The Kansas City Chiefs (7-6) dropped their third straight game on Sunday after a 17-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals (10-3).
Penalties, inopportune turnovers and missed opportunities were the stories of this game for the Chiefs.
"We had every opportunity today and we didn't get it accomplished," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after the game. "Nine penalties is absolutely ridiculous for a football team and everything else that went with it.
"These are fixable things, and we just have to put our nose to the grinder and get it done."
The nine Chiefs penalties accounted for 75 yards, but none was bigger than the offensive pass interference call on tight end Anthony Fasano midway through the third quarter.
On third-and-10 from the Cardinals' 19-yard line, Fasano found himself wide open and caught a pass from quarterback Alex Smith in the end zone, seemingly giving the Chiefs a 21-9 lead.
Instead, Fasano was flagged for offensive pass interference and the play was nullified. Before Fasano had slipped down the field vertically to give Smith an option as he scrambled outside of the pocket, he made contact with linebacker Larry Foote, who had established position and went straight to the ground after the contact.
On the ensuing play, Smith was intercepted by linebacker Alex Okafor and it was returned 26 yards for the Cardinals defense.
Five plays later, the Cardinals got a 26-yard touchdown reception from Jaron Brown from Drew Stanton, a 14-point swing in a matter of moments.
"It's just an emotional part of the game," Fasano said. "It's a difficult part. Whenever a touchdown is taken away in a key situation, it's going to be pretty emotional. We had chances to win the game. We didn't take advantage of it."
But the most questionable call of the day came late in the fourth quarter with the Chiefs offense driving and trailing by three, tight end Travis Kelce caught the third-and-4 pass from Smith and took it 18 yards down the field.
After the play was over, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians challenged that Kelce was down by contact before he had lost control of the ball, which the refs actually agreed with as they reversed the call and gave the Cardinals the ball back with 5:31 remaining.
"I can't comment on the officials," Reid said after the game. "We all have to do our job to the best of our ability."
"From my vision, I thought [Kelce] regained possession of the ball but I'm not making that call. You have to keep the ball high and tight first of all in that area and then we have to make sure.
"Go onto something besides the official's call because I don't have anything good to say."
After reviewing the play, Kelce lost control of the ball on the way down, but looked to have secured it on the ground again before it was in any possession of a Cardinals defender.
"I thought I regained the control of the ball, but I can't go back in time," Kelce said. "I fumbled the ball, it was called a fumble and I'm just going to have to live with that and come back next week and help my team win. Either way, it was a huge play in the game. It's my job not to even give doubt or put the team in that position."
After the game, referee Craig Wrolstad explained the call.
"The tight end caught the ball, took a number of steps, got hit as he was going to the ground before any part of his body hit the ground, the ball came loose. The ball remained loose. He tried to get it, the other guy tried to get it, but the ball continued to be loose and rolled to a stop, at which time a player five yards away picked up the ball.
"So, he actually had a clear recovery. So, the challenge was that he had initially ruled it a catch, and he was down by contact. And, when we looked at it in replay, we saw that indeed the ball had come loose, he was not down by contact and then if there is a clear recovery, then we can reverse it and give the ball to the defense. And that's what happened."
The question is whether or not Kelce had regained control of the ball when he was on the ground, and at this point it doesn't matter. The call went against the Chiefs, who put themselves in the position of needing that call for the chance to win the game, and they didn't get it.
Kansas City Chiefs take on the Cardinals in Arizona on Sunday December 7, 2014
The truth is the Chiefs had several other chances in this game to make game-changing plays like the one they had against them with Kelce, and they weren't able to make them.
Three separate Chiefs defenders—Phillip Gaines, Sean Smith and Josh Mauga—all had interceptions in their hands and weren't able to secure the ball.
"As a team, we thrive off of stuff like that so when the ball is in the air, we have to figure out a way to bring it down," Gaines said after the game.
The Chiefs have only forced nine takeaways all season, which ranks them 30th in the NFL.
"Definitely when I get an opportunity like that, I have to make it," Mauga said. "I could have put our team in a different situation so this one hurts. These opportunities don't come very often.
"I have to make those plays."
Offensively, it was a tale of two halves.
In the first half, Alex Smith was 12 of 13 for 109 yards and a touchdown, while the Chiefs offense averaged 9.5 yards per play overall and held a 14-6 lead going into halftime.
But they struggled mightily in the second half and were shutout by the Cardinals defense, which sacked Smith five times in the game.
After surrendering six sacks last week to the Broncos, the Chiefs offense knew Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles liked to bring different kinds of pressure, but they still weren't able to handle it throughout the course of the game.
"They were mixing it but that's been their M.O., the whole deal is pressure and the threat of pressure and guys up there," Smith said of the Cardinals defense. "They do a good job mixing it up. They have a big, big package.
"A lot of different people come in at different times and I felt like we handled it really well early and then late in the game, didn't do a good enough job with it."
In the second half, Smith went 14 of 26 for 184 yards and an interception.
"I didn't feel like we did necessarily anything different," Smith said. "Once again, I thought we kind of got behind the chains in certain situations. I think that was the biggest thing early there in the first half, we did a better job of staying on schedule and balanced.
"There in the second half, especially the fourth quarter, we got one dimensional and didn't handle the pressure well."
Despite all of the struggles, the Chiefs still had a chance with 1:09 remaining in the game and the ball at their own 24-yard line with a chance to tie, or even win the game with one final successful drive.
After 58 seconds, the Chiefs had moved the ball just seven yards and faced a fourth-and-15, which saw Smith's pass fall incomplete short across the middle to Jason Avant.
It was a frustrating day for everyone, and that's the biggest takeaway.