Andy Reid

Raiders' Mike Mayock, Jon Gruden need to keep striking gold to catch Chiefs

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Raiders' Mike Mayock, Jon Gruden need to keep striking gold to catch Chiefs

The Raiders have been chasing the Kansas City Chiefs for years now. Watching Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes win a Super Bowl didn’t motivate that pursuit.

The Chiefs have won four straight AFC West titles. They are rabbits. The Raiders, Chargers and Broncos are greyhounds circling the track, never quite capturing their prey.

Kansas City even ruined the Raiders’ return to the playoffs in 2016. The Silver and Black finished 12-4 and lost the division title on a tiebreaker because Reid bested Jack Del Rio twice that year.

Reid did that with Alex Smith. He drafted Patrick Mahomes a year later and sat him a season before unleashing the Texas Tech product into the NFL world in 2018. Mahomes threw 50 touchdowns and won the MVP that year. He hoisted the Lombardi Trophy the next.

He’s the first player to do all that before age 25. So, you know, he’s going to be around a while.

Mahomes and Reid should be a problem for the eight years remaining on Jon Gruden’s monster decade-long contract.

The Raiders have been searching for a way to beat the Chiefs over a game and an entire season. It remains a primary objective, though the journey seems arduous. Mahomes has Reid cooking up plays in the lab, finding new and inventive ways to connect with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins or get Damien Williams going on the ground.

The defense has been just good enough to let Mahomes win important games, and while NFL roster turnover’s as certain as a western sunset, having an elite coach and quarterback will help mitigate important losses and the cumulative effect of having lower NFL draft picks. This league’s built for parity, but Chiefs seem set for a long run at the top.

That doesn’t mean Kansas City will own the AFC West as New England has for nearly two decades. There’s room for upward mobility if Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock play their cards right.

Despite the fact the Raiders were in the playoff after midseason, the 2019 campaign proved the Raiders aren’t there yet. Let’s not forget they’re in the midst of a major roster rebuild. Stacking two more NFL draft classes like last year’s and the Silver and Black will open a realistic championship window.

That’s how good the 2019 class was in its first year. They got massive contributions from early picks and later-round prospects, with a foundational group filling needs at several premium positions.

The Raiders have two first-round picks in 2020, with last year’s No. 27 overall pick Johnathan Abram returning after playing just one game last year. They also have three picks in the third round, creating opportunities to land impactful talent.

They must do better on the free agent market and in trades, with some massive swings and misses there. Trent Brown might’ve been the best veteran acquisition, with picks wasted on Martavius Bryant, Antonio Brown, Zay Jones and Trevor Davis. It’s tough to say Lamarcus Joyner or Tyrell Williams were worth big salaries in 2019, but both will be around in 2020 to improve on last year’s results.

Eventually, this discussion would change to the Raiders’ red-hot-button topic at quarterback. Derek Carr separates Raider Nation like Republicans and Democrats, with little desire among both factions to reach across the aisle.

The Raiders will look for upgrades at quarterback and every other position this offseason, but that list could well be very short. I’m not going to start a Derek Carr column with my 606th word. That would be burying the lede. That’s for another time, but I’ve been consistent with my opinion the Raiders should continue building around Carr during this offseason. If he can’t get a good thing going in 2020, then maybe make a change. Let’s not forget the 49ers came really close to winning it all with Jimmy Garoppolo, a very good quarterback nowhere near Mahomes’ level. It can be done with someone of Garoppolo/Carr quality.

[RELATED: How Maxx Crosby built foundation for excellent Raiders rookie season]

Unless, of course, Gruden and Mayock find something special. Reid had Smith going strong, but that didn’t stop him from taking Mahomes.

The Chiefs have an elite talent behind center now, and that certainly complicates the quest to catch and then consistently beat a Super Bowl champ who resides in the AFC West.

Why Andy Reid, Kyle Shananhan's legacies are more than 2020 Super Bowl

Why Andy Reid, Kyle Shananhan's legacies are more than 2020 Super Bowl

Super Bowl LIV was great, especially if you traffic in takes. 

The fourth quarter of the Kansas City Chiefs' 31-20 win over the 49ers on Sunday began with a perfect narrative setup. A 49ers win, and coach Kyle Shanahan would firmly put 28-3 in the rearview mirror while Chiefs coach Andy Reid Still Can't Win The Big One. A Chiefs victory? Shanahan Blew It Again and Reid has Career Validation. 

A day later, Reid now surely is headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame because of the Chiefs' win -- never mind that his 207 in the regular-season are the seventh-most in NFL history, and that Marty Schottenheimer is the only retired coach with at least 200 wins who doesn't have a bust in Canton, Ohio. Shanahan, meanwhile, now carries the reputation Reid just shed as the NFL's most talented offensive mind who can't get it done in big moments. 

With Sunday's loss and the Atlanta Falcons' infamous Super Bowl LI collapse against the New England Patriots, Shanahan has now been the offensive play-caller for two of three teams to blow double-digit leads in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl. That's an ignominious distinction, and Shanahan has played his part in earning his newfound label, just as Reid did with his clock management. 

But as was the case for Reid, it's simply too reductive. If any number of small moments go the other way Sunday, the conversation surrounding Shanahan's play-calling looks much different. 

George Kittle was called for offensive pass interference late in the first half, erasing a 42-yard gain that would've left the 49ers in the red zone. What happens if Chris Jones doesn't get a hand on Jimmy Garoppolo's pass to Kittle -- who was isolated on aging defensive end Terrell Suggs -- with 5:25 left in the fourth quarter? What happens if Garoppolo doesn't airmail Emmanuel Sanders

You can ask similar questions about the Falcons' loss to the Patriots three years ago, when Shanahan's crushing loss came at the hands of another generational quarterback. Tom Brady facilitated Atlanta's collapse, and Patrick Mahomes facilitated San Francisco's. Could you say that Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan or Garoppolo was the better QB in either matchup? Before he coached Mahomes, arguably the most-accomplished 24-year-old quarterback in NFL history, Reid's teams lost to Tom Brady (twice), Kurt Warner (twice), Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger.

The Chiefs lost to Brady again last year, meaning 10 of Reid's 14 postseason losses have been at the hands at seven of the best quarterbacks this century. Kurt Warner is a Hall of Famer, and Brady, Brees, Rodgers and Roethlisberger surely will join him in Canton. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and the signal-callers play an outsized role in every game. Brady and Mahomes' greatness played a big role in Shanahan's losses, too. 

Of course, the NFL also is a league defined by parity. Teams play, at maximum, 20 regular-season and playoff games in a single campaign. Shanahan has been the play-caller in all of seven playoff games, and two of those 28 quarters face deserved scrutiny. Yet sport with so much variance -- year-to-year, week-to-week, quarter-to-quarter and play-to-play -- boiling down a coaching career to two distinct 15-minute periods fundamentally discounts football's inherent randomness.

The 49ers won 13 regular-season games a year after winning four. Garoppolo's health, Raheem Mostert's emergence, and the acquisitions of Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel, Kwon Alexander and Dee Ford accounted for so much of that improvement. San Francisco also lost four games in 2018 by seven or fewer points and won by similarly small margins in 2019. 

[RELATED: Why 49ers' 2019 season will be so difficult replicate]

This is not to absolve Shanahan's decision-making, whether at the end of the first half or in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV. However, any number of 49ers -- on both sides of the ball -- bear much of the burden of Sunday's loss, too. They also lost to a quarterback well on his path to all-time greatness. 

The bright lights and big stage naturally lead to the need to ascribe a Deeper Meaning to the participants in the spotlight. But when you strip it all away, things are sometimes just as simple as they seem. 

Chiefs' Tyrann Mathieu 'grateful' Kyle Shanahan, 49ers abandoned run game

Chiefs' Tyrann Mathieu 'grateful' Kyle Shanahan, 49ers abandoned run game

Kyle Shanahan is going to be questioned a lot, and frankly, it will be deserved.

The 49ers' coach had his team in position to win Super Bowl LIV, leading 20-10 with 11:57 remaining in the fourth quarter after safety Tarvarius Moore intercepted Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and returned the ball to San Francisco's own 20-yard-line. Up to that point in the game, the 49ers had averaged over 6.2 yards per rush in building their advantage.

But for whatever reason, Shanahan diverted from that strategy as he attempted to close out the victory. Of the eight plays over the 49ers' next two drives, San Francisco attempted only three rushes compared to five pass attempts. The two drives gained a combined 22 yards, took only 4:07 off the clock and resulted in two punts. The Chiefs took far better advantage of their first two drives after the interception, putting together a 10-play, 83-yard drive and a seven-play, 65-yard drive, both of which resulted in touchdowns to put Kansas City in front, 24-20, with less than three minutes left in the game.

Those would prove to be the decisive scores in the contest, as the Chiefs would go on to defeat the 49ers by a score of 31-20. Afterward, Kansas City defensive back Tyrann Mathieu expressed his gratitude for San Francisco's decision to favor the pass over the run down the stretch.

"We were grateful they got out of the run and started to throw the ball," he said.

When asked after the loss as to the thinking behind those decisions, Shanahan insisted he felt the team needed to prioritize getting first downs over burning clock. Obviously, due to the final result, that's going to be questioned. It's also not the first time Shanahan has ended up on the wrong side of an historic come-from-behind victory, as he was the Atlanta Falcons' offensive coordinator when they blew a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

[RELATED: Shanahan explains not calling timeout late in first half]

The 49ers certainly had their chances to ice the game away, but clearly, they came up short. Meanwhile, the Chiefs didn't, and now, they're Super Bowl champions. In winning, Kansas City coach Andy Reid got off the schneid after a postseason career filled with some questionable decisions. Shanahan will have to wait at least another year to do the same.