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Five things we learned as the Chiefs beat the Chargers

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The Chiefs came up with a big ugly division win on Monday night. What did we learn from the game?

The Kansas City Chiefs managed to sneak past the Los Angeles Chargers 24-17 on Monday night in Mexico City, notching another AFC West win and pushing their record to 7-4 as they head into the bye week.

Here are five things we learned:

Ugly wins still count

NFL: International Series- Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There’s really not much of another way to say it: Monday night’s win was pretty ugly. The Chiefs left a lot of opportunities on the field — and the Chargers did them a lot of favors, too. There were moments when it looked like the Chiefs defense couldn’t do anything to stop the Chargers — and others where the Chiefs offense bore little resemblance to the unit we expected to see in 2019.

But then again, both units showed flashes of what they can be. Our Matt Lane explained in this past week how the Chiefs offense needs to improve red-zone performance. On Monday, the Chiefs were in the red zone twice, scoring touchdowns on each trip. In contrast, the Chargers made it to the red zone four times — scoring only once.

The win may have been ugly, but with it, the team still largely controls its own destiny.

It’s time to get off the secondary’s back

Kansas City Chiefs v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images

I’m glad I’m not an NFL defensive back. For the water-cooler crowd, there’s nothing easier than to complain about how such-and-such cornerback or safety is terrible. Look at all those plays he gave up in the game! He’s terrible!

But if we’re being fair, the Chiefs defense has actually been doing a pretty good job against the pass. With 11 games in the books, they’re giving up an opposing passer rating of 87.2, which is 11th in the league.

On Monday night, the secondary collected three interceptions (defensive lineman Derrick Nnadi got the other one) and eight passes defensed, holding Philip Rivers to a passer rating of just 49.6.

The new safeties are playing a big part. Acquiring Tyrann Mathieu from the Houston Texans and getting rookie Juan Thornhill in the draft has definitely helped. But as our Matt Stagner noted on Monday night, Charvarius Ward has slowly (and quietly) been “proving he’s not the cornerback to be picked on anymore.” Bashaud Breeland has been a solid player, too. And while it took an injury to Kendall Fuller for him to see the field, the play of sixth-round rookie cornerback Rashad Fenton has been a very nice surprise.

So if the secondary is doing all right, why did the Chiefs try to get Jalen Ramsey and Minkah Fitzpatrick? Doesn’t that prove the guys they have are trash?

Well... not really. The Chiefs have a different problem they’re trying to solve. At this moment, only Ward and Fenton are under contract for 2020. If the team had been able to land Fitzpatrick, they would have gone a long way to get that problem under control; he’s playing on his rookie deal through 2021. On that basis, he would have been a much better option than Ramsey — a great (but expensive) player who is only signed through next season.

So the Chiefs will have to find a different way to fix that issue. In the meantime, their secondary may not be perfect, but they are holding up their end.

There was a Montana moment

AMFOOT-NFL-CHIEFS-CHARGERS Photo by PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images

I couldn’t help but think about Joe Montana during the first half of Monday night’s game.

During his years with the Chiefs, it was routine for Montana to look ungood in a game’s early drives. It wasn’t at all unusual for Montana to be 1/5 or 2/8 in the first quarter or two. But later on, you’d look up and notice that without doing anything particularly spectacular, Montana would be 12/19 after going on a 9/11 streak.

It seemed familiar because that’s exactly what Mahomes did on Monday night: 1/5, 2/8 and 12/19 — ultimately 15/23 by the end of the third quarter. In the first half — with an interception and nary a touchdown pass — Mahomes had a passer rating of just 36.8. But in the third quarter, Mahomes’ rating shot up to 147.7 as he completed 8 of 9 and threw a touchdown pass.

But like Montana, it wasn’t spectacular. He just kept making plays to move the chains — and before you could whistle up Joe Valerio for a tackle-eligible play, the Chiefs were leading 24-9.

In the fourth quarter, Mahomes and the offense turned anemic again, repeatedly missing opportunities to put the game away. But that shining third quarter turned out to be all it took for the offense to do its part in the win.

That’s the mark of a truly great quarterback — one who can work his way back from a bad start and find a way to get get something done. That’s a talent Monday night’s opposing quarterback used to display all the time.

While he’s still young, let’s enjoy marveling at Mahomes’ amazing athletic feats. But the kind of game he played on Monday shows you why he’ll still be one of the greats — even in the twilight of his career.

The field looked great — but maybe it wasn’t

NFL: International Series- Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Photos shared on social media before the game showed a simply beautiful playing surface at Estadio Azteca — which was welcome news. After the black eye the NFL and Mexico City shared after the Monday night debacle last season — when the game between the Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams had to be moved to the Coliseum less than a week before the game — it would have been terrific for the league and local officials to redeem themselves.

But to my eye, players for both teams seemed to be struggling to get (and keep) their footing — especially early in the game. Chargers placekicker Michael Badgley missed a 40-yard field goal attempt — and seemed to be examining the turf around the spot after the kick. Tyreek Hill pulled a hamstring. Chargers tight end Hunter Henry and running back Melvin Gordon both fell. Chiefs wide receiver Byron Pringle had both of his feet go out from under him as he tried to make a cut.

I’m probably being too hard on our amigos in Mexico City. I’m sure I’ve seen other NFL games where the footing was worse — but those games weren’t being played in a stadium from which a game had to be moved the last time NFL teams were supposed to play there. It might be unfair, but it was just unavoidable that our eyes would be focused on the condition of the field. It definitely could have been better.

More international games are coming

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Did you enjoy watching your Chiefs play in Mexico City?

You’d better get used to it, because it looks like the NFL’s International Series is going to get more commonplace.

Last week, Chiefs owner Clark Hunt spoke of his support for a 17-game regular season. Hunt said that he supported an expanded season where the preseason schedule would be reduced by one or two games, and also noted that the “odd” 17th game on each team’s schedule could be filled with neutral-site games — many of them in international locations.

Hunt isn’t the only one who feels that way. According to an article from CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora, his league sources say a proposal that sounds very much like what Hunt was discussing is likely to be on the table when the league and the NFL Players Association begin to seriously negotiate the next iteration of the collective bargaining agreement, which expires at the end of the 2020 season.

The proposal includes Week 1 still beginning after Labor Day, and the Super Bowl concluding the final Sunday of February (which could be bad news for The Oscars). It would allow the NFL to have playoff games on air throughout the month of February -- critical sweeps weeks for its broadcast partners -- and would include two byes for each team.

The additional game for each club would be played out-of-market, the sources said, with a heavy emphasis on key international locales like the United Kingdom (London and Ireland, in particular), Germany, Mexico and Brazil. It also opens the possibility of a full eight-game regular-season schedule of games in London – something commissioner Roger Goodell is very supportive of -- with fans there able to buy a “season ticket,” which would include at least two Jaguars games.

Likely to be included with these changes would be an expansion of rosters — and a preseason schedule reduced to just two games.

According to La Canfora, there have been internal discussions about other neutral-site games in locales like Hawaii and Canada — and in big college stadiums like Notre Dame and the University of Alabama, too.

17-game seasons are coming.