The Chiefs’ playoff chances might have come down to two turnovers and two controversial calls in the desert.
The Arizona Cardinals took advantage of both and handed the Chiefs a painful 17-14 defeat on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Chiefs, 7-6, lost their third straight game and fell behind San Diego, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Miami in the AFC wild-card scramble. Arizona, 10-3, remained atop the NFC playoff picture after snapping a two-game skid.
The Chiefs appeared headed to win or tie the game with 5 minutes, 23 seconds to play when quarterback Alex Smith connected on passes of 29 and 19 yards to tight end Travis Kelce to the Arizona 22.
But Arizona safety Deone Bucannon poked the ball from Kelce’s grasp as they hit the ground, and Justin Bethel recovered. The original call was down by contact, but Arizona coach Bruce Arians challenged it, and the call was reversed to a fumble.
The Chiefs had a final chance to at least tie the game after Arizona kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed a field goal in the final minute, but they failed to mount a threat.
Arizona took its 17-14 lead in the third quarter on a 26-yard pass from Drew Stanton to Jaron Brown coupled with a two-point conversion pass from Stanton to tight end John Carlson.
The Cardinals’ first touchdown in 35 offensive possessions was set up by an interception of a Smith pass by linebacker Alex Okafor, who returned it 26 yards to the Chiefs’ 42. Smith was under pressure from defensive tackle Frostee Rucker when he was intercepted for just the sixth time all season.
The Chiefs had appeared to have taken a 21-9 lead when Smith found a wide open Anthony Fasano in the end zone with 5:37 to play in the third quarter. But Fasano was called for offensive pass interference, though replays showed he barely grazed linebacker Larry Foote, who flopped to the ground like a basketball player trying to sell a charge.
On the very next play, Smith’s short pass intended for Albert Wilson was intercepted, and the Cardinals went on to score a touchdown for the first time in 35 offensive drives when Stanton lofted a pass that Brown caught at the goal line, where he had a step on Chiefs safety Ron Parker.
The touchdown gave the Cardinals a 15-14 lead, prompting the decision to go for two. Stanton fired a pass to Carlson, who barely got over the goal line despite Josh Mauga’s tackle, for the 17-14 lead.
The Chiefs led 14-6 at halftime on a pair of Jamaal Charles touchdowns — one before he temporarily left the game with an ankle injury and one after his return.
The Chiefs were trailing 3-0 when Charles, on Kansas City’s third offensive play of the game, ran to his right and broke Arizona nose tackle Dan Williams tackle, which seemed to propel Charles on to a 63-yard touchdown run.
It was the longest play from scrimmage by the Chiefs this season.
On the next possession, Charles was stopped after a 2-yard run up the middle, and as he churned for yardage, the ball was wrested from his grasp, and his left ankle appeared to be hyperextended under the pile.
Officials ruled that Charles was down by contact, and the Chiefs retained possession, but Charles walked off the field with assistance and then received treatment in the locker room.
Charles would return to the field in the second quarter, after Arizona’s Chandler Canatzaro made it 7-6 with a 33-yard field goal.
Smith converted a third-and-14 play from the Chiefs 43 with a 21-yard dash up the middle; and on the first play after the 2-minute warning, he hit Dwayne Bowe with a short pass. Bowe broke two tackles and gained 22 yards to the Arizona 13.
After a false start by Kelce — his second of the quarter — Smith threw a swing pass to Charles, who avoided Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson and followed wide receiver Jason Avant’s block on Rashad Johnson to the end zone for a 14-6 lead with 1:12 to play in the half.
Smith completed 12 of 13 passes for 109 yards in the half, the second-best first half by a quarterback in franchise history to Smith’s 15 of 16 against St. Louis earlier in the season. And the only incompletion was a drop by Kelce.
The Cardinals threatened to score in the final seconds, but Cantanzaro’s 36-yard field goal attempt clanged off the right upright. Cantanzaro would make a 39-yard field goal in the third quarter, drawing Arizona to within 14-9.