KANSAS CITY — Three weeks ago, the Kansas City Chiefs were charging toward the top of the AFC West.
They had as much momentum as anybody in the league, winners of five straight.
They had just beaten the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks.
They also had barely heard of Latavius Murray.
Everything changed over four quarters in Oakland, though. The Chiefs struggled through the rain against a team that had lost 16 straight. Murray needed only four carries to run for 112 yards and two scores before leaving with a concussion.
And the Raiders squeaked out a 24-20 win that started Kansas City (7-6) on a disastrous three-game skid.
Now, the Chiefs are in playoff peril as they prepare to face the Raiders (2-11) on Sunday.
In much the same way their season did an about-face with their first meeting, the Chiefs hope to turn things around when the longtime rivals meet again at Arrowhead Stadium.
“We still got a chance,” Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe said. “Long as we got that and we're trying to push, we're going to keep moving. There's really never any pointing fingers.”
Maybe that's because there are more places to point than fingers to do the pointing.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has been sacked 11 times in two games. Kansas City still does not have a touchdown catch from a wide receiver. Running back Jamaal Charles is banged up, as is tight end Anthony Fasano and linebacker Tamba Hali. The Chiefs' run defense has been gouged by everyone. Their pass defense hasn't fared much better lately.
With games still to go against Pittsburgh and San Diego, two teams also in the playoff mix, the Chiefs may be reaching the point of no return against the Raiders.
“The positive is there are some things we can do here to fix the issues,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “They are not things that we can't work out.”
The Raiders (2-11) could be an ideal get-right opponent, provided it's the bunch that was whacked 52-0 by St. Louis two weeks ago and not the one that stunned San Francisco last week.
Murray missed the Rams game while recovering from his concussion, but the break-out second-year running back returned to run 23 times for 76 yards against the 49ers.
“We missed him for that St. Louis game, but he came back last week, played in the game, did a nice job,” Raiders coach Tony Sparano said. “He'll be ready to go.”
With their season slipping away, the Chiefs insist they'll be ready, too.
Here are some things to watch for in Sunday's game.
TRAINER'S ROOM: Charles, Fasano and Hali all missed practice this week with knee injuries, and missing any of them would be a blow to the Chiefs. Charles is their most dynamic playmaker and Fasano helps to carve out holes for him. Hali helps to keep league sack leader Justin Houston from getting double-teamed. “Next man up, we've got to go,” Smith said.
FAST CARR: The Raiders' Derek Carr is coming off the best game of his rookie season, completing 22 of 28 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He threw for 174 yards with a touchdown and no picks against Kansas City earlier this season.
POWERFUL TRUCK: Khalil Mack may hit like, well, a Mack truck, but he hadn't been hitting the quarterback much until only recently. The Raiders' first-round pick had his first sack in Week 11 against San Diego, and is coming off his first two-sack game against San Francisco. “That's the part of my game that I've always thought about,” he said, “making plays in the backfield.”
SWISS CHEESE: Running backs have merely had to pick their hole against the Kansas City run defense lately. The Chiefs have allowed at least 100 yards rushing in six straight games, and at least 200 yards in two of them. Even without star running back Andre Ellington, the Cardinals still ran for 141 yards last week. “They make plays, too. They're professionals,” linebacker Joe Mays said. “We just have to work on our stuff in practice and be better.”
GOING FOR TWO: Oakland will be trying to win back-to-back games for the first time since Weeks 7 and 8 in 2012, and win on the road for the first time in 10 games. “They're calling it a revenge game. We're knowledgeable of that,” Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera said. “We know that and we're going to come in with the same kind of mindset.”