Kansas City, Mo. After a haphazard performance filled with penalties and turnovers, the Kansas City Chiefs had every reason to feel glum about a potential playoff rematch with the Indianapolis Colts.
Veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson was taking a decidedly different approach.
“They’ve got the upper hand on us right now because in their minds they think they can beat us,” he said after the Chiefs’ 23-7 loss to Indianapolis on Sunday. “If we go down there, it will be a different story. But we’ve got to fight our way back.”
Jamaal Charles ran for 106 yards and the game’s first score, but the Chiefs (11-4) didn’t do much the rest of the way. Instead, Andrew Luck threw for 241 yards, and Donald Brown had TDs on the ground and through the air as the Colts (10-5) scored the game’s final 23 points.
Alex Smith threw for 153 yards, but he fumbled once and was picked off twice after throwing just six interceptions his first 14 games. Knile Davis also fumbled the ball away for Kansas City.
“I think it was a team effort in not a very good way,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You can’t pull your foot off the accelerator when you go out that quick. You have to keep going.”
The Chiefs vowed to do that if the teams meet again in two weeks.
Kansas City is assured of the No. 5 seed in the playoffs after Denver beat Houston earlier Sunday to wrap up the AFC West and the No. 1 seed. That means the Chiefs would head to Lucas Oil Stadium for a wild-card game if the Colts end up as the No. 4 seed.
“I know we’ll have some motivation. Definitely,” Chiefs offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz said. “They might think we’re one team, but we’ll be back in a couple of weeks.”
Early on, the Chiefs appeared as if they were going to pick up right where they left off last week, when they hung 56 points on the Raiders. They marched downfield on the opening drive, and Charles took a carry around the right side 31 yards for a touchdown.
The Colts defense stiffened after that, though, and the closest Kansas City came to scoring again in the first half came when Ryan Succop yanked a 47-yard field goal wide left.
“Anytime you can play the type of game we played today, against a playoff team in a hostile environment, it speaks to the character of our football team,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “They stick to the process and stay focused on the process.”
Indianapolis kept taking advantage of breakdowns in the Kansas City pass defense, the most glaring one coming after Davis fumbled in the second quarter.
Brown leaked out of the backfield unnoticed by the Kansas City defense, Luck hit him with a dump-off pass that he took virtually untouched 33 yards for a score.
“I think they busted the coverage,” Brown said, “so that made my job a lot easier.”
Brown’s job wasn’t a whole lot tougher when the Colts got the ball back in the third quarter off Smith’s interception. He raced through a gaping hole, then tight-rope walked down the sideline 51 yards for a score — a video review showed that he somehow stayed inbounds.
Adam Vinatieri added to the Colts’ cushion with his third field goal, capping a drive kept alive by a defensive hold and a taunting penalty after the Chiefs had already held on third down.
“I can’t tell you why we came out here and performed the way we did today, we just did,” Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers said. “We should have come out and matched their intensity.”
Smith was picked off again by Jerrell Freeman in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter, and then the quarterback fumbled the ball away with 3:24 left to seal the game.
“The way we opened up, marching down the way we did, it felt like things were going to be the way they’ve been,” Smith said. “We really didn’t get into a rhythm after that, didn’t execute in any area, and then the turnovers. The turnovers hurt you.”
Notes: Vinatieri has now scored 1,993 points, passing fellow kicker Jason Elam for seventh on the NFL’s career list. ... Three of the Chiefs’ four losses have come at Arrowhead Stadium. ... Kansas City had scored 101 points the last two weeks. ... The Colts started their seventh offensive line combination and fifth in five games.