AFC West: Brandon Flowers

The San Diego Chargers (5-3) will travel to face the Miami Dolphins (4-3) in an important game with early playoff implications. Both teams could be fighting for a wild card in the AFC, which would make owning the head-to-head tiebreaker important.

Who will prevail in this matchup? ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams and ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker discuss:

Walker: Miami has won two in a row and San Diego has lost two in a row, so momentum may be a factor in this matchup. Where are the Chargers in terms of confidence and ending their losing streak?

Williams: The Chargers are a veteran-led group that understands the ebb and flow of an NFL season, so confidence will not be an issue traveling on the road to face the Dolphins. Two of San Diego's three losses have come on the road, against teams that have one loss apiece (Denver and Arizona). San Diego's other loss was a three-point setback to AFC West rival Kansas City at home.

The Chargers don't make a lot of mistakes and generally force opponents to beat them. Coach Mike McCoy is meticulous in his game-day preparation and his staff is skilled in making in-game adjustments. I expect San Diego will be ready for whatever the Dolphins plan to do scheme-wise on both sides of the ball.

The Dolphins are doing a nice job of running, ranked No. 6 by averaging 138 rushing yards per game. How has new coordinator Bill Lazor turned things around on offense?

Walker: Most people expected Lazor to come in and quickly fix the passing game, but he has made his biggest contribution with the running game. Miami's ground game has been consistent, whether it was Knowshon Moreno early, Lamar Miller lately or even quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has three runs of 30 yards or more in the past three games. Lazor has done a good job of spreading out defenses and calling run plays at the right time. His read-option with Tannehill and Miller has been a huge success. Miami's passing game still needs work, but there is progress.

West Coast teams often don't look the same in Miami; San Diego hasn't won here since the 1981 season. How are the Chargers combating that and will the 10-day layoff help?

Williams: Although West Coast teams traditionally struggle in early games traveling east, the Chargers have been relatively successful of late, posting a 7-5 record in 10 a.m. PT games since 2012. The extra days off have given this banged-up team a chance to get some players healthy, and with Philip Rivers controlling the offense, the Chargers are competitive more times than not. One of the keys for San Diego will be the possible return of running back Ryan Mathews. Out for the past six games with an MCL sprain, the Fresno State product could help provide some much-needed balance to San Diego's offense if healthy and cleared to play on Sunday.

After starting 1-2, the Dolphins have won three of their past four games to get back into the AFC playoff race. What has been the difference?

Walker: Part of it is the schedule. The Dolphins cannot hide from that fact. All three of Miami's victories during this stretch have been against the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7), Oakland Raiders (0-7) and Chicago Bears (3-5). Those are bad teams the Dolphins must beat if they want to be considered playoff contenders, and to their credit they took care of business.

The Dolphins are 1-3 against teams with winning records. That is why this game against San Diego is such a good measuring stick of where the Dolphins stand. Miami's next four opponents have a combined record of 22-9 (.709 winning percentage), so we are going to find out quickly whether the Dolphins are contenders or pretenders.

San Diego was banged up before its previous game against the Broncos. Where are the Chargers injury-wise heading into Sunday's game?

Williams: The Chargers should be in a better place health-wise. Four weeks ago against Jacksonville, the Chargers barely had enough healthy bodies to fill 46 spots on the active roster. Along with Mathews, cornerback Brandon Flowers and running back Donald Brown are possibilities to return from concussions. Pass rushers Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring) and Cordarro Law (ankle) also should have a chance to make it back on the field on Sunday. Offensive linemen D.J. Fluker (ankle) and Rich Ohrnberger (back) have been playing with injuries, so the extra time should work in their favor as well.

The Dolphins are No. 3 in passing defense, holding teams to just 212 passing yards a game. How does the front seven set the tone?

Walker: Miami's front four are the strength of the entire team. The Dolphins have waves of good players, starting with defensive ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon and defensive tackles Jared Odrick, Earl Mitchell and Randy Starks. Miami also is getting contributions off the bench from Derrick Shelby, Chris McCain and Dion Jordan, who recorded a couple of tackles in his first game off suspension. This group sets the tone for the defense. The Dolphins' linebackers have been inconsistent with the exception of Jelani Jenkins, who leads Miami in tackles (53) by a wide margin.

The Oakland Raiders' offseason roster is at its limit of 90 players.

After a few fits and starts to begin free agency, the Raiders rebuilt their offensive and defensive lines and addressed the secondary and offensive backfield while adding veterans with championship pedigrees.

In the draft, Oakland scooped up the best player available in linebacker Khalil Mack, who has been nothing short of impressive in the offseason workouts, while picking up the franchise's quarterback of the future in Derek Carr (who has been elevated to second string) and a potential starter at left guard in Gabe Jackson.

[+] EnlargeReggie McKenzie
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsRaiders GM Reggie McKenzie still has $10 million in salary-cap space to use for roster upgrades.
All draft picks are signed, so there will be no training camp holdout drama.

But if you think the Raiders are done tinkering with the 90-man roster, think again. General manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen have said all along they expect to make moves that, in their estimation, make the Raiders a better football team.

Plus, they have money to play with when entertaining such ideas. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Raiders still have more than $10.7 million in salary-cap space. But again, to paraphrase McKenzie's refrain, just because he has money in his pocket does not mean he's going to spend it … on junk.

Sure, $10 million may sound like a lot, and the Raiders are far from a perfect unit -- Allen himself equated his roster situation to a kid sitting on Santa's lap and not getting everything he asked for -- but Oakland's cap surplus pales in comparison to the likes of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have more than $27 million in cap space. Yet it's enough to make the New Orleans Saints and their relatively meager $1.9 million in cap space squint with jealousy.

Still, are there any free agents still out there who would put the Raiders -- coming off consecutive 4-12 seasons and with the NFL's toughest strength of schedule in 2014 -- over the top?


Yes, the Raiders could still use a true No. 1 receiver. They could also use some veteran help at tight end. And sure, with D.J. Hayden's injury, another tried and tested cornerback would seemingly fit the bill, which is why the Raiders non-pursuit of Brandon Flowers was a head-scratcher of sorts. Instead, Flowers went from one division rival (the Kansas City Chiefs) to another (the San Diego Chargers).

McKenzie has already made an assortment of minor roster moves this offseason, and with more than $10 million still at his disposal, what he decides to do with it will tell you all you need to know about how he feels about the current roster.

Should McKenzie stand pat, or are there players out there he should target? Would it be more prudent to possibly use that salary-cap space on camp cuts?
San Diego Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers talked with Chris Ello and Ben Higgins of Xtra 1360 AM radio about signing with his new team. Check out the audio link here.

Flowers said that the opportunity to play against his old team, the Kansas City Chiefs, weighed in his decision to sign with the Chargers.

“That definitely played in the decision,” Flowers said. “Just the way I play the game, I always felt like it would be fun. I never got that chance to play against an old team. Once I was on a team for my whole life, I was on that team for good.

“So just going back to play against some of the fellas and some of the coaches, it will definitely be fun. But I respect everybody in that program. They run a great program in Kansas City, and they have great fans in Kansas City. But just for personal reasons I think it will be fun to line up across those guys.”

Flowers said he was caught off guard by Kansas City releasing him in a cost cutting move earlier this month.

“It’s a business,” he said. “And in this business you have to roll with the punches. Once the release happened, my phone and my agent’s phone was a hotline. A lot of teams were calling, and a lot of teams were trying to bring me in because they’re not used to getting a six-year starter this late that can maybe fall into their lap.”

Flowers said during his visit to San Diego, he spent quality time with his former teammate at Virginia Tech, receiver Eddie Royal. And Flowers credited Royal with making him feel comfortable and selling the Chargers to him as a landing spot.

“It was a crazy experience with guys on the phone for three days straight nonstop,” Flowers said. “I knew what teams I wanted to play for. And if I could come to terms with those teams, I definitely wanted to make it. And San Diego was one of the top teams I wanted to play for.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Brandon Flowers was a bit of a misfit for the Kansas City Chiefs since they hired John Dorsey as general manager and Andy Reid as head coach last year. At 5-foot-9, Flowers suddenly found himself playing for a team that preferred its cornerbacks much larger. He didn't play well last season despite making the Pro Bowl, and his unhappiness over being shifted to nickelback in obvious passing situations became evident when he held out from offseason practice.

Flowers was still the best cornerback the Chiefs had. That, too, became obvious during his offseason absence.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Flowers
Kyle Rivas/Getty ImagesReleasing cornerback Brandon Flowers will create some cap space, and depth problems, for the Chiefs.
The Chiefs released him anyway, saving $7.5 million this year against the salary cap and another $7.5 against their cap next year. They will need that cap room if they sign quarterback Alex Smith and linebacker Justin Houston to contract extensions.

But Flowers wasn't a luxury for the Chiefs, given their current state at cornerback. They will pay a price for acquiring that cap room, and the only question is how hefty the bill will be.

At cornerback the Chiefs are left with only veteran Sean Smith as a proven commodity, and though Smith is an adequate starter, he's not a No. 1. Their other starter in the offseason has been Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round draft pick last year by the San Francisco 49ers. The Chiefs grabbed him off waivers at the start of last season and he played well for a time as their third cornerback.

By season's end, his play had deteriorated to the point that the Chiefs felt compelled to move him to the bench.

The other cornerbacks currently contending for playing time are Ron Parker, a journeyman who has been beaten several times in offseason practice, Chris Owens, a 5-9 nickelback and rookie Phillip Gaines, a third-round draft pick who so far has shown little.

That is not a great mix, so despite some of the hard times Flowers had last season, this move doesn't make the Chiefs any better. Flowers to an extent forced the Chiefs to make the move, with his holdout. Next week's mandatory minicamp was looming, and the Chiefs evidently tired of the situation.

That is behind the timing of the move, and the cap savings won't hurt, either. But the Chiefs will still feel some pain. It will come as they try to cover for his loss and as they watch him play well for some other team in 2014 and beyond.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- At their latest practice, the Kansas City Chiefs lined up with second-year player Marcus Cooper as their top cornerback, veteran journeyman Ron Parker as the other starter and developmental player Malcolm Bronson as the nickel back.

It's only June and offseason practice, but regardless of the time of year it's not a good look that the Chiefs are having to dig deep into their depth chart to line up at a crucial position. It got even uglier when wide receiver Donnie Avery got behind Parker in practice to catch a long touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Smith.

One of the normal starting cornerbacks, Sean Smith, has been dropped to second team after his recent arrest for DUI. Smith will eventually be back in the starting lineup, but an NFL suspension for violation of the substance abuse policy looms with him.

The other starter, Brandon Flowers, hasn't been participating in offseason practice and it's unclear whether he will show for next week's minicamp, the only mandatory event of the offseason, or even for training camp. The usual nickelback, Chris Owens, is out with an injury.

So while the start of training camp is more than a month away, it's not too early to be alarmed with what's going on at cornerback. The Chiefs ask much of their cornerbacks. They play a lot of press coverage and are often left without much help from the safety. It's not ideal for the Chiefs to have backups in their starting lineup at those positions or be forced to back off the way coordinator Bob Sutton wants to play because they do.

Maybe Flowers eventually shows up, Smith gets promoted back into the lineup and Owens returns healthy. Then the Chiefs can relax at cornerback. Until all of that happens, they need to be concerned.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The issues regarding cornerback Brandon Flowers and outside linebacker Justin Houston are very different, but the two were joined by one factor as the Kansas City Chiefs began full-squad offseason practice Tuesday. The players, both Pro Bowlers last season, were missing.

The practices are voluntary, and technically they can’t be disciplined for being absent. But only three others among the team's 90 players were missing from the practice field. Two were injured and one, draft pick De'Anthony Thomas, isn't allowed to be here under NFL rules because classes at his college, Oregon, are ongoing.

[+] EnlargeEric Decker
John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT/Getty ImagesBrandon Flowers, 24, is to cost the Chiefs $10.5 million against their salary cap this season.
A couple of factors are evidence the absences of Flowers and Houston aren’t casual or innocent. First, the Chiefs ignored the issue publicly. Coach Andy Reid didn't answer media questions after practice, and players issued bland and repetitive answers to questions about their missing teammates as if they were coached on their responses.

Second, and perhaps more telling, the first two players drafted by the Chiefs this year were an outside linebacker, Auburn’s Dee Ford, and a cornerback, Rice’s Phillip Gaines.

So the Chiefs appear to be preparing for life without Houston and Flowers, one the team's choice and the other not. Flowers has no reason to otherwise avoid the Chiefs at this point. He is slated to make a healthy $5.25 million in base salary this season.

But he’s been a bit of a misfit in the Chiefs’ new world since they hired Reid and general manager John Dorsey last year. Flowers excelled under the previous Chiefs administration and coaching staff, playing well enough to earn a five-year, $48.75 million contract in 2011.

Reid and Dorsey, though, have otherwise been collecting bigger cornerbacks. Last year, they signed 6-foot-3 Sean Smith, the other starter, and claimed off waivers 6-2 Marcus Cooper, who replaced Flowers as a starter in practice on Tuesday. This year, the Chiefs drafted Gaines, who is 6-0 but has long arms. The staff believes he plays bigger than his size.

Flowers is 5-9. Throw in the fact that he had a rotten season last year, perhaps the worst of his six-year NFL career despite making the Pro Bowl. That honor, by the way, was a shock to the Chiefs.

The Chiefs have taken an odd public stance with Flowers this offseason. Their answers to questions about him have been short and slightly awkward. Asked during the draft whether Flowers was a good fit for the Chiefs’ press man-to-man coverage, Dorsey said, "Brandon Flowers is a good football player. He’s a good fit for what we do."

Flowers costs the Chiefs $10.5 million against their salary cap. They would reduce that number to $7 million by cutting or trading him before June 1; after June 1, the cap number would reduce to $3 million.

Houston, meanwhile, is in the final year of the contract he signed as a third-round draft pick in 2011. A two-time Pro Bowler with 26.5 career sacks, including 11 in 11 games last season, Houston has outplayed that contract. He is due a salary of $1.406 million this season.

He could walk through the Chiefs’ door any day and return to practice. The Chiefs obviously don’t think he will.
Last week's signing of veteran nickelback Chris Owens was an interesting one for the Chiefs. Owens has been an effective player covering opposing slot receivers the past five seasons, first for the Atlanta Falcons and then last season for the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins.

Owens joins a group of cornerbacks for the Chiefs that includes starters Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith, backup Marcus Cooper and a group of younger, developmental players that includes Ron Parker, who played well in a limited number of snaps last season. That doesn't account for safety Husain Abdullah, who played some at cornerback in 2013.

That's not a drastic change from last season. Owens in effect takes the roster spot of Dunta Robinson, who was released at the end of last season. Robinson played most of his 252 snaps last season early in the year before he was benched for ineffective play.

I have my doubts whether this group is strong enough to compete week in and week out. The drop in Flowers' play last season was troubling and could be a sign he isn't a good fit in coordinator Bob Sutton's defensive schemes, ones that require the cornerbacks to play a lot of press coverage.

The Chiefs have to match up next season with, among others, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Emmanuel Sanders and Julius Thomas of the Denver Broncos. Do you feel better about their ability to do that with more success than they did last season?

I didn't think so. So cornerback is on my list of positions to watch for the Chiefs in the first round this year. If, say, Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State is available when the Chiefs make the 23rd overall pick, it would be a mistake for them to pass on him. While the signing of Owens might make for a good start for the Chiefs in upgrading at cornerback, it shouldn't be the end of their effort.

Q and A: Should KC draft a QB?

February, 22, 2014
Feb 22
Another week, another excellent batch of Kansas City Chiefs questions for the mailbag. Here we go:

Revisiting the Flowers-Carr debate

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
Colleague Todd Archer suggests in a recent post that the Dallas Cowboys may be having some regret over the massive contract they gave two years ago to former Chiefs cornerback Brandon Carr.

You think the Chiefs might be having some regret over choosing Brandon Flowers instead of Carr at that juncture? The Chiefs, after drafting both players in 2008, came to the point where they had to choose between the two, and early in the 2011 season they signed Flowers to a five-year contract extension worth $48.75 million.

They couldn't have afforded both players. Carr wasn't going to take one penny less from the Chiefs than Flowers received and in fact he got more from the Cowboys two years ago. To this day they're both among the top 10 in highest paid cornerbacks as far as average salary.

It's interesting to note the Chiefs had Scott Pioli as their general manager and Romeo Crennel as their defensive coordinator when they made their choice. Pioli was replaced last year by John Dorsey, who through his words and his actions made it clear he prefers big cornerbacks. The Chiefs last year acquired two big cornerbacks, 6-foot-3 Sean Smith and 6-2 Marcus Cooper.

Carr, at 6-foot and 206 pounds, is another big cornerback. Flowers, at 5-9 and 187 pounds, is not.

Kansas City's defensive coordinator is now Bob Sutton, who prefers cornerbacks with press man-to-man and one-on-one coverage skills. That, too, is Carr's game. Flowers can play it as well but may be better suited to the system of Crennel, one that provided more consistent safety help.

Flowers didn't play as well last season, his first with Sutton. Flowers had some horrible games and was shifted to slot coverage, the domain of the little cornerback, later in the season.

It's a mistake for the Chiefs to give up on Flowers, big contract and all. He's only 28, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him bounce back with a solid year in 2014. But the drop in his play last season is troubling and begs the question whether they would have been better off with Carr instead.

Chiefs mail: Maclin in K.C.?

February, 8, 2014
Feb 8
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Lots of good Kansas City Chiefs questions this week. Let's get to them.

Chiefs star in Pro Bowl

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs were represented by 10 players at the Pro Bowl and some figured prominently. A look at how they fared:

-- Linebacker Derrick Johnson was the game's defensive MVP with eight tackles and a forced fumble. He also had a big hit on his Chiefs teammate, running back Jamaal Charles, in the first quarter.

-- Quarterback Alex Smith was just 9-of-22 for 116 yards, but he threw the winning touchdown pass, a 20-yarder to Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray.

-- Charles rushed five times for 43 yards and caught a pass for four yards.

-- Dexter McCluster returned five punts for an 11-yard average, including a 26-yard return.

-- Safety Eric Berry and nose tackle Dontari Poe each had an interception. Berry also had four tackles.

-- Linebacker Tamba Hali and cornerback Brandon Flowers each had a pair of tackles.

-- Linebacker Justin Houston registered no stats. Neither did offensive tackle Branden Albert, but he had a good time nonetheless in his first Pro Bowl game. Albert tweeted afterward, "Hawaii.... I'll see you next year."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Earlier I posted on the team grade given to the Kansas City Chiefs by Pro Football Focus and how the Chiefs made the second biggest leap from 2012 to 2013 behind only the Carolina Panthers.

The Chiefs' big jump was fueled by improved performances from several players. On offense, the grade PFF gave to running back Jamaal Charles went up dramatically from one season to the next. PFF's grade for quarterback Alex Smith in 2013 was vastly improved to that of his 2012 predecessors, Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel.

On defense, the grades for defensive linemen Dontari Poe, Tyson Jackson and Allen Bailey, linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, and safety Eric Berry were all significantly up from 2012.

A few players had their grades drop. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and offensive tackle Branden Albert were among them, but neither player had a huge drop.

One player did have a huge drop; cornerback Brandon Flowers. He will participate in the Pro Bowl on Sunday in Hawaii, more of an honor for what he did in previous seasons than how he played in 2013.

Flowers had some dismal games in 2013, none worse than the torching he received against Dez Bryant and the Dallas Cowboys early in the season, and then by the San Diego Chargers halfway through. In fairness to Flowers, he missed a couple of games early in the season because of a sore knee, and it might not have been right the rest of the way.

Still, it's a fact that Flowers didn't play very well, and it's to the point it's natural to wonder about his future with the Chiefs. He's a 5-foot-9, 187-pound player on a team that now prefers bigger cornerbacks. It's more than a little telling that the Chiefs used Flowers to cover the slot receiver in their nickel defense as the season went on.

Flowers has a big contract (he counts $10.5 million against the Chiefs' 2014 salary cap) and he might not be the best fit for a team that requires it's cornerbacks to play so much one-on-one coverage.

It might be a mistake for the Chiefs to give up on Flowers, who turns 28 next month. Flowers has played well in seasons past, and though he's a little guy, but doesn't usually play like one. He's not afraid to stick his nose into the running game.

But in a division with big receivers like Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Keenan Allen, Rod Streater and Andre Holmes, it's a fair question: Is Flowers right for the Chiefs?

It will be interesting to see in the coming months what general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid think.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For those of you with ESPN Insider access, Mel Kiper Jr. has an interesting look Insider at the 2008 draft, and how it would have gone if we knew how things would turn out with the players available that year.

Remember that 2008 is the year the Kansas City Chiefs amassed many extra draft picks, including two in the first round, and cleaned up. They drafted among others Branden Albert, Brandon Flowers, Jamaal Charles and Brandon Carr that year.

The Chiefs had the fifth and, after trading up a couple of spots, 15th selections in the first round. Kiper Jr. gives the Chiefs offensive tackle Jake Long of Michigan with the fifth pick. Long was selected No. 1 overall that year by the Miami Dolphins.

So with no need for Albert, chosen by the Chiefs in 2008 with that 15th overall pick, Kiper Jr. gives them Central Florida guard Josh Sitton, originally picked by the Green Bay Packers in the fourth round.

To show what a strong draft the Chiefs had in 2008, Kiper has four players selected that year by the Chiefs going in the first round. He has Albert going 28th in the first round to the Seattle Seahawks, Carr 24th to the Tennessee Titans, Flowers 21st to the Atlanta Falcons and Charles 12th to the, sorry, Denver Broncos. Imagine that one, if the Chiefs had been playing against Charles twice each season all these years.

The Chiefs that year took Albert in the first round, Flowers in the second, Charles in the third and Carr in the fifth.

Interestingly, the Chiefs took defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey with the fifth pick that year. Dorsey left the Chiefs last year as a free agent for the San Francisco 49ers.

In Kiper’s 2008 redo, Dorsey isn’t among the 32 players chosen in the first round.

Plays that defined the season: No. 2

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs had reason to feel good about their pass defense after the season-opening game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. That changed quickly in the season's second game, on Sept. 15 against the Dallas Cowboys at Arrowhead Stadium.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Denny Medley-USA TODAY SportsLong pass plays by Dez Bryant and the Cowboys in Week 2 foreshadowed deeper issuer for the Chiefs.
On Dallas' second play from scrimmage, wide receiver Dez Bryant outmuscled Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers to catch a 16-yard pass from Tony Romo along the right sideline. Flowers fell down and was unable to make the tackle.

Safety Quintin Demps was in position to make the tackle but Bryant ran around Demps and down the sideline. Demps and fellow safeties Kendrick Lewis and Eric Berry gave chase but didn't catch Bryant before he ran out of bounds at the Kansas City 29 for a 53-yard gain.

The Chiefs held the Cowboys to a field goal on that drive and eventually won the game 17-16. But that play was an omen of things to come.

The Chiefs allowed an astounding 63 passes of at least 20 yards. They were able to mute the effect of such plays early in the season, when the Chiefs were consistently pressuring the opposing quarterback and forcing turnovers by the bucket.

Pressure on the quarterback and the flood of turnovers eventually stopped, but the Chiefs kept allowing the big plays. The Chiefs allowed eight passes of 20 or more yards in a Dec. 15 game against the Oakland Raiders, who finished tied for 24th in the league in passing yardage.

Then there was the 45-44 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. The Chiefs led 38-10 early in the third quarter. From that point, the Chiefs yielded four long passes, none longer than Andrew Luck's 64-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton with 4:21 left that gave the Colts their first lead of the game and the one that would hold up.

It was fitting that Kansas City's season was extinguished by its inability to stop the long ball. It was a problem that started with the arrival of Dez Bryant and Tony Romo at Arrowhead Stadium.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Ask cornerback Brandon Flowers about the recent tackling problems of the Kansas City Chiefs defense and he'll give you a general answer that doesn't reflect any great resolve.

"It's hard," Flowers said. "Guys in the National Football League, there are some great runners out there. We've got to make sure to do our part to bring them down whether it's running to the ball ... whatever we have to do."

But ask Flowers about a particular play, one in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts two weeks ago, and he shows an acceptable amount of anger.

On that play, a 51-yard touchdown run by Colts running back Donald Brown, Flowers, free safety Kendrick Lewis and nickel back Dunta Robinson each missed attempted tackles. Lewis actually had Brown wrapped up but failed to bring him down.

"With the defensive guys we have in this building, this room, that huddle, that's not acceptable at all," Flowers said. "We watched it a hundred times to see what happened on that run. The guys that missed those tackles, everybody faulted themselves. Nobody blamed each other. We know we've got to get it right."

The Chiefs were a solid tackling team when the season began but things have been sloppy in that department over the past several weeks. The Chiefs set a torrid defensive pace for the season's first half by sacking the quarterback and forcing turnovers at a high rate.

The Chiefs cooled down considerably in those categories since then and their tackling has worsened. Those are indications of a tired defense.

Eight defensive starters, Flowers among them, received a bye of sorts last weekend when they didn't play in the final regular-season game in San Diego. Maybe they will return refreshed in Saturday's playoff rematch against the Colts in Indianapolis.

If not, tackling against Brown and the Colts could be a problem again. If it is, the Chiefs probably won't get another chance to get it right.