A loss in the National Football League is never about one play. That's the truth.
There are plays that are remembered more than others and some that happen in the biggest of moments that are easy to point to as a key factor in the game, and in the case of the Kansas City Chiefs' 19-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon, one of those plays came early in the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs offense ran 52 plays on Sunday, but most will only remember the one that resulted in Alex Smith's interception with 12:20 remaining in the game. The Chiefs were trailing 12-10 and knocking on the door of retaking the lead as they faced a second-and-goal from the Bucs 7-yard line.
"Just trying to play-action pass down there, trying to sell run hard and come up firing," Smith explained of the play, which resulted in Bucs safety Chris Conte stepping in front of the quick pass and racing 53 yards the other way for the interception, after the game. "You'd love to see it a split second before you throw it. Certainly there, we're trying to sell-out. I lost vision of the safety down there. I've got to see it. It's hard, it's a bang-bang play.
"Obviously it was probably the difference-maker in the game."
It was Smith's first interception in the end zone since 2013.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after the game that it was a "predetermined throw" and a bad play call, which is his responsibility.
"It wasn't there, and it wasn't a very good call at all," Reid explained. "[Conte] didn't bite on it. He's not supposed to do anything, but he has been biting on that, and he didn't do that. Lousy call."
The pass was intended for second-year receiver Chris Conley, who led all receivers with eight targets on Sunday as veteran Jeremy Maclin missed a second straight game with a groin injury.
"We had a play called based off of what we've seen on film this week," Conley explained. "The guy [Conte] made an exceptional play. He was able to sniff it out, read it and get back into the passing lane before the ball could get there. Kudos to him on the play."
The interception came just two plays after Smith's best pass of the day, a 44-yard strike to tight end Travis Kelce deep down the right sideline—putting them in position to take the lead.
"We were rolling there at that point," Smith added. "Had a good run on first down and we're sitting there at second-and-goal and you just can't have it, you can't throw it. You've got to protect the play. It's one of those deals where we're selling out and a guy might be wide open, but when it looks like that you've got to save it as a quarterback – throw it out of bounds, go somewhere else with it."
The Chiefs finished the day 2 of 4 inside the red zone, settling for a field goal on their first drive after having a goal-to-go situation, and then the Smith interception in their other goal-to-go situation.
After picking up a win over the Carolina Panthers last week without scoring an offensive touchdown, the inability to punch it in on Sunday isn't lost among the Chiefs offensive players, particularly when it comes to their red zone inefficiency.
"We haven't been doing a good job of putting it in the end zone consistently," right tackle Mitch Schwartz explained after the game. "The field goals end up killing you at the end of the game. We just need to figure out a way to be more efficient.
"The last few weeks it feels like the offense hasn't really done its part in terms of putting up the points we need to—getting the defense in good situations and letting those guys rush (the passer)."
The Chiefs came into the game tied for the best record in the AFC and leading the division.
"It's an aberration, hopefully," Schwartz added of Sunday's loss. "It's not the type of thing a top-tier team would let happen to them, that's the unfortunate thing. If you want to take that next step, you need to wins games that you should be winning, so it's unfortunate from that perspective."
While a lot of focus will be put on the momentum-changing interception from Smith, which subsequently led to a Buccaneers touchdown on their next drive and extended their lead to 19-10, there were a number of key plays that didn't fall in the Chiefs' favor, including the three third-down conversions from the Buccaneers offense on that drive.
"We weren't able to get off the field, and once we were on the field offensively, we weren't sustaining drives," Reid added. "It just wasn't good enough all the way around. Again, as far as being ready to play – they had a good week of practice.
"It seemed like they were ready to play beforehand, but we didn't execute very well."