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Chiefs-Chargers Instabreakdown: Mahomes and Kelce haunt Los Angeles

Kansas City comes from behind to extend its dominance of the AFC West.

Kansas City Chiefs v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Final score: Kansas City Chiefs 30, Los Angeles Chargers 27

Offense (Nate Christensen)

If there was a game where the Chiefs would be limited in the passing game, it was going to be this one. Juju Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman were already out of this game — and in the second quarter, Kadarius Toney was ruled out with a hamstring injury.

But Kansas City made adjustments for those injuries. The Chiefs got into 13 personnel, running both zone and gap runs to major success. On the first 14 running back carries of the game, the Chiefs were successful on 10 of them (71.57%), averaging around 5.8 yards per carry. The run blocking was phenomenal, but rookie running back Isiah Pacheco also demonstrated great vision on a lot of his runs.

13 personnel also helped the Chiefs in the passing game — particularly on Travis Kelce’s first two touchdowns. On the first, Jody Fortson made a great block on the rocket screen, springing the edge open for the score. On the second, quarterback Patrick Mahomes hit Kelce underneath on a crosser — and Fortson’s key downfield block opened the sideline for Kelce to use. Fortson played a terrific game — but not just in his blocking. He had a terrific catch on a wheel route down the sideline during the first half — which led to the first Kelce touchdown.

Kelce was absolutely terrific, finishing with six catches, 115 yards and three touchdowns. Early in the game, Los Angeles safety Derwin James was beating Kelce in man coverage — but the Chiefs adjusted. They got the tight end going on some screens, matched him up against linebackers and even hit a nice tight end Drive concept to get him open over the middle of the field. It was fitting that Kelce’s game-winning touchdown came while beating James in man coverage, conquering every demon the Chargers brought on Sunday night.

With so many receiver injuries, it was nice to see Skyy Moore step up. The rookie had 63 yards on five catches, flashing his ability to beat man coverage — including a play against James on a drag route. Justin Watson also pitched in with 67 yards. The Chiefs’ depth at wide receiver was tested on Sunday night, but Watson and Moore stepped up.

For the most part, the Chargers did a good job against the pass — but in the end, it didn’t matter. In the game-winning drive, Mahomes went four-of-five for 48 yards and a touchdown, while also adding 22 yards on the ground. Mahomes proved once again to be at his best in the clutch. He’s once again pulling away as the odds-on favorite for NFL MVP.

Offensive Player of the Game: Tight end Travis Kelce

I thought about going with Isiah Pacheco — or the entire offensive line — but how can you not give it to Kelce? The Chargers used to give him a lot of problems; James always does well against him. Yet in his age-33 season, Kelce continues to be the league’s best at his position — even without Tyreek Hill helping him out. For my money, he’s the best tight end of all time. Seeing him have this season at his age is just amazing. We are fortunate to be able to watch him play.

Defense (Bryan Stewart)

If Kansas City’s first defensive series was a sign of things to come, it was looking like it would be a very long night for the Chiefs. After just three plays — including one deep pass to a wide-open Chargers wide receiver — Los Angeles was on the scoreboard with seven points.

For the Chargers’ offense, the biggest pre-game storyline was the return of their top two receivers: Mike Williams and Keenan Allen. Based on reports of the past few weeks, the timing of their return seemed a little premature. In Williams’ case, that turned out to be true: in the first quarter, he aggravated his high ankle sprain as he hauled in a clutch first-down conversion. Allen entered the contest expecting to play on a reduced snap count — but it likely ended up being fewer than he (and the Chargers) expected.

Much of the first-half defensive effort was riddled with nonsensical mistakes and questionable efforts. The Chargers took the fight to Kansas City up front, taking what they wanted on the ground while executing precisely in the passing game. Los Angeles entered the halftime break with 76 yards rushing — and quarterback Justin Herbert was 14-of-19 for 172 passing yards for a whopping 9.1 yards per attempt. Most importantly, the Chargers did not turn the ball over.

Then came the second half. The first two Los Angeles drives resulted in quick punts. The next drive lasted longer, but ended with a crucial forced fumble by linebacker Nick Bolton. In a game where all mistakes would be amplified, Allen had made a big one. Unfortunately, the Kansas City offense returned the favor with a fumble of their own on the next drive, setting up the Chargers for a go-ahead touchdown.

But it wasn’t over yet — because Mahomes and Kelce put the defense in a position to close the game; it was on the final drive when the unit put its stamp on this game. Defensive tackle Chris Jones harassed quarterback Justin Herbert with immediate pressure, getting his second sack of the night. On the next down, a pass breakup by L’Jarius Sneed and Deon Bush helped Nick Bolton corral the game-winning interception.

While the defense was sometimes frustrating, it finished the job when it mattered.

Defensive Player of the Game: Defensive end Mike Danna

After a calf injury early in the year, the third-year rotational player is looking healthy again. Danna is starting to earn plenty of pressure — especially when he rushes from interior alignments over offensive guards. On Sunday, those pressures twice turned into sacks. Those were just part of the five Kansas City collected on the night — more than any team has had against the Chargers this season.

It's Game Time.

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