The Kansas City Chiefs aren’t undefeated, but they nevertheless feel inevitable, a dread that Los Angeles Chargers fans once again felt in their 30-27 loss on Sunday Night Football.
The divisional matchup was a Gordian knot on the threads of fate. As always, the Chargers entered the game banged up and left the game even more banged up. They were missing key members of their special teams but nevertheless kept the game close.
This included three quarters of turnover-free football, putting them in a position to win the game. But the fourth quarter was riddled with turnovers — two on fumbles and a backbreaking interception to end the game while down one score with less than a minute left in the game.
That a big-armed quarterback with unconventional throws let down and was let down by the team around him seems to be the Chargers modus operandi, from Dan Fouts to Philip Rivers to Justin Herbert.
Despite Losing to the Chiefs, the Chargers Are Still Contenders
It’s not all lost for the Sisyphean Chargers. A 5-5 record won’t kick them out of the playoffs just yet.
They had been going through a bit of a rough patch early in the season after being considered strong contenders in the AFC. This was despite the fact that their placement in what many people considered to be the toughest division in football.
Both predictions seemingly didn’t turn out, but there’s still hope for the Chargers in part because of the return of some key players and the overall play of Justin Herbert, who himself had been playing through a chest injury.
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Now, in Week 11, in a rivalry game against the AFC favorite, the Chargers showed that they can be dangerous again should they make a run at the playoffs. Throughout the game, we saw the things that made Justin Herbert such a tantalizing quarterback to follow, including unerringly accurate darts downfield and improvisational shovel passes while on the run.
Throw for throw, we saw some of the prettiest balls we’re ever going to see all season between Herbert and Patrick Mahomes, who might have had the throw of the year on a 40-yard pass to tight end Jody Fortson.
Or he would have, if it weren’t for Herbert dotting Keenan Allen up with a perfect throw on 3rd and 18 after a pair of sacks to send the ball 46 yards with about three minutes remaining. That resulted in a goal line rifle to Josh Palmer, who earned his second touchdown of the day – the first being another one of those impressive deep balls that dazzled the NFL audience.
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And, like always, they were down some key players due to injury. They weren’t just missing the starters they typically rely on heading into the game — they also lost a few more during the game, as Kenneth Murray was injured in the third quarter during an Isaiah Pacheco 18-yard run.
On top of that, they temporarily lost Palmer – whose return to the field later in the game was critical because they also saw receiver Mike Williams sustain an ankle injury while making an impressive toe-tapping sideline catch in the first quarter.
The other member of their starting devastating receiver duo, Keenan Allen, also had some hamstring issues heading into the game. After he was responsible for one of the turnovers that characterized the final quarter, he came up huge on the deep shot from Allen and threw a critical block on a deep screen to Austin Ekeler inside the red zone that brought the Chargers to the goal line.
The Chiefs Remain Monsters but Don’t Count Out the Chargers
It’s tough to draw far-reaching conclusions from typically close-fought division games, especially in the AFC West, where divisional games make even less sense than they normally do.
But the Chargers proved that they can be a juggernaut should the right moment arrive – perhaps in the playoffs – and that the Chiefs will swallow teams whole when given the chance.
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There are some more specific takeaways – that the Chiefs have a reliable running game with Isaiah Pacheco at the helm, that the lack of star receivers didn’t stop the Chiefs from crafting a deadly offense, and that a defense full of rookies and second- year players can be stifling.
The Chargers remain perpetually close, but there’s something potentially special about a team that could return Joey Bosa to pair with Khalil Mack with the support of Derwin James behind them. Herbert is a better quarterback than Rivers was, and having both Williams and Allen as receiving options means there’s always going to be potential for explosiveness.
But the bigger takeaway is that the Mahomes-Reid pairing is just as scary as it has always been, even when it’s not gunning for a 50-passing touchdown season. When it matters, the Chiefs know how to take ten miles when given an inch.