and Johnny Robinson, allowed just 14.9 points per game during the regular season.
The Chiefs’ opponent in the first round of the playoffs was the Miami Dolphins, an expansion team that was still in search of their first playoff victory. But after four seasons of irrelevance, the Dolphins won 10 games in 1970, Don Shula’s first year in Miami after leaving the Colts the previous year. Miami was even better in ’71, losing just three games during the regular season. Like the Chiefs, the Dolphins also had some of the era’s best players. On offense, the Dolphins enjoyed the talents of quarterback Bob Griese, running backs Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, and Mercury Morris, receiver Paul Warfield, linemen Larry Little and Bob Kuechenberg. Miami’s fabled “No Name” defense, a group that allowed just 12.3 points per game during the regular season, was led by middle linebacker Nick Buoniconti, defensive end Bill Stanfill, defensive tackle Manny Fernandez, and defensive backs Dick Anderson and Jake Scott.
The two teams also possessed two of the best kickers of that era in Kansas City’s Jan Stenerud and Miami’s Garo Yepremian, two players who would significantly impact what would become the longest game in NFL history, a game that would be played in front of a national television audience on Christmas Day, 1971.
On a field full of stars, the best performance of the day was turned by Chiefs halfback Ed Podolak, a versatile player who was often overshadowed by the Chiefs’ bigger name players. Podolak was not to be overlooked on this day, as his seven-yard touchdown reception gave the home-standing Chiefs an early 10-0 lead.
After the Dolphins rallied to tie the score heading into the fourth quarter, Podolak’s second touchdown of the game gave the Chiefs the lead again at 24-17. The resilient Dolphins continued to battle back, however, as Dolphins tight end Marv Fleming tying the score again on a five-yard touchdown pass from Griese with 1:36 left.
But just when it appeared that the game was headed to overtime, Podolak struck again, returning the ensuing kickoff 78 yards while putting the Chiefs in position to win the game. To the shock of everyone, however, Stenerud, who at the time was considered the greatest kicker in pro football history, missed a 31-yard attempt to send the game to overtime.
“To this day, I don’t really understand why I missed that kick,” Stenerud said years later in an NFL Films documentary of that game. “It’s a very painful, hurtful thing because you not only disappoint yourself, but you cost the team a chance to go further into the playoffs. So you let down the team and coaches and millions of fans. It’s tough to take, and I feel totally responsible for missing that kick.”
In the first overtime session, both kickers would try unsuccessful field goal attempts while pushing the game into double-overtime. At one point, Podolak, after getting tackled by Buoniconti, asked Miami’s linebacker the question that no one knew the answer to.
“I remember looking up at him saying, ‘Do you think this thing will ever end?'” said Podolak, who tallied 350 total yards and two touchdowns in the game.
As the game continued on, fatigue was becoming a factor on both sides.
“I lost like 18 pounds that day,” said Csonka, who was largely held in check by the Chiefs’ defense for most of the game. “I lost so much weight that my pants were loose.”
Csonka appeared to be fine on the game’s most crucial play, a play Griese had nearly forgotten about before seeing it on the back of his play sheet before Miami’s game-winning drive.
“Here was this play that was one of our favorite plays, one of our best plays that I hadn’t run yet that I had forgotten about,” Griese recalled. “It was called, ‘Roll Right, Trap Left.’ When I called this play in the huddle, I’m looking at the (offensive line) and Csonka is next to me, and I could see their eyes light up. ‘Where has this play been all day?’ I had forgotten about it.”
Griese’s call worked, as Csonka barreled through the Chiefs defense for 29 yards to put Yepremian in position to win the game. Yepremian’s 37-yard kick was true, as the Dolphins escaped Arrowhead with a 27-24 victory.
“As soon as I hit it, I knew it was good,” Yepremian said. “I turned my back and I raised my arms, and I saw the biggest, happiest grin on Coach Shula’s face.”
In the end, the Chiefs and Dolphins put on a show in one of the most memorable games in NFL history; a game that lasted 82 minutes and 40 seconds and is still the longest NFL game ever played.
“It happened,” Warfield said of Miami’s historic win, “and it happened against one of the greatest teams I ever played against.”
The Christmas Day Classic was the beginning of Miami’s odyssey that included three straight Super Bowl appearances, back-to-back Super Bowl titles and their undefeated season in 1972. The Chiefs, conversely, are still waiting for their next Super Bowl trip, a drought they finally look to end later this month.