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Instabreakdown: Chiefs’ reserves tough out win in Los Angeles

Kansas City battled through Sunday’s low-scoring affair to collect its 11th win.

Kansas City Chiefs v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

In Week 18, the Kansas City Chiefs recorded a 13-12 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, ending the 2023 regular season with a 11-6 record.

Offense (Caleb James)

The Blaine Gabbert-led offense looked just about how you would expect in a meaningless Week 18 game. With multiple starters resting, the Chiefs consistently struggled to move the ball.

Sunday’s largest development was starting offensive tackles Wanya Morris and Jawaan Taylor both leaving the game with injuries. Morris left the game with a concussion in the first quarter, while Taylor — who was playing left tackle in Morris’ place — left the field late in the first half after his leg was rolled.

Morris was ruled out, but Taylor did re-enter the game and played a few series in the second half. This will be a situation to monitor closely as we head into Wild Card Weekend.

Otherwise, Kansas City rotated the offensive linemen around, allowing backups like Nick Allegretti, Mike Caliendo and Lucas Niang opportunities to play.

In his first start in five years, Gabbert was 15 for 30 for 154 yards and an interception. Mecole Hardman led all Chiefs receivers with six catches for 77 yards — his best game in quite some time. La’Mical Perine had a productive game, with 76 yards rushing and three receptions for 33 yards.

While the offense struggled for most of the game, Gabbert showed us something on Kansas City’s final drive. He moved the sticks with a pair of third-down scrambles that set up Harrison Butker's game-winning field goal.

Offensive player of the game: Left guard Joe Thuney

With Taylor and Morris both out of the game, the Chiefs arrived at a “break glass in case of emergency” situation. Thuney is one of the league’s highest-paid guards — but that is largely due to his ability to perform at a high level in multiple positions on the line. Playing at left tackle — matched up against future Hall of Famer Khalil Mack — he more than held his own. While Thuney would return to guard when Taylor re-entered the game, this showcased why he is one of the league’s best overall offensive linemen — and why it is so important for the Chiefs to have quality depth on the line.

Defense (Ron Kopp Jr.)

The Chargers’ opening drive — which had 18 plays that gained 73 yards — lasted over nine minutes. The theme of the drive became a theme of the game: quarterback Easton Stick ran six times, avoiding pressure by using his legs to keep possessions alive.

But in a goal-to-go situation at the end of his first drive, he was scrambling for a seventh time when defensive end Charles Omenihu punched the ball out of his hands. Safety Mike Edwards picked it up and found the space for a 97-yard touchdown run.

After the long opening drive, the Chiefs’ defense clamped down. The swarming pass rush had trouble finishing the deal — Omeninhu’s strip was the only sack of the first half — but the rushers forced many incompletions and hurried throws.

But as the game went on, the pass rush came alive. Defensive end Malik Herring created pressure on a few occasions — and then earned a sack on the game’s final drive. Defensive end B.J. Thompson was also closing in the pocket by rushing tight around the corner.

In the back end of the defense, it was noticeable how players flew to the ball. Linebackers Leo Chenal and Cam Jones made downhill plays. Jones ended up leading the team in tackles — and at one point, he blitzed to force Stick out of the pocket.

Safeties Chamarri Conner and Deon Bush were making similarly physical plays from the third level, sprinting to the ball and laying the wood on ball carriers. The duo combined for 14 tackles, making their presence felt against both the run and the pass.

Ealry on, cornerback Jaylen Watson stood out, getting in on three tackles during the first drive — then setting up the scoop and score by forcing an incompletion on third down. Later in the first half, Watson broke up another pass. His tight coverage did draw a penalty at one point, which led to Los Angeles’ first field goal.

Cornerback Joshua Williams broke up a deep pass in the fourth quarter. That came after he was called for pass interference on a downfield throw earlier in the game. Overall, the two young cornerbacks played a game where the pros and cons of physicality were displayed; each had two passes defended. After a hard hit in the fourth quarter, Watson left the game.

Defensive player of the game: Defensive tackle Chris Jones

Jones’ pursuit of the sack that would make him $1.25 million richer may have been agonizing to fans and the team, but it resulted in a very disruptive performance. Jones had three quarterback hits in the first half. Over and over again, he chased Stick down — or forced a hurried throw. On one third down, he broke through the line intending to rush the passer — and blew up a running play.

But in the third quarter, Jones finally broke through, swallowing Stick for the sack. The team’s reaction was priceless — and made the frustration leading up to it worthwhile. Heading into the playoffs, a big moment for the team doesn’t hurt a thing.

It's Game Time.

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