KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Add another chapter to the Kansas City Chiefs’ moribund history against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Chiefs tried incredibly hard for 60 minutes to give the game to the Colts, who tried every bit as hard not to take it until the closing moments Sunday in their home opener at Lucas Oil Stadium.
That changed with 24 seconds left when Matt Ryan, acquired via trade from Atlanta during the offseason, found rookie tight end Jelani Woods on a skinny post for a 12-yard touchdown in a 20-17 win.
"They have players, too, and we gave them too many chances," quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. "We didn't put it in the end zone and they made plays at the end of the day. We have to be better. That's all I can say. As an offense, we have to be better."
Previously winless Indianapolis, which tied at Houston in Week 1 and got shut out last week at Jacksonville, managed only 259 yards against a Kansas City defense that was missing three key contributors and still racked up five sacks.
But the Chiefs made mistake after mistake on special teams, struggled to get untracked on offense and couldn’t stop the Colts after Chris Jones’ unsportsmanlike conduct penalty extended the game-winning drive after a sack.
“We just didn’t play good enough, especially on the offensive side of the ball starting with me,” Mahomes said. “Obviously, we missed some kicks and stuff like that. But at the end of the day, we had multiple opportunities to score, so we have to find ways to get the ball in the end zone. That starts with me.”
Cornerback Trent McDuffie remains on injured reserve after a hamstring injury, defensive end Mike Danna suffered a calf injury last week and linebacker Willie Gay Jr. started serving his four-game suspension, but that defense did enough to win — until it didn’t.
The Chiefs’ offense managed only 2.5 yards per carry rushing, handed the Colts a touchdown off a missed punt, got blanketed on kickoff returns and botched a pair of field-goal decisions in the fourth quarter.
But the most glaring mistake came when linebacker Nick Bolton sacked Ryan for an 8-yard loss on third-and-6 at the Indianapolis 39-yard line with around 5 minutes remaining.
Jones piled on as well and appeared to say something to Ryan on the ground. The veteran defensive tackle continued talking to Ryan after the players got up, at which point the flag was thrown.
"I didn’t see any pushing or shoving,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I’m not exactly sure. There were two guys talking. I know that. It seemed like Chris got called on that, so I guess the best advice would be ‘don’t talk.’”
Jones told The Athletic’s Nate Taylor after the game that he “didn’t say anything vulgar or disrespectful,” but added that the NFL is changing and he needs to evolve with it in accepting responsibility for the loss.
Instead of facing fourth down and almost certainly punting, the Colts got new life and milked the clock another 10 plays en route to the game-winning score.
“In this league, a lot of time football comes down to situations,” said safety Justin Reid, who finished with seven tackles. “We had situational football at the end of the game, and we came up short. I think we made too many plays shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Unlike the AFC Divisional win against Buffalo, Mahomes and the offense couldn't conjure any magic in the final 18 seconds after the kickoff return on an afternoon when Kansas City went 3 for 10 on third down and managed only 315 total yards.
"I’ve got to make sure I’m putting the guys in better position and get us in a rhythm,” Reid said. “I’ve got to do a better job getting us in a rhythm, and that’s not taking place. We’ve got to go back and look at that.”
Instead, Kansas City's last gasp ended when Mahomes' pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster was tipped and intercepted.
He finished 20 of 35 for 262 yards with a touchdown and that interception.
Mahomes also led the rushing attack with 26 yards on four carries, while a trio of Chiefs running backs totaled 29 yards on 17 carries — barely 1.7 yards per attempt.
Jerick McKinnon led the way with seven carries for 20 yards followed by Isiah Pacheco's three carries for nine yards. Clyde Edwards-Helaire had zero yards rushing on seven carries, but he did score a touchdown and added 39 yards on five receptions.
Smith-Schuster led all receivers with 89 yards on five catches, while tight end Travis Kelce had four catches for 58 yards with a touchdown and two-point conversion. He also dropped a possible TD in the fourth quarter, which probably would have been enough for Kansas City to avert the disaster that followed.
“Mentally, this team has a good fortitude to where, when bad things happen, we’re able to move on to the next play,” Justin Reid said. “It was just last week whenever we were able to turn the tide on the game, and this week that’s just how the NFL goes sometimes. But I don’t think this is going to be anything that’s detrimental to us as a program, to the mentality of the locker room. I think we’re all still hungry to be successful and we’re just going to be champing at the bit after we watch this tape.”
Despite the struggles, the Chiefs led 14-10 at halftime before the two teams traded field goals to start the second half.
Ryan’s game-winning touchdown was the only touchdown in the second half.
Kansas City’s defense forced a three-and-out to start the game, but rookie returner Skyy Moore muffed the ensuing punt inside the 5-yard line.
Three plays later, the Colts made the Chiefs pay when Matt Ryan found rookie tight end Jelani Woods alone in the back of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown and the early lead.
Mahomes overthrew Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a third-down go route on Kansas City’s next possession before another special teams miscue — Moore failed to catch Indianapolis’ second punt — pinned Mahomes and company inside the 1-yard line.
With the Chiefs’ defense continuing to hound Ryan, cornerback L’Jarius Sneed had a fourth-down sack to give the offense decent field position for once.
Four plays later, Mahomes found tight end Travis Kelce for a 3-yard touchdown, but Indianapolis maintained a 7-6 lead after Matt Ammendola hooked the extra point wide left.
"We played pretty good, but just not good enough to win," said defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who notched his 98th career sack in the loss.
Ammendola handled kicking duties for the second straight week with Harrison Butker sidelined by a sprained ankle.
Indianapolis extended its lead to 10-6 with a field goal midway through the second quarter, but Carols Dunlap’s sack and forced fumble of Ryan helped Kansas City claim its first lead in the closing minutes before halftime.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire did the honors with a 1-yard touchdown run to cap a five-play, 21-yard drive after the turnover.
Mahomes then hit Kelce for a two-point conversion, which stood after a lengthy review, for a 14-10 halftime lead.
Both teams only managed 102 yards on offense in the first half, but the Colts ran more plays — 36 compared to 27 — and only averaged 2.8 yards per play.