Here are five things we learned from the game.
1. Patrick Mahomes has another lesson to learn
The Chiefs’ quarterback didn’t have a good day against the Chargers
On the team’s first offensive drive, a pass thrown a little bit behind wideout Marcus Kemp went through his hands, ending up in those of Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. for an interception. While the throw wasn’t perfect, it was catchable. On both of the next two possessions, Mahomes was moving the offense well, but fumbles by wide receiver Tyreek Hill and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire ended both drives prematurely.
While Mahomes managed to put together an 11-play, 70-yard drive for a field goal in just over two minutes to close the first half, he went into the locker room with a passer rating of just 64.4.
Things improved in the third quarter. The Chiefs continued to feed the ball to Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams, which helped open up the passing game — although Los Angeles did an excellent job of taking away the Chiefs’ deep routes. Still, by midway through the fourth quarter, Mahomes managed three consecutive touchdown drives — and the Chiefs held a 24-21 lead.
But Mahomes had one more interception in him. Under pressure on a third-and-8 just inside the two-minute warning, Mahomes threw it up, hoping that tight end Travis Kelce could make a play downfield. Instead, the Chargers’ Alohi Gilman made an easy pick. The Chiefs would get one more possession before the final gun — but when Gilman downed the ball, the game was essentially over.
It’s been encouraging to see Mahomes’ development continue. He’s learning to step up in the pocket to help his offensive linemen — and also to concentrate on making the plays the defense gives him. Now it’s time for him to learn the next lesson: you can’t be lucky forever. In each of the last two games, Mahomes has unnecessarily thrown caution to the wind, giving up interceptions that contributed to his team’s losses.
Mahomes will learn to do better. But these days, the team’s margin for error seems to be getting smaller and smaller. The sooner he can learn it, the better.
2. Attitude adjustment isn’t everything
It was good to see the Chiefs’ defense come out of the blocks playing with an attitude, handing the Chargers a three-and-out in their first offensive series. They held Los Angeles to just a first down in their second drive — which began on a Patrick Mahomes interception — completely enveloping quarterback Justin Herbert to force a punt on a third-and-11 after L’Jarius Sneed stuffed Austin Ekeler on an outside run.
But through the rest of the first half, attitude just wasn’t enough. Two more Kansas City turnovers gave the Chargers the ball near midfield — and by then, the Chiefs’ defense had simply been on the field too much. After the Chargers had taken a 14-0 lead, the defense finally managed to get Los Angeles to fourth down when Daniel Sorensen forced an incompletion on an end-zone throw to Jalen Guyton — but even that almost turned out badly. The Chargers easily converted the fourth-and-4 with a 30-yard pass to Keenan Allen — but the play was called back on an illegal offensive shift penalty, forcing a punt.
The defense managed one more three-and-out in the Chargers’ first second-half drive — but after that, it was just more of what we have seen during the previous two games.
Kansas City did hold the Chargers to just 3.5 yards per rushing attempt. But throughout the game, Los Angeles moved the ball through the air at will. It was essentially a complete reversal of the problems the Chiefs’ defense had faced against the Ravens in Week 2.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs allowed four more red-zone touchdowns — although at the most opportune moment, they did hold Los Angeles to a field goal in a fourth-quarter red-zone stand. Even then, however, Chargers penalties contributed to Kansas City’s success against the drive.
In the final analysis, this game turned on Kansas City’s four offensive turnovers; few teams can survive that many in a game. But while the Chiefs’ defense can afford to give up rushing yards, they cannot afford to give up as many passing yards as they did against Los Angeles.
And somehow, they’re going to have to figure out how to improve in the red zone.
3. ‘Going for it’ is now part of every team’s plan against the Chiefs
We have been hearing for a while that many teams will treat their games with the Chiefs like it is the Super Bowl — that they will do whatever it takes to notch a win.
Well ... they’re doing that.
The stat sheet says that the Chargers went for it on fourth down just once on Sunday — but that’s a little misleading. The Chargers actually attempted four fourth-down conversions, converting all of them. But because three of the plays were wiped out by penalties — one on the Chiefs and two on the Chargers — the only one that counted in the stats was the fourth-and-4 at the Kansas City 28-yard line early in the fourth quarter. The Chargers converted that one with a nine-yard pass to Keenan Allen that put them in the red zone — and led to a touchdown that gave them a 21-17 lead.
That was a costly play — and each of Kansas City’s games this season has now featured a costly fourth-down conversion. With regard to those made by the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2 and the Chargers on Sunday, holding them could have allowed the Chiefs to win those games.
It used to be that fourth-down conversion attempts were the exclusive province of risk-taking head coaches. But now — especially against the Chiefs’ (usually) high-scoring offense — we should expect them from every team at any time. It’s bad enough that the Chiefs’ defense has been struggling — but now, they’ll have to stay on the field for another play from scrimmage a bit more often.
4. The Chiefs are continuing to spread the ball around
There was some good news during the team’s loss. One of the positive developments was Kansas City continuing to get other players involved in the passing game. While Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill were the team’s top two receivers — combining for 12 catches — Mahomes targeted 11 other receivers.
Those included all three of the team’s tight ends — Jody Fortson had his first NFL touchdown catch — the other four active wideouts and the team’s two main running backs. Running back Jerick McKinnon and fullback Michael Burton were the only offensive skill players who didn’t get a passing target.
In all, Kelce and Hill accounted for 18 or 40 passing targets and 160 of Mahomes’ 260 passing yards, leaving 22 targets for 15 catches and 100 yards — not to mention all three passing touchdowns — among the rest of the players.
5. Clyde Edwards Helaire can run the ball well
During the first quarter, the second-year running back once again fumbled the ball. For many, the second fumble in as many games will be the only stat that matters — and it’s true that just like the other three turnovers Kansas City committed, had Edwards-Helaire held on to the ball, the Chiefs might have won the game.
But it would be a shame to ignore the rest of his performance, which included 100 rushing yards on 17 carries (a very nice 5.9 yards per attempt) and two receptions for nine yards and touchdown.
More importantly, Edwards-Helaire looked the part on Sunday: finding holes, dragging clumps of defenders for additional yards — and even gaining five first downs on the ground, which were his first of the season.
If this turns out to be the kind of production we can usually expect from Edwards-Helaire behind the newly constituted offensive line, it will be a big plus for the Kansas City offense.