INDIANAPOLIS - Larry Johnson figured Indianapolis’ defense wanted to send a message to the rest of the NFL, and he paid the price.
Driven by talk of how Johnson — and everyone else in the playoffs — would simply overpower the league’s worst run defense, the Colts did a masterful job of turning the NFL’s second-leading rusher into a non-factor.
Johnson carried a season-low 13 times for only 32 yards in a 23-8 loss that sent the Chiefs home from their AFC wild-card game wondering whether their offense had become too predictable.
“We acted like we were playing against dumdums out there and that’s not the case,” Johnson said. “We assumed they didn’t know anything we were doing, and they had an answer for everything.”
Johnson versus the Colts was supposed to be a mismatch.
It was, but Indianapolis (13-4) proved to be the surprise winner.
The Colts came into the playoffs as the only NFL team to allow each of its 16 regular-season opponents to run for at least 100 yards, and most figured Johnson would chew it up, too.
But the Colts changed their plan, stacking eight or nine defenders at the line of scrimmage from the start. Johnson found few cracks, and on the rare occasions when there was a hole, the Colts quickly tracked him down.
Johnson’s longest run of the day went for six yards. With their star stuck in neutral, the Chiefs went nowhere on offense.
Kansas City (9-8) failed to get a first down in the first half, the first time that’s happened in an NFL playoff game since 1960, and made a quick playoff exit.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a game, or seen a game, where you go seven straight series without a first down,” quarterback Trent Green said. “That’s very frustrating.”
On Saturday, he looked ordinary, hesitant and beleaguered against a suddenly smothering defense.
“Give them a lot of credit,” Chiefs coach Herman Edwards said. “Hopefully, this team learned a valuable lesson about what it takes to win in the playoffs.”
Johnson insisted his hefty workload, which Kansas City expected to ride through the playoffs, had not worn him down.
Instead, he and his teammates credited the Colts with solving their own problems with a few small adjustments that threw off the Chiefs.
“They were slanting guys and moving guys around,” Pro Bowl guard Will Shields said. “When they hold you long enough, it makes you one-dimensional and they get to do what they do best, which is pass rush.”
The ineffectiveness of Kansas City’s ground game, which finished with only 17 carries for 44 yards and a 2.6 average, also made it rough for Green.
He was 14-of-24 for 107 yards and was picked off twice. Green also lost a fumble and was sacked four times.
The three turnovers matched the Colts’ total, and with a defense that limited Indianapolis’ high-scoring offense to three first-half field goals getting tired, the Chiefs wore down in the second half.
Green and the offense took the blame for that.
But Johnson was just as frustrated with the way the Chiefs responded to the Colts’ game plan.
“Those guys had probably heard it all week about how we were going to run on them, and they just stepped it up and said, ’This is not going to happen,”’ Johnson said. “We came in trying to run it, and we couldn’t run it.”
Now, they have an entire offseason to search for answers.
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