Chiefs' reserves battle Chargers; starters rest

By Blair Kerkoff
The Kansas City Star/TNS

It was not the way the Chiefs wanted to go out.

But the starters rested and the reserves kept up the fight for most of the first half.

In the end, it was a loss that didn’t mean anything Sunday. The Chargers scored 10 points in the final two minutes before halftime and coasted to a 38-21 victory at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chiefs’ regular-season ends at 14-2, with both losses coming to AFC West foes (the Raiders and now the Chargers) at home.

But let’s get to the final set of grades before the playoffs begin, shall we?

KC STAR OF THE GAME

A nice day for Darwin Thompson, who stood out among the non-starters. Thompson’s offensive snaps were reduced this year but he had most productive game in his two seasons. Thompson finished with a 110 yards from scrimmage and got into the end zone twice for the second and third touchdowns of his career.

Reason to hope: Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Eric Fisher, Tyrann Mathieu, Chris Jones and Frank Clark got an additional week to rest.

Reason to mope: In Andy Reid’s first seven seasons, the only Week 17 loss came in his first season when the Chiefs rested starters and fell at San Diego by a field goal in overtime. Playing or resting starters, it didn’t matter, the Chiefs have always been competitive in the finale. This was their worst loss by margin since 2017.

Next: The Chiefs will watch other teams in the playoffs, which start on Saturday. Their first postseason game will be Jan. 16 or 17 at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs will face the lowest seeded Wild Card survivor.

REPORT CARD

Passing offense: C

Not much to pick part here. Chad Henne got off to a good start in his spot start with touchdowns on his first two possessions. The touchdown pass to Byron Pringle was a dart and he put a nice touch on the scoring toss to Thompson. Henne needed a quick throw on the snap that resulted in a safety, but the makeshift offensive line also failed him there. Pringle’s tackle-breaking run after the catch on a fourth-quarter reception was the game’s highlight reel moment for the Chiefs.

Rushing offense: C

The Chiefs have trouble picking up short yardage with their starting offensive line. Sunday, the group couldn’t create enough space for Thompson on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter. Thompson ran hard and made the most of his opportunity. The Chargers dominated time of possession, not unexpected against the reserves.

Passing defense: D

Sad to see former first-rounder DeAndre Baker crumble with a leg injury in the third quarter. He had a sack and a pass breakup. Herbert showed why he’s the future of the Chargers and could soon become the second best quarterback in the AFC West. With two touchdown passes, Herbert has 30 this season, an NFL rookie record. The Chiefs got back to back sacks by Alex Okafor and Tim Ward in the third quarter. Antonio Hamilton fell in coverage on Herbert’s third touchdown pass, to Mike Williams.

Rushing defense: D

After reducing the deficit to 31-21 early in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs knew the Chargers would try to melt the clock on the ground. That’s precisely what happened.

Special teams: D

What was Mecole Hardman thinking? He tried to field a punt on a bounce, but the bounce didn’t come his way. The muff led to a short-field touchdown. Rashad Fenton was very good on kickoff return. He took the opening boot 44 yards, and finished with a 29.7 yard average on three returns. But he was flagged for holding a punt return.

Mecole Hardman (17) of the Kansas City Chiefs carries the ball against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.