The Kansas City Chiefs overcame several potential game-changing mistakes by their offense and special teams and left it to the defense to withstand a furious last gasp drive by San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers before finally emerging with a hard-fought 10-3 win at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday afternoon. The game wasn’t decided until Rivers’ pass to Danny Woodhead fell incomplete at the back of the end zone as the clock ran out and the win – Kansas City’s seventh straight – raised their season record to 8-5.
Just three weeks after KC crushed the Chargers 33-3 under gorgeous blue skies in sunny San Diego, this game matched the weather in Kansas City, nasty, gray, and wet. Playing in a steady rain that created havoc with both offenses, the game turned into a defensive battle quickly and the star of the game was easy to identify.
Linebacker Dee Ford, making his second career start in place of injured Pro Bowler Justin Houston, easily had his best day as a pro with three sacks, seven tackles (three for a loss), six quarterback pressures and three quarterback hits. He also was the man in coverage on Woodhead on the last play of the game.
Fellow linebacker Derrick Johnson continued his stellar season with six tackles and one interception that set up a Kansas City field goal at the end of the first half. As a team, the Chiefs defense held San Diego to under 200 total yards until the thrilling (or frightening, depending on your point of view) last drive of the game that ended with the Chargers on the one-yard line and 0:00 on the game clock.
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Offensively, it will be a game tape that is frustrating to watch for Kansas City. Alex Smith’s club record of consecutive passes without an interception was finally broken at 312 – second only to Tom Brady’s NFL record of 358 – but the pass that ended the streak was picked off by the Chargers Jason Verrett at the KC goal line, killing a potential scoring drive. To add insult to injury, three other big plays on offense were called back due to penalty.
The big one was a 63-yard touchdown throw to Charcandrick West with 3:58 left in the third quarter that was called back because tight end Travis Kelce was flagged for offensive pass interference. At the time, it would have put KC up 17-3 and might have iced the game right there because the defense was dominating San Diego’s offense.
Smith finished the day completing 15-of-23 passes for 191 yards, one touchdown and the one interception. Despite not getting the call on West’s TD catch, Smith correctly caught the Chargers playing too close to the line of scrimmage with two minutes left in the first half and hit Albert Wilson in stride over the middle for a 44-yard touchdown that ultimately was the only trip to the end zone for KC. He also ran for 40 yards on five carries, with an 18-yard scramble with seven seconds left in the first half set up the Chiefs second score of the day – a 40-yard field goal.
West and Spencer Ware carried the rest of the rushing load for the Chiefs, gaining 54 yards on 10 carries and 52 yards on eight carries, respectively.
Special teams had trouble for the second week in a row as well. One week after missing two extra points against Oakland, Cairo Santo missed a 46-yard field goal badly in the third quarter with the Chiefs up 10-0 at the time. San Diego took over with good field position after the miss and drove downfield on a 10-play, 52-yard drive that ended with a Josh Lambo 30-yard field goal.
However, on this day it was the punt coverage teams were the biggest culprits of misfortune for the Chiefs. A 58-yard punt return by Frankie Hammond Jr. after San Diego’s opening drive would have given the Chiefs the ball at the San Diego 26-yard line, but an illegal block penalty on Stephen Nelson put the ball back on the Kansas City 16-yard line instead. After picking up three first downs, the Chiefs were forced to punt the ball back to San Diego.
The next punt return was almost a complete disaster as Hammond Jr. fielded the ball on the Chiefs five-yard line and returned it 17 yards to the 22. Unfortunately, he fumbled the ball in the rain and San Diego recovered at the 26-yard line. It was the second fumble on a kick return in two weeks for Hammond, who did the same against Oakland last week. The difference being his ability to recover the fumble against the Raiders, but losing the second one to the Chargers. However the defense held and Lambo’s attempt at a 42-yard kick went wide right, keeping San Diego scoreless.
But everything that happened in the first 55 minutes of the game was just a precursor to the crazy final drive by Rivers and the Chargers. With five minutes left on the clock, Rivers took the ball back at his own 11-yard line. He was sacked on second down by Jaye Howard, but found Malcom Floyd 41 yards downfield on a third-and-14 pass, giving San Diego a first down at their own 48.
Ford got his third sack of Rivers on the next play, but Rivers picked up a first down to the Chiefs 39-yard line on fourth-and-3 with a six-yard pass to Javontee Herndon. It looked like the defense might escape on the next set of downs after three straight incompletions by Rivers, but the veteran quarterback picked up another fourth down conversion with a shot to tight end Antonio Gates at the Chiefs 23-yard line.
Unbelievably to everyone wearing Chiefs Red watching the game, Rivers then converted his third straight fourth down, finding receiver Vincent Brown for a 22-yard gain, giving the Chargers a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line with just five seconds left. But then San Diego made the kind of mistakes that doom a team to be 3-10 instead of 10-3.
Dee Ford was whistled for an offsides penalty and then head coach Andy Reid used his final timeout to settle his defense. However, the Chargers were called for a delay-of-game penalty that pushed the ball back to the five yard line, and on the next play, Rivers’ pass to Gates was broken up by safety Ron Parker. The next pass was broken up by Eric Berry with two seconds left but a false start penalty on the Chargers before the play clock started meant San Diego got one more chance for a game-tying score from the 10-yard line.
With the crowd going crazy in the rain, Rivers looked for Woodhead, the Chargers best receiver out lf the backfield, but Ford made a play on the ball and forced the incompletion, sealing the win for the Chiefs.
It was the type of ugly game against a division opponent that even great teams have from time to time, but the Chiefs came through with a win and held the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers off from the top wild card spot for one more week. The Chiefs will now travel to Baltimore for their last regular season road game to take on a Ravens team that is barely recognizable due to injuries. Still, after the tough game Kansas City just got from a 3-10 Chargers team, they won’t be taking the 4-9 Ravens lightly.