KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs had lost three times before, of course, but the feeling afterward in their locker room this time was different. Players talked about a lack of effort and a lack of focus, things that should not be an issue for a team playing for a division championship.
Instead, the Chiefs played as though they didn't care in Sunday's 23-7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Arrowhead Stadum, so the mood was one of hopelessness. They lost any chance at winning the AFC West and are now locked into a wild-card playoff berth.
Their first-round game in two weeks likely will be played against the team that just came into their home and pushed them around, and their situation was summed up appropriately by nickelback Dunta Robinson.
"They came in and kicked our [butt]," said Robinson, only one of the Chiefs players who was blunt with the truth. "We deserved everything we got. No excuses. We've got to look in the mirror, and we've got to decide what kind of team we want to be moving forward.
"Yeah, OK, you dominate Oakland. Yeah, you dominate the Redskins. But what are we going to do when we face other powerhouses? We're a much better team than we showed today, and we've got to play like it."
There is still time for the Chiefs to prove otherwise, but what they look like right now is the playground bully who can push around the malnourished kids from places like Washington, Oakland and Jacksonville. However, when they come up against someone their own size, they suddenly aren't so tough after all. Indianapolis is one of those opponents, and the Chiefs haven't fared well against that kind of team, one like they will see in the playoffs.
The Chiefs are 1-3 against teams that will certainly be in the postseason. The victory was in September against the eventual winner of the NFC East, either Dallas or Philadelphia. The losses were against Denver twice and now Indianapolis, and that record will look even worse if the San Diego Chargers somehow sneak into the playoffs. San Diego beat the Chiefs last month at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Colts provided the perfect excuse for the Chiefs to disprove the prevailing logic that they have gotten fat against an inferior schedule. They failed the test miserably.
"They wanted it more than we did today," Robinson continued. "We felt like we were ready coming into this game today. What happened today was totally unexpected."
Even the best of NFL teams play a lousy game now and then, and maybe the Chiefs were due for one of those games. They routed Washington and Oakland the past two weeks, and maybe it was their time to get their dose of it.
That part of it is understandable. But to let the Colts want it more? With the shot at the AFC West championship, a first-round bye and having all of their playoff games in the comfort of Arrowhead?
"The effort just wasn't there," said the Chiefs' best player, running back Jamaal Charles. "That's a playoff team. We might see them again. Everybody needs to play harder. Everybody needs to play with more effort. Everybody needs to stay more focused."
Charles scored the game's first points on a 31-yard touchdown run, and at that point, the Chiefs looked like they were back in Washington or Oakland. They looked poised to pummel another opponent. Then they just fell flat.
The Chiefs tackled poorly and gave up several big plays, but that's all the Chiefs do on defense anymore. No surprise there.
The surprises came with a lack of discipline, highlighted by a taunting penalty from the usually mild-mannered Dontari Poe after a third-down play when the Chiefs got a stop.
Another one happened when the offense, which has scored 11 touchdowns over the past two weeks, went limp after Charles' touchdown. The Chiefs committed a season-high four turnovers, three from normally sure-handed quarterback Alex Smith.
"We certainly didn't match their emotion and execution," Smith said. "I felt like especially when we came out there and got the touchdown, I don't know if we thought they were going to [lie] down ... or what. We certainly weren't able to respond like they were."
Legitimate playoff teams don't lie down. They fight back. That's what the Colts did, and by the time they responded, the Chiefs were deep into their daylong coma.
That doesn't speak well for the Chiefs and their chances in the playoffs. Just as the Broncos did twice this season, the Colts sent a message to the Chiefs on how it's done.
The message was loud and clear, but we'll have to wait for the playoffs in two weeks before we know whether the Chiefs learned from it.
"I would expect our players to be upset over this," coach Andy Reid said. "That's what I sensed in that locker room. A lot of time and effort went into preparing.
"If you're not, there's something wrong with you."