On Thursday night, the Kansas City Chiefs opened their 2022 home schedule with a narrow 27-24 primetime victory over an AFC West rival: Los Angeles Chargers. Here are five things we learned from the game:
1. This team can get its knuckles bloody
Early on, this matchup wasn’t pretty. Heck, the entire first half was kind of ugly. The Chiefs came out flat on offense. Facing third-and-2 on their opening drive, head coach Andy Reid attempted to run the ball horizontally, giving the ball to wide receiver Mecole Hardman off the right end. The play was blown up by the Los Angeles defense, which made itself at home in the Chiefs backfield for large portions of the evening.
In the first half, it felt like Chargers head coach Brandon Staley was doing the Chiefs a favor by not going for it on fourth down. Aside from one insane throw by quarterback Patrick Mahomes to running back Jerrick McKinnon for a touchdown, the Kansas City offense seemed discombobulated for much of the first half.
Even though the defense also got off to a rough start, luckily they were able to force the Chargers to fourth-and-short on multiple occasions. Considering that the Chiefs had no answer for Los Angeles wideout Mike Williams (who had a career day against the Chiefs) or for the Chargers’ rushing attack, the game felt like one where Kansas City easily could have been down by three scores.
But then the Chiefs came out in the second half with some fire in their bellies. They didn’t play mistake-free football, but they battled and scrapped for every inch they got. If you are a team with Super Bowl aspirations — like the Chiefs — you’ll have to win some dog fights like this one. The key is to avoid allowing winning ugly to become a habit.
2. Jaylen Watson can play at this level
Like the rest of the team, Watson did not play perfectly on Thursday night. If we’re being honest, Williams victimized him on more than one occasion. But I’ll give the rookie props: despite getting beat, Watson hung in there. He never stopped competing until his moment arrived.
There was 10:29 left in the fourth quarter. The Chargers had marched down the field with relative ease and were knocking on the door of the end zone. Shading off from Los Angeles tight end Gerald Everett, Watson pretended to be out of position, baiting quarterback Justin Herbert into throwing the ball in his direction. Jumping the route, Watson picked off the ball and took it to the house for six, putting the Chiefs ahead 24-17. It was a lead they would not relinquish.
3. Chris Jones can still take over a game
There were moments in the first half where it felt like the entire defensive line decided to call in sick. We don’t know what happened in the locker room at halftime — but when they walked back out of the tunnel, the defensive line was ready to roll. In particular, Chris Jones’ play popped off the screen. He compiled quite a stat line, collecting two sacks, two tackles for loss and a pass defended.
Chris Jones had a monster game. Finally gets isolated 1v1 with the LG and uses the quick hand swipe to win the inside. Explosion off of the ball, and he finishes the play on third down. @ArrowheadLive pic.twitter.com/Sz5ZdVziCd— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) September 16, 2022
This play could not have come at a more opportune time. For the first time in the game, Kansas City had the Chargers on the ropes. It was as if somebody flipped a switch, finally turning it to the on position. The line started manhandling people, throwing them around like rag dolls. It changed the tide down the stretch, leading to many more hits on Herbert. There was an urgency and fury in the way they played. It was beautiful to watch.
4. The coaching staff can call a bad game
When you have a rock star head coach like Andy Reid, sometimes you can expect them to be infallible: incapable of making mistakes. But even Reid is human — and can be prone to error.
All night, Reid struggled to make the right decisions on third-and-short. There was a failed shovel pass to Kelce, a screen pass on third-and-16 — or the time late in the second quarter when the Chiefs were unable to convert a third-and-one.
Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo sometimes seems to know exactly how to aggravate a fanbase. I’ll give him credit for getting the unit turned around in the second half. But after his players brought the heat on Herbert — nearly knocking him out of the game while creating an interception and multiple sacks — Spagnuolo called off the dogs, shifting everyone back into a prevent zone defense. For the life of me, I can’t understand it.
When Spagnuolo does this, it feels like he is coaching from a position of fear. It seems as if he has zero confidence in his players to get the job done. Come on, coach: let’s keep the pedal to the metal.
5. Even when he doesn’t play well, Patrick Mahomes is that dude
Sure... there were plays on Thursday night that were vintage Mahomes. But there were also plays where his mechanics were rushed because of pressure from the Los Angeles front four led by Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa. Mahomes not only flat-out missed a couple of throws, but also threw into coverage when he shouldn’t have. You could sometimes see the frustration on his face — but as usual, he never let himself get down; he just kept on trotting back out there, lining up under center and doing his best to execute the offense.
The result was a somewhat uneven performance — but he did just enough to win the game. This was a test of leadership and patience. Mahomes answered the call and got the victory. It was the sort of gutty performance that helps a team develop its identity.