Chiefs outlast Chargers in overtime
The Chiefs and Chargers were involved in a close battle at SoFi Stadium, and the game remained in doubt until overtime.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who was held in check for most of the game, finally took matters in his own hands with a dazzling play Sunday evening.
Down 17-9 early in the fourth quarter and facing a second-and-8 at their own 46-yard line, Mahomes rolled to his right to get away from pressure before launching a pass off his back foot for a 54-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs then went for a 2-point conversion attempt, which was good when Mahomes threw a bullet through traffic to wide receiver Mecole Hardman.
Facing a three-point deficit with less than a minute to play, Mahomes scampered 21 yards on third-and-20 to keep alive a drive, and Harrison Butker capped it with a game-tying 30-yard field goal to force overtime.
The Chiefs then secured their fourth straight 2-0 start to a season when Butker nailed a game-winning 58-yard field goal in overtime to make it final: 23-20 Chiefs.
"I was proud of our guys for battling through," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "Things weren't going very well for us on either side of the ball, but the guys rallied it."
Of course, there a game within the game, and the Chiefs overcame some ugly football before bouncing back. In the first half alone, the Chargers held a dominating 19:11 to 10:49 edge in time of possession and finished with a 39:27 to 28:38 advantage.
Here's what we learned Sunday.
MANHANDLED UP FRONT
After dominating the trenches in Week 1, the Chiefs' front five experienced a massive letdown against the Chargers' defensive front, particularly against edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
Mahomes was pressured throughout the game, sacked once and hit seven times. The punishment prompted CBS color analyst Tony Romo to comment shortly before halftime that he never saw a game where Mahomes took a physical pounding than the Chiefs' signal-caller did through the first two quarters.
"They've got a great defensive front," Reid said. "I mean, that's what they have. And the one thing our guys did is they kept battling right down to the end. And when we needed big plays, we were able to get big plays."
With the Chiefs' protection issues up front, Mahomes' numbers suffered early. He averaged just 3.2 yards per pass attempt in the first half. Mahomes didn't complete his first pass to a wide receiver until the 1:39 mark of the second quarter, when he connected on a 6-yarder to Demarcus Robinson.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill didn't record a catch until midway through the third quarter, and Sammy Watkins was limited to one catch early in the fourth quarter before he left with an injury. Hill made up for his quiet first half by finishing with five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets.
The Chargers effectively took away the deep ball by playing their safeties back. And that strategy paid off, for the most part, because of the pressure their defense was able to muster up front. The bend-but-don't-break approach allowed tight end Travis Kelce to thrive underneath -- nine catches for 90 yards and a touchdown on 14 targets.
Mahomes shook off the first-half blahs and finished 27 of 47 for 302 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 54 yards on six attempts.
The Chargers were able to stymie the Chiefs' running game, holding rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire to 38 yards on 10 carries. Edwards-Helaire rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in Week 1 and looked to have a good matchup against a Chargers defense that allowed 122 yards on the ground to the Bengals last week. The going proved much tougher in reality, though.
They say the NFL is a copycat league, and Sunday produced a second straight game in which a defense aimed to take away the deep ball from the Chiefs' offense.
No problem for Mahomes, who showed on the 21-yard run he can hurt a defense if there's space in front of him.
"If teams are going to stay back and guard our receivers, I'm going to have to find ways with my feet to make stuff happen," Mahomes said.
The Chiefs were penalized 11 times for 90 yards, a stark contrast to the one penalty for 5 yards they saw in their season opener.
A holding penalty by long snapper James Winchester during a made extra point took a point off the board. The ensuing attempt was then blocked by the Chargers.
The infractions were bad enough, but the Chiefs also showed a lack of discipline in tackling, especially when they had opportunities to bring down running back Austin Ekeler in the backfield.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones, who had a relatively quiet game on the stat sheet, had a glaring missed tackle, which would've dropped Ekeler for at least a 2-yard loss. Jones was also penalized late in the fourth quarter for going low on rookie quarterback Justin Herbert to keep a Chargers' drive alive. Free safety Juan Thornhill also had a missed tackle in the open field.
"Defensively, we've got to keep working on our tackling," Reid said. "These are early season things that you see. We need to do better there."
The missed tackles cost the Chiefs, as the Chargers totaled 183 yards rushing and a touchdown on 44 attempts.
BUTKER IS CLUTCH
The Chiefs already knew they have one of the NFL's best kickers in Butker, and he showed why against the Chargers.
The fourth-year pro made three field goal attempts, including one from 58 yards during regulation. Butker thrives under pressure. One of his kicks sent the game to overtime; the other secured the win.
Sunday marked the second time in less than a year that Butker kicked the Chiefs to a win. In Week 9 of the 2019 season, he booted a 44-yard kick to give the Chiefs a 26-23 win over the Vikings.
A NEW YOUNG QUARTERBACK TO DEAL WITH
The Chiefs prepared all week for Tyrod Taylor, but the veteran signal-caller aggravated a chest injury during pregame warm-ups before giving way to Herbert.
While the sixth overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft is the future for the Chargers, he showed immediately that he possesses poise by leading the Bolts' offense on an eight-play, 79-yard drive that he ended with a 4-yard scoring run.
After Mahomes' efforts tied the game in the fourth quarter, Herbert calmly led the Chargers down the field on their ensuing possession, which gave the hosts a 20-17 lead.
Herbert finished the game completing 22 of 33 passes for 311 yards and a touchdown. His lone mistake came when he attempted to throw back across the field into traffic, resulting in rookie cornerback L'Jarius Sneed's second interception on the season.
It remains to be seen if the Chargers go back to Taylor, but the Chiefs could have a problem to deal with in the AFC West for years to come given Herbert's impressive debut.
The injury bug hammered the Chiefs, with cornerback Antonio Hamilton (groin), running back Darrel Williams (ankle), defensive end Frank Clark (illness) and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (head) leaving the game.
Hamilton's exit left the Chiefs with just three dressed cornerbacks: Sneed, Rashad Fenton and rookie BoPete Keyes.