Chargers find it tough to close out Chiefs

INGLEWOOD (News4usonline) – For a variety of reasons, the Los Angeles Chargers needed to beat the Kansas City Chiefs. Beat the Chiefs and the Chargers stay in the running for the AFC West Division crown. Win and the Chargers wind up splitting the regular season series with their division rivals. Lose and a postseason ticket gets harder to punch.  

The Chiefs beat the Chargers in Week 2. For a minute when the Chargers and the Chiefs replayed their earlier meeting this season during their appearance on Sunday Night Football, the upper hand appeared it would fall in favor of Los Angeles. 

Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Joshua Palmer (5) hauls in this pass from Justin Herbert in front of Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Juan Thornhill (22) during a Sunday Night Football game played at SoFi Stadium on Nov. 20, 2022. Photo credit: Los Angeles Chargers

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce erased that thought. There was 1:46 remaining in the game after Justin Herbert connected with Joshua Palmer for a 6-yard touchdown pass that gave the Chargers a 27-23 lead. 

“We moved the ball, but we got to get touchdowns, especially against a team like that so it’s not a one score at the end so we can get them a chance,” Chargers running back Austin Ekeler said.  “We’ve got to put them away. We’ve been in these scenarios with that team way too many times.”  

The time that was left on the scoreboard was more than enough time for Mahomes, Kelce and the rest of the Kansas City wrecking crew. Mahomes and the Chiefs went 75 yards on six plays in 1:15 to take the final lead of the night, thanks to his 17-yard touchdown pass to Kelce.

Mahomes’ third touchdown pass on the night was the security blanket the Chiefs needed to come away with a 30-27 win.  

“We do this a lot. [Chiefs Head] Coach [Andy] Reid prepares us for these moments,” Mahomes said after the game. “ We knew we had a lot of time on the clock. We knew we had some time outs, so we didn’t rush. We just kind of went through what we do every single day at practice and everything like that, and we executed. [Chiefs TE] Travis [Kelce] is Travis. He is the greatest tight end of all time. He makes plays like that that we win games.”

With wide receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen back in the lineup, the Chargers had their way against the Kansas City defense, putting up 20 points through the first two quarters. It was a much different story in the story in the second half. 

The Chiefs put a zero sign on Herbert and the Chargers in the third quarter and limited Los Angeles to just seven points in the second half-the Herbert to Palmer scoring toss late in the fourth quarter. 

That score only came about after Kansas City running back Jerick McKinnon coughed up the football after being stripped by Chargers linebacker Troy Reeder as the Chiefs were driving for a game-sealing score. Herbert, who passed for 280 yards (250 yards net) and two touchdowns, both to Palmer, then led the Chargers 64 yards in 10 plays for what appeared to be the winning score. 

But Herbert and the Chargers offense were not able to duplicate that magic on their final drive of the night.  Herbert, who was sacked five times, was picked off to end the Chargers’ hopes of defeating their AFC West rivals. 

“I thought that there were a lot of good things that we did, offensively,” Herbert remarked. “There’s still room for improvement for us to continue to develop and get better. Some of the third downs that we could have converted in the third quarter, we, unfortunately, fell short. We didn’t put up enough points today. We just have to go back and watch film and get better.” 

The Chiefs were aided on their go-ahead possession when Chargers free safety Derwin James, who produced a monster night with seven tackles and a sack of Mahomes, was called for a defensive hold penalty. The infraction, unfortunately for the Chargers, allowed the Chiefs another chance to keep their drive and momentum going, which eventually ended with the go-ahead score. 

“I felt like I got a good jam,” James said. “I got to look at the play on the film, but I don’t know. I’m not out there officiating.”

Before their game-winning drive, James did say that he believed the Chargers defense had been making the plays to slow down Mahomes and Co. The Chargers only allowed Kansas City to put up 13 points in the first two quarters of action. 

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) looks for room to run against the Kansas City Chiefs defense during a Sunday Night Football game played at SoFi Stadium on Nov. 20, 2022. Photo credit: Los Angeles Chargers

“We made plays before the half, in the red zone making plays,” said James. “But if we want to be that great, dominant defense, you got to close the game. That’s the most important part of it. We played good in every other spot, but closing. We didn’t close it today, starting with me.” 

Closing out games requires a team effort, Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said.  

“You have to play team defense. You have to play team offense,” quipped Staley. “I thought that we did an excellent job of bouncing back after the fumble. The defense ended up forcing a fumble. Go down, make a couple big, clutch plays. [QB] Justin [Herbert] made a couple huge plays. We were able to score and put the pressure on them. To close out games against great offenses, special players, the rush and coverage has to come alive. You have to rush and you have to cover at the end of games and they made a couple of more plays than we did.”

This was a big swing game for the Chargers. Instead of getting a win, which would have moved the team within one game of the division lead, the loss to the Chiefs drops the Chargers three games back of Kansas City. The defeat also hands the Chargers an 0-2 mark against the Chiefs this season.  

Linebacker Dru Tranquill, who tied with James with seven tackles in the game, said the Chargers didn’t get the stops they needed when it mattered. 

“We made some stops, and we didn’t make stops in other situations,” Tranquill said. They were really able to extend drives on us. I feel like we were in a few third-and-longs where we should be off the field every single time and they were able to convert…that’s frustrating. When you get them in a third-and-long situations, you get a chance to get off the field, get another possession for the offense and they’re able to extend the drive. We’ve got to better than that.”