The Los Angeles Chargers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 29-28 on Thursday Night Football, dropping the Chiefs’ record to 10-3, and complicating their playoff situation. Here are five hot takes from the game:
1. The postseason
Remain calm. This is bad. But all is not lost.
The Chiefs still have six tasks before them
- Win the AFC West
- Obtain the number one playoff seed
- Win the divisional round game
- Win the conference championship
- Win the Super Bowl
The Chiefs are still in the playoffs and still control their own destiny. Two wins to close out the regular season give the Chiefs the whole ball of wax — the AFC West and the number one seed in the playoffs.
There’s still even a chance the Chiefs could coast through Week 17. With a Pittsburgh Steelers win on Sunday, a Baltimore Ravens win against the Chargers a week from Sunday, and (of course) a Chiefs win against the Seattle Seahawks that evening, the Chiefs will have the golden ticket.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I wouldn’t even blame you if you no longer care about the number one seed. It’s been a while since it has done the Chiefs any good.
2. The key plays
There will be a lot of complaining about the officiating on the Chargers’ last drive, and it won’t be unreasonable. Some of that officiating was thin — to say the least.
But the real backbreaker wasn’t on that drive, but the one before.
The holding call on Steven Nelson on the Chargers’ second-to-last touchdown drive — the one on fourth-and-3 — was the really critical play of the fourth quarter. And on that play, the call on Nelson was entirely justified. Had the Chiefs held on downs there, they would have won the game.
The other backbreaker occurred much earlier in the game — midway through the second quarter, when the Chiefs couldn’t capitalize on Tremon Smith’s 51-yard kickoff return after the Chargers’ first touchdown. The drive stalled when Patrick Mahomes’ third-and-3 pass to Demetrius Harris was batted away, and the Chiefs had to punt.
Travis Kelce was past the first down marker, was more open than Harris, and is more reliable. But the throw went to Harris, and the Chargers’ Mike Davis made the play.
If the Chiefs had converted on that play, they probably would have gotten at least a field goal out of the drive, and that could easily have made the difference in the game But they didn’t, and that’s that.
3. Eric Berry
It took 462 days, but Eric Berry returned to the lineup on Thursday night, playing only in the first half. We expected that Berry would see limited snaps in his return, and that’s what happened.
Berry was credited with six tackles for the game — two fewer than Ron Parker, and three more than Dan Sorensen.
On the second play of the game, Berry was on a safety blitz, and played a part in forcing a bad throw from Philip Rivers that Steven Nelson intercepted. So Berry did play a key role in at least one important play.
Beyond that, in the immediate aftermath, it’s hard to judge the impact Berry had on this game. While it’s gratifying to see him return to the lineup, it’s probably a mistake to think Berry is going a make a visible, significant difference to the Chiefs defense — until he does.
4. The winning streak
It sure is a lot of fun to have a winning streak going against a division rival, isn’t it? It seems like it was only yesterday the Chiefs appeared to be invincible against the Chargers.
Now? Not so much.
But what has really changed? It was only a year ago that the Chiefs lost a similar game to the Oakland Raiders. An improbable series of events — and a series of maddening, inexplicable penalties — gave the Raiders chance after chance to score at the end of the game. Eventually, they did — and won by a single point.
I’m always the guy who wants to preach about the unpredictability of division games. For reasons I can’t fully articulate, I seemed to have forgotten that in the past week. Maybe it was a win — however narrow — against the league’s best defense that gave me a false sense of security. Maybe it was the short week. Perhaps I needed a couple more days to come down from the high of the Baltimore Ravens win before I could be rational again.
In any case... I’m back to my usual attitude: division games are hard to predict.
5. The silver lining
I always get a little worried whenever things are going just a little too well. That always seems to be the time when disaster is right around the corner.
Statisticians like to talk about “reverting to the mean” — in other words, if data shifts too far in one direction, after a while, it will tend to shift back towards the middle.
Maybe the Chiefs needed a reality-check — a reminder that just like everybody else, they put their pants on one leg at a time. Patrick Mahomes isn’t always going to be able to carry the team on his back. He’s going to have bad days, too — and the rest of the team is going to have to be ready to sometimes carry more of the burden.
A game like this one could help the team remember that the road ahead is difficult, and everyone involved might have to work just a little but harder — to stay a little bit more focused.
Or... maybe there’s no grand cosmic meaning at all. Maybe the Chiefs simply lost to a better team.
Either way, in the weeks to come, we’re likely to find out.