The Chiefs faced adversity early on in the primetime tilt against the Chargers but were able to pull out the win and effectively wrap up the AFC West title. The Chargers’ first-half offense was humming as they scored on four of their first five drives to take a 20-13 lead into the break. The Chiefs’ defense put the clamps down in the second half, only allowing one score for the rest of the game. Patrick Mahomes put on an MVP performance with 329 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. All three of those TDs went to All-Universe Tight End Travis Kelce as he torched the Charger defense despite all of the attention he was getting. Here is how the Chiefs pulled out the primetime victory.
Chiefs-Chargers First Half
The Chiefs’ offense started off fast as they started giving the ball to rookie sensation Isiah Pacheco and he broke off the longest run of his career for 28 yards on the fourth play of the drive. Another rookie in wide receiver Skyy Moore made his presence known for the first time this year as he was pressed into service due to the absences of Juju Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman. Moore caught the first of several third-down conversions on that first drive and had a solid performance throughout the game. Unfortunately, this drive would turn into a field goal as it stalled out in the red zone after two uncharacteristic incompletions to Travis Kelce. Harrison Butker would convert the first of his three successful field goals on the night, so, hopefully, that will silence the calls of him being washed.
The Chargers’ offense would respond quick, fast, and in a hurry. It only took three plays for Justin Herbert and the rejuvenated Charger offense to go 75 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, which was capped off by a 50-yard bomb to a wide-open Joshua Palmer.
Herbert had all day to throw while Palmer left safety Juan Thornhill in the dust. Pressuring Herbert would become one of the themes of the night. Whenever Herbert had time to throw, someone would surely get open. If there was pressure in his face, the defense would have opportunities to make big plays.
Kelce would start to turn his night around on the second Chiefs drive, starting it off with a 27-yard reception that immediately put the Chiefs in Charger territory. Unfortunately, that was the only highlight of the drive. Running Back Clyde Edwards-Helaire would leave the game with an ankle injury after converting a third and short. The drive would stall out, and Butker was forced to hit another long field goal to try and keep pace.
The Chargers’ offense was still rolling on their next possession but would lose standout wide receiver Mike Williams to an injury after hauling in a spectacular catch. Justin Herbert would continue to lead the offense to scoring position after Williams left the game, but the drive would stall after another Chiefs rookie made an outstanding play to force the field goal. This time, it was defensive end George Karloftis.
The Chiefs would get the ball back and would immediately face adversity. After a three-yard gain by Pacheco, wide receiver Kadarius Toney would be flagged for a personal foul after making too good of a block on the outside. This would put Patrick Mahomes and the Chief’s offense at a first and 21, but they were able to pick up the first down with a 13-yard completion to Justin Watson and a ho-hum 35-yard completion to Kelce. Kelce would cap off the drive with the first of his three touchdowns and he did it Deion Sanders-style.
After swapping punts on their next drives, the Chargers would embark on another 70+ yard drive in which the Chiefs could not do anything to stop it. Ekeler continued to have success running up the gut while Herbert was able to pick apart the defense. The pass rush was not able to reach home and the Chargers were able to pick up three third downs on that drive alone on the way to taking a 17-13 lead.
Things would get worse for the Chiefs as Pacheco fielded the ensuing kickoff and ran out of bounds at his own six-yard line. The frustrating part about that was it appeared the ball was going to go out of bounds and would have set the Chiefs’ offense up with good field position. The Chiefs’ second straight three-and-out compounded this mistake. They were forced to punt out of their own endzone, which gave the Chargers great field position and an excellent opportunity to take control of the game.
The Chargers took over with the chance to increase their lead with the final drive of the first half and would be getting the ball first in the second half. This would give the Chargers two drives in a row for an offense that the Chiefs had a tough time stopping to this point in the game. Fortunately for Kansas City, this would be when their defense would start to clamp down. Despite a stupid personal foul on linebacker Nick Bolton pushing Herbert while he was out of bounds on third down, the Chiefs were still able to hold the Chargers to a field goal, thanks to the pass rush waking up.
Chiefs Push The Gas In The Second Half
Despite getting stopped at the end of the first half, the Chargers still received the ball first in the second half with an opportunity to increase their lead by two touchdowns. The Chiefs seemed to also realize this, cranked the intensity up a few notches. Rotational defensive end Mike Danna would continue his outstanding play as he ended the first Charger drive of the second half with authority.
The Chiefs would march down the field after taking over possession and did something I never thought they would do: consistently feed Pacheco the ball. Pacheco toted the rock on four straight plays before the Chiefs attempted a pass. They ended up with a third and one before the Chargers caught on and stuffed the conversion attempt short. Luckily, Harrison Butker found his game this week and nailed his third field goal to bring the Chiefs within one.
The Chiefs’ defense would continue their hot streak on the next drive. Herbert made an uncharacteristically lousy throw on first down before hitting wide receiver Keenan Allen for nine yards. After coming up short on third and one, Charger Nation must have been expecting head coach Brandon Staley to go for it on fourth down. Fortunately or not, Staley’s penchant for going for it did not materialize, and the Chargers opted to punt it away. This decision felt like another turning point. The Chargers were succeeding against the Chiefs’ run defense and could have really taken some of the Chiefs’ momentum away with a conversion. Instead, the Chiefs’ defense got another stop and rolled into the fourth quarter.
High Drama In The Fourth
The Chiefs would start their next drive with Mahomes getting sacked on the second play by Chargers safety Derwin James. James absolutely big-boyed Isiah Pacheco in pass protection, which is one area that Pacheco needs to improve if he wants to be an every-down back in Andy Reid’s offense. It would be of little consequence, however, as Mahomes would hit Justin Watson for the third and 17 conversion. The Chiefs would continue marching for a ten-play drive that resulted in another spectacular Kelce touchdown to give the Chiefs a 23-20 lead.
The Chargers’ offense started to find their mojo on the ensuing drive, driving the ball deep into Chiefs territory before linebacker Nick Bolton forced a fumble that put the Chiefs in an excellent position to land a knockout blow. That punch never materialized as running back Jerrick McKinnon gave the ball right back. The Chargers would take that gift and roll down the field for a ten-play drive that resulted in a go-ahead touchdown thanks to some trickeration that freed up Chargers wide receiver Joshua Palmer for a go-ahead score with less than two minutes to play.
The final drive for Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense would be an MVP-resume builder. The Chiefs needed 65 yards for the victory, so the decision was to put the ball in Mahomes’ capable hands and let him go to work. Mahomes made quick work of the Chargers’ defense despite their best efforts to put pressure on him. Mahomes calmly drove 65 yards in 1:15 seconds and hit who else but Travis Kelce for the game-winner with :31 left.
The ball was in Justin Herbert’s court as he still had some time left on the clock and all three of his timeouts, but the Chiefs’ defense would not allow the comeback bid to get off the ground. Chris Jones continued to cause mass havoc as he sacked Herbert on the first play, immediately putting the Chargers’ backs against the wall. The Chiefs would then put the game away on the very next play.
Considering how short-handed the Chiefs were coming into this game, how desperate the Chargers were to save their season, and how many injuries piled up throughout, this was an outstanding performance. Patrick Mahomes continued to build his MVP resume, Kelce continued proving that he’s the best tight end in the game, and the Chiefs rookies all stepped up for this massive team win. The defense came through in the second half, as they have done so often, and Chris Jones was an enormous part of it. With the AFC West all but locked up, the Chiefs can now focus on maintaining their number one seed in the conference and end up with the all-important first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.