Any time the Kansas City Chiefs wear their white-on-white road uniforms, you know the team is about to go toe-to-toe with a formidable foe. Thursday night's game between the Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers was — for all intents and purposes — a fight for the AFC West.
From the beginning, this was a back-and-forth game. The Chiefs jumped out to an early 10- point lead that the Chargers quickly erased on the back of their own young gunslinger Justin Herbert. But down the stretch, head coach Andy Reid’s squad leaned on the proven connection between quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce.
With this victory, the Chiefs have extended their lead over the Chargers to two games and leveled the head-to-head tie-breaker Los Angeles held until Kelce’s final sprint down the field. In the AFC West, the Chiefs once again control their own destiny.
Here are some of the players who stood out in an unforgettable victory.
Patrick Lavon Mahomes II: This was not a perfect game for No. 15. He had two very ugly turnovers on his own side of the field — including an inexcusable interception in the fourth quarter while the Chiefs trailed by one point. But in the end — when the Chiefs needed him the most — Mahomes orchestrated two touchdown drives that will be remembered for a very long time. This was the sort of game that puts Mahomes back in the MVP conversation.
Travis Kelce: With the game on the line — and the season hanging in the balance — Mahomes went to Kelce on back-to-back scoring drives to win the game — including a 34-yard touchdown pass in overtime in which Kelce evaded multiple would-be tacklers. Late in the third quarter — with the Chiefs trailing by seven — Kelce hauled in a 69-yard reception to set up Tyreek Hill for the one-yard touchdown catch. Kelce had a monster day, ending with 10 receptions for 191 yards and two scores.
Tyreek Hill: This was a game that was defined by the Chiefs offensive stars. Time and time again, Hill showed why he is the NFL’s most electric receiver. The Chargers — whose head coach Brandon Staley is revered for his defensive acumen — had no answer as Hill torched their secondary, appearing to make big plays at will. The wideout collected 12 catches for 148 yards — and the touchdown that sent the game into overtime.
Michael Burton: The life of an NFL fullback is mostly a thankless one; your efforts rarely show up on the stat sheet. But when Burton’s number was called on Thursday night, he showed up. On a handoff up the gut, he barreled seven yards into the end zone — and also hauled in two receptions for 20 yards. You don’t hear his name often — but when you do, it’s always because something good happened.
Nick Bolton: The first-year linebacker out of Missouri has been proving why he was worthy of being selected in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Bolton is one of the best rookie defenders in the NFL. With the team shorthanded on defense, Bolton was a tackling machine in Los Angeles, racking up 14 tackles and three passes defended — including one tipped pass that ended up as an interception.
Anthony Hitchens: The Hit Man lived up to his name on Thursday night. With Willie Gay Jr. on the team’s Reserve/COVID list, the Chiefs needed a strong outing from their linebackers — and that is exactly what they got. Hitchens tallied eight tackles and a pass defended — but his highlight moment came near the end of the first quarter, when Bolton tipped a Herbert pass intended for wide receiver Keenan Allen and Hitchens came down with the ball.
Ben Niemann: Despite usually drawing the ire of Chiefs fans, Niemann came off the bench and performed admirably — including a goal-line stop with defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton that forced a fumble from running back Joshua Kelley. For all the grief he gets, Niemann was solid against the Chargers.
Charvarius Ward: On Thursday afternoon, Ward popped up on the injury report as questionable with an illness. Since the Chiefs were already shorthanded in the secondary, this was alarming — but Ward battled through his sickness and played a heck of a game. Over the course of the season, Ward has developed into one of the NFL’s best tackling cornerbacks — a skillset was on full display as he tallied 10 tackles and two passes defended against the Chargers.
The Chiefs front four: With Chris Jones out, this unit just did not look the same. This was supposed to be Melvin Ingram’s revenge game against his former team — but throughout the evening, he was mostly quiet. The Chiefs struggled in the trenches to create pressure on Herbert — and fared even worse in the running game, allowing the Chargers to rush for 192 yards at 4.9 yards per carry.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire: On Thursday night, the Chiefs’ rushing attack was abysmal; they were just unable to get anything going on the ground. Edward-Helaire was mostly ineffective, only managing 32 yards on nine carries and two receptions for 18 yards. If he wants to be considered the unquestioned starter, he needs to play better.
Demarcus Robinson: At this point, It almost feels like beating a dead horse. But Robinson keeps proving why he is not a starting wide receiver. He struggles to get open — and when a target is contested, he does a terrible job of fighting for the ball. He had four targets against the Chargers, failing to haul in a single catch.
Mecole Hardman: Like Robinson, Hardman is who he is. In recent weeks, he has seen his snap count dwindle — and for good reason. After making a clutch play last week, Hardman was all but invisible in this game. At this point in his career, you just can’t count on him to show up on a weekly basis.