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Chiefs wide receivers cost them another game as season-long storyline continues

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — It was easy to forget amid all the grumbling about officials Sunday night, when Kansas City had a go-ahead touchdown pass against the Buffalo Bills called back by penalty in a 20-17 defeat, that the Chiefs had put themselves in such a dire predicament.

It was also easy to once again cast blame on their wide receivers.

The obvious target was Kadarius Toney, who not only dropped an easy pass early in the game but also was the offender on the rarely called offensive offside penalty.

The flag wiped out an incredible 49-yard touchdown in which Travis Kelce caught the ball, lateraled to Toney as he was getting dragged to the turf, and watched him run the rest of the way to the end zone.

But plenty of blame belongs to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, too. He was whistled for a false start, miscommunicated with Patrick Mahomes on a pass that would have converted a third down in the second quarter, and finished with two catches for 22 yards in the latest disappointing performance by the Chiefs' most highly-paid wide receiver.

“There's some good things in there that we're getting better in some spots,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday, “but we have to clean up some tings, penalties and drops offensively, and obviously the scores early on the defensive side. We have to take care of that so we're not playing from behind, and some of that was also turnovers on the offensive side, too.”

Yes, there was the interception thrown by Mahomes, but also the fumble by another Chiefs wide receiver, Rashee Rice.

Kansas City (8-5), which has lost four of six and now leads the AFC West by just a game over Denver, has survived mediocre play at wide receivers ever since Tyreek Hill was traded to the Dolphins.

But not even Mahomes has been able to make up for the poor play of the group this season, as evidenced by just about any metric you choose: The quarterback is on pace to set career lows as a starter of 7.0 yards per attempt, 261.4 yards per game and a touchdown rate of just 2.7 percent.

The only career high that Mahomes could set? His interception rate of 2.3 percent.

The problems have been across the board, but Toney and Valdes-Scantling have been the biggest. Toney also dropped a pass that led to a pick-6 by Brian Branch in a season-opening loss to Detroit, and Valdes-Scantling dropped an easy pass late in a 21-17 loss to the Eagles that would have given Kansas City the lead.

The uncomfortable question that faces the Chiefs is this: If not them, then who? Rice has had a promising rookie season, fumbles and drops aside, while journeyman Justin Watson has been one of their most sure-handed wide receivers. But the Chiefs have not been able to find a third option, much less a fourth or fifth, who can consistently make plays.

“I feel like we’re making progress,” Rice insisted. "We’re going to continue to make progress, and the more we make progress, the more we will be able to not have anyone else in control of the game besides us.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Chiefs pass rush had struggled in recent weeks, but it managed to bring down the Bills' Josh Allen three times on Sunday.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

As good as their defense has been this season, the Chiefs have given up big yards and early points in three straight games. That has been tough to overcome for an offense that always seems to be fighting itself.

STOCK UP

DE George Karlaftis had two quarterback hits and a sack on Sunday. The second-year pro has quickly developed into a high-motor pass rusher who could help the Chiefs absorb the loss of DT Chris Jones if he leaves in free agency after the season.

STOCK DOWN

Connor Embree is in his first season coaching wide receivers after spending his past two as an offensive quality control coach, and it has not been a good one for him. He replaced Joe Bleymaier, who is now the Chiefs' passing game coordinator.

INJURIES

The Chiefs did not have any major injuries against Buffalo. Now, they hope they can get RB Isiah Pacheco (shoulder), LT Donovan Smith (neck) and LB Drue Tranquill (concussion) back for the stretch run.

KEY NUMBERS

1 — The number of times Patrick Mahomes has thrown for more than 306 yards this season. The Falcons' Desmond Ridder and 38-year-old Joe Flacco of the Browns were among the QBs that eclipsed that mark on Sunday.

NEXT STEPS

The Chiefs visit New England on Sunday.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

Dave Skretta, The Associated Press