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Key third-down conversions help the Chiefs secure Sunday’s victory

Kansas City needed its “next men” to stand up in Los Angeles — and they did.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Divisional games are always tough.

The Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers proved that the NFL was justified in flexing their Week 11 matchup to Sunday Night Football. The two teams put on an epic battle for the world to see. A night filled with anticipation for great quarterback play met every standard as Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert both made great plays to keep their teams in the game.

The two teams had 11 first-half possessions. Points were scored on seven of those drives — and the lead changed hands after three of them. The back-and-forth battle sent the teams to the halftime locker room with Chiefs trailing 20-13. Then in the third quarter, Kansas City managed a field goal to trim the Chargers’ lead to 20-16.

Up to that point, the Chiefs’ offense had seemed out of sync. Injured wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman had been ruled out before the game began — and newcomer Kadarius Toney had left the game early with a hamstring issue. To come back to Kansas City with a victory, the Chiefs would have to have an offensive playmaker step up — and soon.

The turning point

But the the first order of business was to get Los Angeles off the field without another score. Linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and safety Justin Reid stopped Austin Ekeler cold on a third-and-1, forcing a JK Scott punt which started Kansas City’s next drive at its own 14-yard line.

All-Pro safety Derwin James dropped Mahomes for a seven-yard loss on first down. Linebacker Troy Reeder followed that up with an excellent pass breakup against tight end Noah Gray — putting Kansas City at third-and-17 on its own seven-yard line. If the Chargers could force a punt, they’d have great field position to extend their lead.

In such a situation, most coaches would call a draw or a screen pass to give their punter more room to kick. But despite being without some of his top weapons, head coach Andy Reid put his trust in Mahomes’ arm.

Mahomes found former Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout Justin Watson open on a beautiful dig route for 25 yards to keep the drive alive.

Three plays later, the Chiefs were facing third-and-7 on their own 47-yard line. This time, rookie wide receiver Skyy Moore beat James off the line with a beautiful setup that displayed the route-running ability we first noticed in training camp. Mahomes found Moore for a 15-yard gain and another first down.

Kansas City finished the drive with a touchdown that gave them a 23-20 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Chargers managed to regain the lead with another touchdown, but made the mistake of leaving Mahomes with 1:46 on the clock. All he needed was 1:16 — and tight end Travis Kelce — to secure the 30-27 victory that advanced Kansas City to an 8-2 record.

The bottom line

Reid has always had a next-man-up mentality with his players — and when the team needed big plays on Sunday night, those next men were ready. Mahomes and Kelce delivered their magic — but with three wide receivers out, timely catches from Watson and Moore played a huge role in Kansas City’s win. Hats off to general manager Brett Veach for the depth he’s assembled on the Chiefs’ roster.

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