KANSAS CITY, MO. — The Kansas City Chiefs have experienced myriad playoff heartbreaks over the years, yet their loss to the New England Patriots on Saturday may have left an entirely different kind of sting.
One that hurts no less.
This wasn't a blown 28-point lead, like what happened two years ago in Indianapolis. Or failure to force a punt, which happened on another occasion against the Colts.
This was a 27-20 defeat that left the Chiefs wondering what might have been.
What if their star players — wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, pass rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, even running back Jamaal Charles — weren't dealing with injuries?
What if Knile Davis hadn't had a costly fumble?
What if the Chiefs didn't squander precious seconds at the goal line trying to score their final touchdown, ruining their opportunity to get the ball back?
"No doubt it was successful," wide receiver Albert Wilson said of the season, "but we did have one goal, which was to get to the Super Bowl, and we came up a little short."
Consider in order the frustrations of the Chiefs' first defeat in a dozen games.
Maclin hurt his ankle in their playoff win in Houston and did not practice all week. And while he was able to play sparingly Saturday, the speed and quickness that made him such a dangerous target for Alex Smith this season were missing, and he was rendered nearly useless against New England.
The same could be said of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, both of whom dealt with ailing knees late in the season. Houston came back from a hyperextended knee to play against the Texans, but he was still experiencing pain and a shadow of himself against the Patriots.
Charles has been out most of the season, and the Chiefs got by with Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. But both of them were also hobbled in the postseason, hampering Kansas City's ground game.
"It's tough," Smith said of the injuries, which also included several offensive linemen. "But this time of year, every team's got them. Every team is dealing with it."
With the trio of Charles, West and Ware hobbled by injuries, that forced Davis into action at running back. With a history of fumble troubles, few were surprised when he coughed one up.
Then there was the time management at the end of the game.
Often criticized during his Philadelphia tenure for his time management, Reid was again left to defend his use of the clock during a wrap-up news conference at the practice facility Sunday.
The Chiefs, trailing 27-13, declined to use any of their timeouts during a 16-play drive that took more than 5 minutes off the clock. Then, with first-and-goal and 2:33 left, the Chiefs allowed 25 seconds to expire before the two-minute warning, and several more seconds to lapse before scoring.
That left them with 1:13 to go, essentially forcing Kansas City to try an onside kick. New England tight end Rob Gronkowski recovered it, wrapping up the outcome.
"We work those situations all the time, so we wanted to maintain our timeouts the best we could," Reid said. "It wasn't a perfect world. It didn't quite work out how we wanted."
When asked why the Chiefs huddled in those closing minutes, allowing more time to waste away, Reid replied: "It's easy to say, 'Why not have another play called?' We had another play, absolutely. But you want to give it your best shot, your best plays in there."
Ultimately, it wasn't enough. The injuries and miscues and time management problems proved to be too much to overcome, leaving Kansas City with another bitter ending to a memorable season.
After their sluggish start, the Chiefs set a franchise record for consecutive wins. They ended a 22-year streak without a playoff victory. They set all kinds of personal records and gave a fanbase that had grown tired of mediocrity a glimpse of what success might be like.
"It's always bittersweet if you're not winning the Super Bowl," Reid said. "Every year is different. I got it. And I'll be the first to tell you that every team is different. But you build foundations. That's where you start."