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Postseason pain: Let's rank past Chiefs losses in Divisional Round

Broncos V Chiefs
Posted at 6:18 PM, Jan 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-10 11:10:56-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If you’re the type of Kansas City Chiefs fan who still recoils at the mention of Lin Elliott’s name …

If you haven’t forgotten (nor forgiven) the phantom holding call against Greg Manusky on Pete Stoyanovich’s made field goal in “The Grbac Game” …

If you also believe the refs from the 2016 playoff game against the Steelers are unfit to work at Foot Locker ...

Well, avert your eyes, close your browser, find a happy place in your mind palace — this article isn’t for you.

The Chiefs, who host the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional Round at 2:05 p.m. Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, are 3-8 all-time in the Divisional Round, including some of the franchise’s most painful playoff losses.

[RELATED: Chiefs are heavy betting favorites vs. Texans]

There have been some good moments, like last year’s 31-13 beating administered to the Colts.

Kansas City — which is 3-8 in Wild Card games, 2-2 in Conference Championships and 1-1 in Super Bowls — also won a Divisional game at Houston during the 1993 season, a game most famous for tight end Keith Cash spiking a football off a banner with Oilers coach Buddy Ryan’s image.

The 13-6 victory in a Divisional game at the Jets in December 1969 preceded the team’s lone Super Bowl title.

It’s been a half-century since the Chiefs’ second and most-recent Super Bowl appearance, a victory against Minnesota in Super Bowl IV on Jan. 11, 1970, at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans.

With Patrick Mahomes, there’s more reason than any season since for optimism that another championship is possible.

Thus, we’ll consider the following exercise an exorcism of past Divisional Round demons. Here’s my ranking of the pain inflicted by those past Divisional Round losses:

Ranking the Chiefs’ Divisional Round losses

8. 1991 — Bills 37, Chiefs 14

Jan. 5, 1992, Rich Stadium in Buffalo

In the midst of the Bills’ unprecedented run of four straight Super Bowl appearances, the Chiefs served as a Divisional Round sacrificial lamb. Mark Vlasic stepped in for an injured Steve DeBerg and tossed four interceptions in a lopsided loss, but it wasn’t an unexpected result.

7. 1968 — Raiders 41, Chiefs 6

Dec. 22, 1968, at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum

Both teams were 12-2, but Oakland outclassed Kansas City, a loss that undoubtedly fueled the Chiefs to go all the way a year later. Len Dawson tossed four interceptions (and no touchdowns), while Daryle Lamonica threw five touchdowns (and no interceptions). Hall of Fame wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff totaled 180 receiving and three touchdowns in the Raiders’ romp.

6. 2015 — Patriots 27, Chiefs 20

Jan. 16, 2016, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts

If Justin Houston and Jeremy Maclin are healthy, perhaps the game turns out differently. But they weren’t and it didn’t. Tom Brady had a 300-yard game, Julian Edelman had a 100-yard day and Rob Gronkowski caught two touchdowns. The Chiefs made it close late, but didn’t show enough urgency on the final touchdown drive and never got a chance to tie the game.

5. 2016 — Steelers 18, Chiefs 16

Jan. 15, 2017, at Arrowhead Stadium

This one was frustrating, because the Chiefs had no answer for Le’Veon Bell, who rushed for 170 yards on 30 carries, while the Steelers had no solutions in the red zone. Six Chris Boswell field goals were enough to snuff out a promising season after a controversial holding penalty on Eric Fisher wiped away the game-tying two-point conversion with 2:43 left. Much like the year before at Foxborough, the Chiefs’ offense never got the ball back with a chance to atone.

4. 2003 — Colts 38, Chiefs 31

Jan. 11, 2004, at Arrowhead Stadium

The “32” defense, a moniker Greg Robinson’s group was tagged with for its NFL rank, lived up to its billing in the only postseason appearance of the Dick Vermeil era. Peyton Manning and company never punted. Neither did Trent Green and company, but Priest Holmes’ fumble at the end of a 48-yard run on the second play after halftime proved to be the game’s only turnover and the difference in heartbreaking loss.

3. 1995 — Colts 10, Chiefs 7

Jan. 7, 1996, at Arrowhead Stadium

The Lin Elliott game. A lot of Chiefs fan rank this loss as the biggest playoff gut punch of all-time. The Chiefs had a dominant defense, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and the ever-graceful Marcus Allen leading the offense. But three missed field goals by Elliott — from 35, 39 and finally 42 yards out in the game’s closing seconds — undid it all. It was an epic disaster, but it’s fair to wonder if that team led by Steve Bono could have toppled the Cowboys’ dynasty in the Super Bowl. For that reason, the Chiefs’ ultimate ceiling in 1995, the loss ranks third.

2. 1971 — Dolphins 27, Chiefs 24 (OT)

Dec. 25, 1971, at Municipal Stadium

Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram considered this Chiefs team the best of the bunch, better than the squads that reached Super Bowl I and won Super Bowl IV as well as the 1962 AFL champion Texans squad from before the relocation. The team featured eight Hall of Fame players and were only ousted in the longest game in NFL history by a Dolphins team that featured seven Hall of Famers and would go on to produce the only undefeated season in league history a year later.

1. 1997 — Broncos 14, Chiefs 10

Jan. 4, 1998, at Arrowhead Stadium

The Super Bowl was played in Kansas City during the Divisional Round that season, you’ll never convince me otherwise. The Chiefs (13-3) and Broncos (12-4) finished with the best records in the AFC that season and were the best teams in the NFL regular season, according to most metrics.

Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of failings in the game — starting Elvis Grbac over Rich Gannon, Broncos blockers coating their uniforms with silicon, the phantom holding call on Greg Manusky that erased a field goal, Ted Popson’s unfortunate injury in the closing minute and ultimately wasting home-field advantage again.

To make things worse, the final insult after the loss, which ended with Grbac’s futile fourth-and-2 throw to Lake Dawson, was watching John Elway break through to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in Super Bowl XXXII. Everything about it was a knife twist for Chiefs fans.