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Chiefs-Chargers rapid reaction: Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce — forever

Kelce had the Chiefs’ three touchdowns on the night, including one that came on a game-winning drive.

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

With a fourth-quarter, game-winning drive, the Kansas City Chiefs stunned the Los Angeles Chargers by winning 30-27 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. It was the Chiefs’ fourth win in a row, improving their record to 8-2.

Patrick and Travis forever

You would never know it from taking a quick glance at the box score — you know, at his six catches for 115 yards and three touchdowns — but Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce actually started the game a little uncharacteristically. They were out of sync, with back-to-back miscues on the first drive. Later — after the first Kelce touchdown — they would have another.

But as we have learned over this year that we’ve followed the future Pro Football Hall of Fame duo, the miscues never last long. Five of Kelce’s six catches went for a first down or a touchdown — and at the ripe age of 33, he continues to rival players like Tyreek Hill, Justin Jefferson and Davante Adams as one of the league’s best weapons. As you know, all three of those guys are wide receivers — not tight ends.

Down 27-23, there were less than two minutes left on the clock when Mahomes got the ball. A minute and 15 seconds later, the Chiefs had the lead. Mahomes’ MVP season continued chugging along.

Kelce’s three touchdowns were not only crucial to the Chiefs leaving Los Angeles with a victory, they also made personal history. Kelce’s 11 touchdowns tie his career high, which he set in 2020. The Chiefs have seven games left to play.

The ‘youth movement’ stepped up in a big way

The Chiefs entered this divisional matchup without several key contributors they had when they were able to defeat the Chargers in Week 2, including wide receivers Mecole Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster — along with defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton.

Matters grew worse during the game, as running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, wide receiver Kadarius Toney and safety Juan Thornhill all left the game with injuries.

So... what happened?

Seventh-round rookie running back Isiah Pacheco broke out for his first 100-yard game, doing so with 15 carries for 7.1 yards per attempt. Despite his nearly-game-costing fumble, veteran Jerick McKinnon showed he is necessary on passing downs — but Pacheco also made his case: so long as he is healthy, there should be no running back-by-committee on early downs.

As Pacheco broke out, wide receiver Skyy Moore had a mini-breakout of sorts. Moore caught five of his six targets for 63 yards — and after his fourth-quarter, 13-yard catch for a first down, it was easy to see there was some emotion to his night in Los Angeles. Moore had very clearly seen the noise regarding whether he was worth a second-round pick. Sometimes, all you need is an opportunity — even if it’s due to injuries.

Second-year linebacker Nick Bolton was magnificent, leading the team with 14 tackles (10 solo). Had it not been for the McKinnon fumble, his forced fumble on the previous Los Angeles drive would have sealed the game. Once it didn’t, Bolton persisted — sealing the game on the final drive by intercepting Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. His running mate — third-year linebacker Willie Gay Jr. — registered an untouched sack on a timely-called blitz.

Third-year defensive end Mike Danna — who lost a bit of his season due to a calf injury — had his way with the Chargers’ offensive line, getting to Herbert twice. Four of Danna’s 7.5 career sacks have come against Herbert. He’s probably the most underrated player on the Kansas City defensive line.

We can’t forget about Chris Jones

The Chiefs wouldn’t have won this tight AFC West game without the performance of the defense’s key player — who is also one of the league’s best defensive tackles: Chris Jones.

Jones was disruptive all night. He pressured Herbert right before halftime, making the quarterback’s touchdown pass go off-target. Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed finished the job in the end zone to keep Los Angeles from scoring seven points. On a third-and-1 in the third quarter, Jones broke through the line to assist in stoning running back Austin Ekeler. The Chargers punted the ball away.

Jones’ second sack of the night came with the game on the line. Then on second-and-15, Herbert threw the ball into the hands of the Kansas City secondary to end the game.

Jones’ final line was five tackles, 2.0 sacks, four quarterback hits and three tackles for loss. Don’t look now, but Jones has 9.0 sacks on the season.

The final word

The Chargers haven’t had a great season. It’s been riddled with injuries — but even when the team has been healthy, it hasn’t always played particularly well. Then the Chiefs came to town.

And if you don’t trust the Computer Cowboy — just ask someone who's played in most of the Chiefs-Chargers games in recent years.

But I’d argue that this isn’t isolated to Los Angeles.

Every week, key injured players from Kansas City’s opponent suddenly make a miraculous recoveries (see: Los Angeles wideouts Keenan Allen and Mike Williams). Individuals who have had quiet seasons play the game of their lives (see: Chargers wideout Josh Palmer).

Having hosted four straight conference title games, the Chiefs are still the team to beat in the AFC. Obtaining a victory against them can be a franchise-altering event. When Los Angeles had a 27-23 lead, you could see it on the faces of the Chargers’ players.

Los Angeles was on its home field, knowing that the only way to stay alive in the division was to come away with a victory. The Chargers played a near-perfect game — but here’s the thing: while Los Angeles had a late lead, Kansas City had Mahomes.

So the Chiefs leave California with a three-game lead in the AFC West — and maintain their control of the AFC.

That’s now seven straight seasons of division dominance — and for at least another week, the AFC still runs through Kansas City.

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