It was another primetime intra-division thriller between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night.
It started off rocky for the visiting team; the Los Angeles offense made a number of plays in the first half. But in the second, the Chiefs’ defense yet again asserted itself, allowing the all-time greats on the Kansas City offense to get it done when it counted the most — essentially closing out the AFC West with a 30-27 victory.
We shouldn’t be surprised that when these two teams meet, there are fireworks. Luckily, the Chiefs have some guys who absolutely love playing the Chargers, so there were some outstanding performances across the board.
It was tough to find anyone to put in the “losers” column.
Here’s what stood out to us as the Chiefs advanced to 8-2.
Note: Applying the labels “winners” and “losers” is not intended to be a judgment on the talent or character of any of these players. It’s just a simple way to grade their performance in a single game. No disrespect is intended.
MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes: If the division is wrapped up after Week 11, so too should be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. Operating without his top four receivers at some points of the game, Patrick Mahomes was brilliant — especially late in the game when the team needed him the most. His stat line was great, going over 300 yards with three passing touchdowns and another 23 yards on the ground — almost all of that on the final scoring drive. But it was the way in which Mahomes inspired confidence — and his smooth command of the offense — that really stood out. When the Chiefs got the ball back, everyone on planet Earth knew they would score a touchdown. That’s because of the MVP under center.
Tight end Travis Kelce: If the Chargers and their fans aren’t having nightmares about Mahomes, they certainly are having them about his tight end. When the GOAT targets the GOAT against Los Angeles, big things happen nearly every time. Kelce went off with six catches for 115 yards and the only three touchdowns Kansas City scored — a hat trick from Patrick. When the game was on the line, it was poetic that Kelce took it the distance for the win — that is, for everyone but the Chargers and their fans.
Running back Isiah Pacheco: Everyone knew that the Chiefs could (and should) run the ball in this game — and the seventh-round rookie got it done in impressive fashion. He turned fifteen carries into 107 yards — over seven yards per carry. Pacheco ran with his unique combination: bursts of speed with a straight-ahead power that always results in an extra yard or two. Since Clyde Edwards-Helaire went down with a high ankle sprain during the game, the former Rutgers player is clearly now the No. 1 running back — and he might not give that job up for a long time.
Linebacker Nick Bolton: Save your criticisms for another day. Bolton is an impact defender for Kansas City. He made plays that helped turn the momentum of this game. Sure, he had a couple of penalties — including a dumb late hit out of bounds. But he also had fourteen total tackles, a pass defended, a forced fumble and the diving interception that closed out the game. Everyone knows that he’s one of the league’s best tacklers — but when he’s also forcing turnovers, he deserves a ton of credit.
Defensive end Chris Jones: The anchor of the defensive line was yet again a monster. Jones played well throughout the game, but he really took over down the stretch. Two more sacks, three tackles for loss and four quarterback hits were added to the resume of the defensive lineman who should be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year — and a new contract.
Defensive end Michael Danna: Another Charger Killer, the third-year player racked up two sacks in impressive fashion. In the second quarter, he instantly ended a drive by beating his blocker and taking Herbert down. Like Jones, Danna has been thriving under new defensive line coach Joe Cullen, who often has him attacking from the inside and using his quickness to his advantage.
Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed: One of the only plays he gave up was a crazy toe-tapping catch that Mike Williams made before he re-injured his ankle and left the game. From there forward, Sneed was all over the place. His stats — two passes defended, a tackle for loss and five total tackles — don’t tell the full story. It was Sneed who helped shut down several plays in the running game, knocked away a potential Keenan Allen touchdown and played a role in tipping the ball up for Bolton’s game-clinching interception.
Wide receiver Skyy Moore: Just when we thought he wasn’t going to be a factor this season, the kid stepped up. In a game where Kansas City was really shorthanded, it was incredible to see Moore make plays with his route-running — and also in the scramble drill. He showed the strong hands and separation skills that got him drafted in the second round. Moore was second on the team in targets (6), catching five of them for 63 yards and converting a couple of really important third downs — showing some fire along the way. That’s a performance he can build upon — one that will help him gain the confidence of his quarterback.
Tight end Jody Fortson: Not only did he catch both of his targets on the day — including a big 40-yard gain — Fortson also excelled as a downfield blocker; he played a big role on each of Kelce’s touchdowns. He’s becoming a complete player. We hope to see more from Fortson down the stretch.
Harrison Butker: He didn’t miss a single one of his six kicks on the day. Enough said.
Cornerback Joshua Williams: It was a very difficult task for the rookie cornerback in Los Angeles. Going up against Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Josh Palmer presents some unique challenges. There were a couple of plays they made that couldn’t have been avoided; a perfect pass and catch will always beat perfect coverage. That was true on of Allen’s catch over Williams on third-and-18 with under four minutes left. Williams battled, but it appeared to be an understandably tough week for him.
Running back Jerick McKinnon: The veteran back is still a really valuable player for Kansas City; his pass protection was actually an offensive key in this game. However, teams might have figured out his role in the screen game; his one attempt was stopped cold. It also resulted in the fumble that set up the Chargers’ drive to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. Without the fumble, the Chiefs could have put the game out of reach. With it, they had to rely on Mahomes for a comeback drive. But thankfully, he’s good at those.
The AFC West: With seven games left to play, Kansas City has all but locked up its seventh straight division title. In a year where every other team loaded up with big-name veterans, the Chiefs went young by trading away a wide receiver who is breaking every record in the books. It looks like that strategy is paying off. They said the division was the toughest in football — and one of the toughest in history. But just over the halfway mark of the season, the race is all but over. For other fan bases, front offices, coaches and players, that’s gotta sting.