With A Loss Chargers Playoff Chances Suffer
December 21, 2017
The Los Angeles Chargers have come a long way from their 0-4 start. They won four straight and seven of nine games to get over .500 and back into the playoff race. They had overcome some early season issues and seemed to be on the track to a possible division title in the AFC West.
Until Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. In an unexplainable performance the Chargers reverted to some of their early season issues and were soundly defeated by the Kansas City Chiefs 30-13. The Chiefs have a one game lead over the Chargers with two games left in the season.
The Chiefs were led by their star rookie running back, Kareem Hunt, who rushed for 155 yards on 24 carries and one rushing touchdown. Hunt also had seven pass receptions for 51 yards and another touchdown. In two games this season against the Chargers Hunt has rushed for 327 yards. In both games the Chargers did a poor job of tackling.
The Chargers had four turnovers in the game, three interceptions and a fumble. The Chiefs had zero turnovers. A frustrated Charger head coach Anthony Lynn stated bluntly after the game: It's obvious we didn't play our best game. We reverted to doing some things that we'd done earlier in the season. We turned the ball over. We didn't tackle well in space. We had some dumb penalties at bad times."
He could have added the special teams to the list of underperformers. In the first quarter, at a time when the game was scoreless the Chiefs muffed a punt at their own 32-yard line and in the ensuing scramble for the ball the Chargers seemed to have recovered the ball but it squirted away from Charger linebacker Nick Dzubnar and was recovered by the Chiefs at their own six-yard line.
That was a key opportunity missed by the special teams. The Chiefs took the ball and drove 82 yards in 15 plays, a drive that ended with a 31-yard field goal by Harrison Butker, giving the Chiefs a 3-0 lead. That drive used up almost nine minutes on the clock. Had the Chargers recovered the muffed punt they would have been in a great position to get an early lead on the Chiefs.
In the second quarter Chiefs Quarterback Alex Smith connected with speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill for an impressive 64-yard bomb for a touchdown. That gave the Chiefs a 10-0 lead. The stunned Chargers came back later in the second quarter to score to cut the lead to 10-6 on a two-yard touchdown run by running back Melvin Gordon.
The extra point was missed by kicker Travis Coons. After the game the Chargers waived Coons and signed Nick Rose as the new kicker. Rose is the fourth field goal kicker for the Chargers this season.
For the game, Gordon had a total of 169 yards rushing and receiving, including a 49-yard pass reception on a key drive in the third quarter. On that drive of 88 yards Charger quarterback Philip Rivers hit tight end Antonio Gates with a 10-yard scoring pass to give the Chargers a brief lead of 13-10. There was 9:20 left in the third quarter.
From that point of the game the Chiefs completely dominated the game. The Chiefs outscored the Chargers 20-0 and gained 161 yards to 70 yards for the Chargers. Most importantly, the Chargers had four turnovers in the last 24 minutes and forty seconds of the game. The Chargers had a complete meltdown at a critical point in the game and at a critical point in their season.
The Chiefs' physical and aggressive defense seemed to take a toll on the Chargers. The Chargers lost both starting offensive tackles during the game. Tight end Hunter Henry left the game with a lacerated kidney. Henry is done for the season. Running back Austin Ekeler suffered a broken hand and star wide receiver Keenan Allen left the game with a back injury. Ekeler's season is also over.
The Chargers are not out of the playoff race but they need to win both of their final two games to have a shot at the playoffs. For the Chargers to win the division the Chiefs would need to lose both of their games against the Miami Dolphins at home and the Denver Broncos on the road. That is not very likely.
The better option for the Chargers is getting into the playoffs via the two AFC Wild-card slots. The Buffalo Bills, the Baltimore Ravens and the Tennessee Titans are all 8-6 and one game ahead of the Chargers. The Ravens will be favored to win both of their games at home against the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Titans have two tough home games against the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars, both playoff teams. The Bills have two tough road games against the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins. The Chargers beat the Bills, so they own the tie-breaker in case both teams end up with the same record.
Lynn stated the obvious after the game: "At this point of the season we don't control our own destiny. All we can control is these next two weeks. There's no absolute that we're going to the playoffs even if we win the next two games. But if we don't, we're damn sure not going."
The Chargers take on the New York Jets in Week 16 at Metlife Stadium. Kickoff is Sunday, Dec. 24 at 10 a.m. on CBS. The Jets are 5-8 and lost their starting quarterback for the season. He has been replaced by inexperienced backup Bryce Petty.
The Jets are ranked 25th on offense and 24th on defense. This is a matchup that should favor the Chargers but the game is on the road and the Chargers need to quickly recover from their lackluster performance against the Chiefs and get back on track.
On Tuesday the NFL announced that the following players from the Chargers have made the AFC Pro Bowl: Philip Rivers – Quarterback, Keenan Allen – Wide Receiver, Joey Bosa – Defensive End and Casey Hayward – Cornerback.