Philip Rivers isn’t ready to let Patrick Mahomes take over the AFC West quite yet. Just when it looked like the Chiefs would secure the division crown, the Chargers went into Kansas City on Thursday night, survived three separate 14-point deficits, and emerged with an epic come-from-behind win.
To get to a point where they actually have a real chance to steal the division crown away from a Chiefs team that has led the division for the entirety of the season, the Chargers erased a 14-point deficit in the final eight minutes and didn’t take their first lead until the final seconds, which is when Rivers pulled off a game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion out of thin air. With a 29-28 win in front of an initially raucous, eventually stunned crowd at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chargers denied the Chiefs a chance to win the AFC West.
In the process, the Chargers drew even with the Chiefs at 11-3, clinched a playoff spot, and turned the final two weeks of the season into something worth playing for. As it stands, the Chiefs still technically lead the Chargers due to their record within the division (4-1 to the Chargers’ 3-2), but it’ll only take one more slip by the Chiefs for the Chargers to possibly steal the division and maybe, just maybe, the top seed in the AFC.
A game between two Super Bowl contenders with the two best offenses in football lived up to the billing. The Chiefs jumped out in front and held a lead right up until the moment Rivers ripped out their hearts with an eight-point sequence at the death. The Chiefs led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, 21-7 midway through the third quarter, and 28-14 with 8:15 remaining. And they lost, because the Chargers refused to die and because the football gods are finally rewarding Rivers and the Chargers with miracles after they spent the past decade living through a seemingly unending nightmare. Finally, that nightmare appears to be over.
From the beginning, it looked like the night would belong to the Chiefs. On the second play from scrimmage, the Chiefs’ defense brought the blitz and forced Rivers into a rushed throw over the middle of the field that lacked velocity. Steven Nelson picked it off, setting up the Chiefs’ offense with prime field position. By the end of the first quarter, the Chiefs had built a 14-0 lead, Mahomes had thrown two touchdowns, Damien Williams had racked up 77 total yards, and the Chargers were Chargers-ing away a game.
The Chargers fought back, scoring a touchdown to cut the deficit in half and then journeying into the red zone just before halftime, but that’s when Rivers made the kind of mistake you can’t make when you’re trying to keep pace with the Chiefs. He threw an unforced interception in the end zone to Kendall Fuller. At halftime, the Chiefs led 14-7 and they were set to get the ball on the other side of the break. Sure enough, they proceeded to embark upon a seven-play, 74-yard scoring drive that Mahomes and Tyreek Hill sparked with a 33-yard completion. The Chiefs led 21-7. Again, the game appeared to be lost.
But the Chargers, once again, cut into the lead with an 11-play, 76-yard scoring series capped by a misdirection pitch to Mike Williams, which marked his second touchdown of the night. The 21-14 scoreline remained in place as the game headed to the fourth quarter, which is when the Chiefs thought they put the game away with a 13-play, 73-yard drive that burned nearly eight minutes of game clock and left the Chargers with just over eight minutes to make up a 14-point deficit.
They got seven with an 11-play, 75-yard drive and then the all-important three-and-out on defense. With under three minutes to play, the stage was set for Rivers. He needed to go 60 yards without his best two skill-position players against a vulnerable defense to give his team a chance to win the AFC West for the first time since 2009. So that’s what he did.
Faced with a fourth-and-7 from the 36-yard line, Rivers threaded a dart into Travis Benjamin for a 26-yard gain that breathed life back into the comeback.
On second-and-goal from the 10, the officials missed what should’ve been a penalty on the Chiefs when Rivers got hit helmet-to-helmet near the line of scrimmage. But on third down, the officials gifted the Chargers the ball at the 1-yard line with a questionable pass-interference penalty in the back of the end zone. Both teams should have legitimate gripes about the calls. But poor officiating shouldn’t mar an otherwise incredible game.
With eight seconds left, the ball was placed at the 1-yard line. The Chargers lacked timeouts, so running the ball was out of the equation. They let Rivers fire away and he found Williams in the end zone, where he scored his third touchdown of the night by beating Orlando Scandrick with what could’ve been called a push-off and making a bobbling catch that survived an automatic replay review.
The Chargers kept the offense on the field. Call it aggressiveness. Call it fear of a missed extra point. Call it smart, given the quarterback standing on the other sideline.
Call it a game-winner that changes the dynamic of the final two weeks of the season and might just impact the playoff order come January. Nobody covered Williams.
And that’s how the Chargers stunned the Chiefs.
We’ve been so focused on the new-look Chiefs with Mahomes that we might’ve missed an even bigger transformation taking place just below them in the standings. The Chargers aren’t just one of the best teams in the AFC. They’re suddenly winning close games they would’ve Chargers’d away in years past. For the second time in three weeks, the Chargers stole a win by overcoming a two-touchdown deficit on the road against a playoff-worthy foe.
They’re finally more than just a good team. They’re a good team that is capable of winning close games, a quality that’s been lacking in every other edition of the Chargers we’ve seen since the dawn of the Rivers era. Maybe, just maybe, these Chargers are different.
Maybe they’re worth believing in.
Mike Williams breaks out
Williams is the latest example of why we shouldn’t rush to judge highly-drafted receivers during their rookie seasons. After getting drafted seventh overall a year ago, Williams struggled to catch on, finishing the season with 11 catches and 95 yards. But Williams is quietly piecing together a productive second season. He entered Thursday night’s game with 516 yards and seven touchdowns. He added 95 total yards, three touchdowns (one rushing), and the winning two-point conversion on Thursday night.
His first touchdown in the second quarter, when he went up to grab a well-thrown jump ball in the corner of the end zone, cut the Chiefs’ advantage in half.
His second touchdown in the third quarter, when he took a little pitch from Rivers, trimmed the deficit back down to seven.
And you already saw his final touchdown and the two-point winner.
Rivers will rightfully get most of the credit for engineering the come-from-behind win. But he couldn’t have done it without Williams, who stepped up for a team lacking Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen, who left in the second quarter with a hip injury.
More Mahomes magic
The Chiefs lost, but nothing that Mahomes did should lose him votes in the MVP race.
A week after he led the Chiefs back from the brink against the Ravens, Mahomes completed 24 of 34 passes for 243 yards, two touchdowns, no picks, and a 110.3 passer rating against the league’s ninth-best defense by DVOA.
Faced with an early third down on the Chiefs’ first drive of the game, Mahomes made magic out of nothing. Flushed backwards and out of the pocket by an onslaught of pass rushers, Mahomes broke contain and fired a rocket on the run to Damien Williams for a first down.
He did it again. Five plays later, on second-and-goal from the 5-yard line, Mahomes rolled out to his right, surveyed his options, found nothing, and hung onto the ball as the pass rush closed in. It looked like he was going to take an unnecessary sack when a defender started dragging him down. It looked like he was going to risk an interception when he started winding up his arm.
Instead, he threw a touchdown back across his body as he was in the process of being tossed to the ground.
After that opening touchdown drive, he showed off his escapability with a scramble on third down that won’t show up on any highlight reels, but demonstrates how impossible it is to stop him. The Chargers took away his options downfield, so he used his athleticism to pick up a first down.
His second touchdown pass was more about the play-call than Mahomes.
In the third quarter, he hooked up with Hill for a deep ball that preceded the Chiefs’ third touchdown of the game.
Hell, he was good enough to even complete a pass to Kelvin Benjamin!
There were more crazy throwing motions and left-handed passes, neither of which resulted in completions, both of which remain wildly impressive despite the eventual outcome.
What’s notable, however, is that after the Chargers cut the lead to 28-21, the Chiefs had a chance to end the game by scoring again or burning all of the remaining time off the clock. The Chiefs went three-and-out instead. Don’t blame Mahomes. The Chiefs began with a running play that lost three yards and then suffered a false start that turned a third-and-8 into a third-and-13. Mahomes was sacked on third down, leading to a punt.
Mahomes never got the ball back.
Chiefs get after Rivers early
The Chiefs’ defense is generally not great, but they do have one redeeming quality: They can attack the quarterback. Entering the game, they’d generated the second-most sacks in football. On Thursday night, they got after the quarterback for most of the game before they succumbed to the greatness that is Rivers.
Pressure forced Rivers into throwing an ugly pick on his first pass of the night.
On the Chargers’ second series, a Dee Ford sack created a third-and-long. On that third down play, Chris Jones hit Rivers as he released the ball, leading to the floatiest of floaters that didn’t pick up a first down. Rivers looked rattled.
On the Chargers’ next offensive series, Jones got his sack, bringing down Rivers just outside the red zone to raise his season sack total to 12.5. He’s notched at least one sack in 10 straight games.
He recorded another 1.5 sacks on the next series. On that same series, Rivers seemingly sensed pressure before it arrived and chucked up another unforced interception, this time in the end zone.
But Rivers’ mistakes in the first half only set the stage for what would become a remarkable comeback. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Chiefs were 39-0 when holding a fourth quarter lead of at least 14 points under Andy Reid.
Rivers finished 26 of 38 for 313 yards, two touchdowns, two picks, and a 89.0 passer rating. His greatness was less about his stats and more about what he did over the final eight minutes of the game.
Damien Williams shines
Filling in for Spencer Ware, Williams proved he should be the Chiefs’ primary running back even if Ware is healthy. Placed in good situations all night by Reid’s play-calling and scheme, he finished with 123 yards on 16 touches.
There was his awesome cut back on the Chiefs’ opening scoring series.
There was Reid scheming him open with a beautifully designed screen.
And then there was his touchdown in the third quarter, which granted the Chiefs a two-score lead.
In the fourth quarter, he demonstrated his power by running over a defender.
Later during that series, he thought he sealed the win with a one-yard touchdown that provided the Chiefs with yet another 14-point lead.
Williams should become a focal point of the Chiefs’ offense from this point on.
Eric Berry returns
For the first time all season, All Pro safety Eric Berry played for the Chiefs. A year ago, he missed all but one game with a torn Achilles. This season, a heel injury has sidelined up until Thursday night, when Berry made his season debut, which marked his first game action since Week 1 of last season.
Berry didn’t look hurt. He flew around the field and made a difference, finishing with six combined tackles. He’ll be a huge asset for the Chiefs come playoff time once he gets back up to full speed.
The greatest catch that didn’t count
Technically, Allen didn’t catch this touchdown because he slid out of bounds before gaining possession of the football, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Allen somehow came down with the football.
This is one of the best catches that didn’t count in NFL history.
The highlight-worthy play came at a cost. He left with a hip injury and didn’t return.
The Chargers close out the season against the Ravens and then in Denver against the Broncos while the Chiefs head to Seattle to take on the Seahawks before wrapping up the season against the Raiders. The Chargers will need to win out and hope the Chiefs drop one more game in order to steal the division. You can steam all those games on fuboTV (Try for free).
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