Chiefs overcome Chargers in overtime
December 30, 2021
There is a reason that the Kansas City Chiefs have won five consecutive AFC West division titles, two AFC conference championships and a Super Bowl title in the last few years. They have won these titles because they know how to win big games and their opponents often shoot themselves in the foot and leg in big games.
Last Thursday night at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, the Chiefs showed that they have not forgotten how to win close games, and unfortunately, the Los Angeles Chargers showed that they still have not learned how to win close games. The Chiefs defeated the Chargers in an exciting game AFC West showdown, 34-28, in overtime.
The win gave the Chiefs a 10-4 record for the season and a two-game lead over the second place Chargers with three game to go, essentially clinching their sixth consecutive AFC West title. At 8-6, the Chargers are still in the playoff race for a wild-card berth, but to win the AFC West division title that would require the Chiefs to lose two out of their last three games, while the Chargers would need to sweep their final three games. That is not likely to happen.
The Chargers did a lot of things well in this game. They rushed for a season high 192 yards, averaging five yards per carry. Quarterback Justin Herbert was not sacked in the game. The Chargers special teams came up with a 75-yard kickoff return and pinned the Chiefs deep in their territory following a kickoff, leading to a touchdown. The Chiefs explosive offense was held to 13 points in the first three quarters.
The Chargers lost this game because their pass defense collapsed in the fourth quarter and overtime, and because they failed to take advantage of scoring opportunities earlier in the game. The opening kickoff of the game was returned 75 yards by Andre Roberts from the one-yard line, setting up the Chargers with a first-and-ten at the Chiefs 24.
Two running plays over the left side to running back Austin Ekeler set-up a first-and-goal at the Chiefs five-yard line. For some unknown reason, the Chargers eschewed the run in favor of the pass over the next three plays, with all three passing attempts going incomplete. With a fourth-and-goal from the five-yard line, Charger head Coach Brandon Staley chose to go for it instead of taking the easy three points for a field goal. Tight end Donald Parham was unable to come up with a diving catch in the back of the end zone, giving the ball back to the Chiefs at their five-yard line. Parham was also hurt on the play and was taken to the hospital.
The Chargers had wasted a 75-yard kickoff return and an almost certain three points for a shot at a touchdown attempt. It seemed like an early gamble that was unnecessary at that point in the game. Later in the second quarter, with the Chargers leading 14-10, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was hit from behind by Joey Bosa, fumbled the ball forward and it was recovered by Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill at the Chiefs 45-yard line, with 1:51 left in the first half.
The Chargers drove down to the Chiefs one yard line and on a fourth-and-one from the Chiefs one yard line with just four second remaining, once again they decided to go for it instead of kicking a field goal and getting the easy three points. A fourth down pass attempt from Herbert to Keenan Allen was batted down by Chiefs safety Daniel Sorenson. The turnover in Chiefs territory had resulted in zero points.
The Chargers had wasted two scoring opportunities inside the five-yard line and that had cost them six points in the first half. Instead of being up 20-10, had they kicked the field goals, they were only up 14-10. The loss of those easy six points would come back to haunt them. In the third quarter, the Chargers would pass up on a 46-yard field goal attempt on a fourth-and-two at the Chiefs 28-yard line.
A fourth down pass attempt to tight end Jared Cook was broken up, giving the Chiefs the ball back. That made nine potential points on field goals that were passed up. The question for Staley, is going for it on fourth down being aggressive or reckless?
After the game and in his press conference on Friday, Staley defended his aggressive style of play calling on fourth down. "All of these decisions have a life of their own," said Staley. "I'm never going to gamble, as a coach. These players mean too much to me. Our team means too much to me. I'm not gambling at all. I'm definitely not going to be reckless, ever. I felt like those were advantaged situations for us. I didn't think any one of those opportunities decreased our chances of winning. I felt like doing that made our chances of winning increase in a big way."
Staley added that, "What we're trying to establish around here is the mindset that we're going to try and go win the game on our terms, and the team is going to have to beat us. That's how I want to decide the game, is when if they beat us. I love those opportunities that we had yesterday. We're going to grow from it as a football team. I just think that creating that mindset and creating that way of playing is, ultimately, going to create the team that we're capable of being."
It is easy to be impressed by Staley, who is very consistent and honest about what he wants the Chargers to become. He is articulate, he can read a room, he can explain offenses and defenses in detail, he is just a very bright guy. But that does not make the decision to go for it on 4th down correct, it just means he is being true to who he is and the kind of team he wants the Chargers to become.
Staley's fourth down decisions aside, the Chargers would have won this game if the defense had not faltered so badly late in the game. After scoring on a two-yard Ekeler touchdown run, the Chargers led 21-13 with 9:29 left in the game. From that point of the game, the defense collapsed and over the last nine minutes of regulation and overtime, the Chargers defense gave up three 75-yard scoring drives and 21 points, losing in overtime 34-28.
Injuries in the secondary, particularly to safety Derwin James, had weakened the Chargers secondary, and All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce and All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill ran virtually untouched late in the game. Kelce caught a tying 7-yard touchdown pass with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter, then ended the game with a 34-yard catch-and-run in overtime.
For the game, Kelce had 10 catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns. Hill had 12 receptions for 148 yards and a fourth quarter touchdown. On the last three offensive drives of the game for the Chiefs, Mahomes completed 10 of 16 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns, adding a 32-yard touchdown run to the total. An amazing offensive performance by the Chiefs late in the game and an amazing collapse by the Chargers defense late in the game.
It was the second straight season the Chiefs have come to the SoFi Stadium and beat the Chargers in overtime. The Chargers are still in the race for a wild-card playoff berth and will visit the Texans on Sunday, December 26th, in a game that will start at 10:00 AM PST. The game will be televised on CBS.