Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.
The Kansas City Chiefs defense looked to have received the messaging as the afternoon began at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. Feeding off a raucous home crowd, the Chiefs defense forced the Los Angeles Chargers to a three-and-out on their first drive, then a punt on their second.
But Chiefs’ offense could not take advantage of the defense’s hot start. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid often notes the parity that exists in today’s NFL — how games can be decided by small mistakes — or a lack thereof. The point here is when your offense, which is rolling, ends three straight drives with bad turnovers, it is going to be tough to lead in the football game.
A Patrick Mahomes no-look pass bounced off the hands of wide receiver Marcus Kemp and into those of cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., who made a magnificent play. Then wide receiver Tyreek Hill fumbled, followed by running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumbling for the second straight game (after never having fumbled in 13 regular-season games).
Sans the fumble, Edwards-Helaire had his best outing in a long time, running 17 times for 100 yards and a touchdown on a nifty play call from Reid. But even Edwards-Helaire’s breakthrough could not save the Chiefs on Sunday.
The fumbles led to red-zone drives — which defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo addressed head-on going into the game. But the Chiefs still failed to force fields goals, allowing two Chargers touchdowns in the first half. The Chargers later scored on their third red-zone opportunity in the fourth quarter. In their first 11 red-zone trips in 2021, the opposing offenses scored touchdowns. Every. Single. Time.
The Chiefs finally got their first stop of the season when they needed it most on Sunday, while Mahomes and Justin Herbert were exchanging second-half blows to the tune of three lead changes. Once Mahomes got tight end Travis Kelce going in the second half, the offense looked like itself.
Mahomes got the ball back with two minutes and 14 seconds in a 24-24 game. This, we have found — time and time again — is never where you want to be. But on third-and-8, on a sequence we have grown accustomed to seeing — Mahomes and Kelce mind-melding their way to a win — Mahomes threw the ball up, only to have it intercepted. It was the Chiefs’ fourth turnover of the day.
Aided by an iffy pass interference call on Deandre Baker — playing because of injuries to Charvarius Ward and Rashad Fenton — Herbert and the Chargers pulled ahead of Kansas City. The tandem of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams beat the Chiefs up all day long, and Williams caught the final pass for a touchdown. With a missed extra point that followed, the Chargers won 30-24.
With safety Derwin James in the mix and defensive end Joey Bosa in the trenches, the Chargers have built a team that will be in the games they play against the Chiefs. That means taking care of the football is imperative.
On Sunday, not being able to do that cost the Chiefs a victory.