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5 winners and 4 losers from the Chiefs’ loss to the Chargers

Rounding up the winners and losers from the Chiefs’ final game of the season.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs closed out the 2020 regular season with a (thankfully) meaningless game against the Los Angeles Chargers and their stud rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. We knew the home team would be resting most of their starters, and that winning wasn’t the most important thing. The goal was to get some young guys involved (check) and try to avoid serious injuries (welp).

Here are a few Chiefs who stood out on Sunday.

Winners

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
  • Byron Pringle: Once again, the K-State product delivered when his number was called. A strong receiver who attacks the ball in the air and can really run as well, Pringle should be in line for more opportunities on the offense. Then again... that’s what we say every time we see Pringle play.
  • Darwin Thompson: 21 touches, 110 total yards and two touchdowns. That’s solid production from the little guy. It was nice to see the team get him involved in the passing game, where he converted all seven of his targets — including a 37-yard catch-and-run. He’s great in space and stout for his size. He might be the most Clyde-like backup on the roster.
  • Tim Ward: The massive defensive end — long thought to be a project with potential — showed out in his first extended regular-season appearance. We saw his athleticism when he chased down a running back after a 34-yard gain. We saw some pass-rushing ability when he made a nice move for a sack. Could Ward be a rotational player who can replace Tanoh Kpassagnon or Alex Okafor next season?
  • Darius Harris: It wasn’t a splashy performance, but it was valuable experience for Harris — who played 100% of the snaps against the Chargers and led the team in tackles with 10. Given the injuries to Willie Gay, Jr., Ben Niemann and Damien Wilson — and with Anthony Hitchens still unavailable — it’s important that Harris be ready to go when needed.
  • Khalen Saunders: This hasn’t been the season we all hoped to see from Saunders; he’s been a healthy scratch ever since the emergence of Tershawn Wharton. But on Sunday, Saunders went out and gave a really solid effort — even playing out of position in a linebacker role for much of the second half. His real highlight was a goal-line stuff on fourth down. He might still be part of the team’s long-term plans. If so, this game probably helped his chances.

Losers

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
  • Mecole Hardman: Given his potential role in the playoffs, maybe the plan was to give Hardman some reps, but use him sparingly. Or maybe he had a shot to be featured, but just didn’t get open. Either way, his disappointing season continued. He finished with two catches, 25 yards and a costly fumble on a muffed punt return. Hopefully, Hardman’s best is still yet to come.
  • BoPete Keyes: Given the success of L’Jarius Sneed, we were excited to see the other cornerback taken in this year’s draft take the field. Keyes certainly took his lumps against Justin Herbert and company, struggling in coverage and being a frequent target. To his credit, Keyes seemed to keep competing — and showed some physicality while tackling — but it may take some more time before he’s ready to play on a more regular basis.
  • The Chiefs’ defensive depth: On offense, we saw promising signs from the line, backs and receivers, indicating that there’s some good depth to step in as needed. But on defense, the Chiefs not only struggled to slow down the Chargers offense but also suffered key injuries to Willie Gay, Jr., Rashad Fenton — and most tragically, to Deandre Baker. While none of them were necessarily going to play a lot in the postseason, it’s clear that the Chiefs are getting dangerously thin at linebacker and cornerback. It’s something to watch going forward; anything can happen in January and February.
  • Juan Thornhill: The promising young safety is still working his way back to form — and based on his play against the Chargers, he still has a ways to go. His explosiveness, decision-making and overall play are just not close to where they were prior to last season’s injury. He played 100% of the snaps against the Chargers. That indicates the Chiefs felt he needed the work — but also that he’s not as prominent in their postseason plans as he would be if he were playing the way we know he can.