In my game preview looking ahead to the game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, I listed Travis Kelce as the X factor.
I said that while not many teams had the ability to match up with the Chiefs star tight end, for whatever reason Kelce, in particular, just owns the Chargers.
Not only that, but Kelce did it against the Chargers best defense player in the biggest moment, shaking loose of Derwin James and collecting his third (sigh, third) touchdown pass of the night with 31 seconds left to lift Kansas City to a 30-27 win over Los Angeles and likely a seventh AFC West title in a row. Kelce finished with six catches for 115 yards, all daggers.
If the playoffs started today, the 5-5 Chargers would not be in. They basically have no shot to win the division now, they have to hope for a wild card spot and the Bills, Bengals, Patriots and Jets (yes, Jets) are all in their way.
But you know what? A part of me feels encouraged by the Chargers performance Sunday night. If you told the Chiefs they had to play the Chargers in the playoffs, I don’t know that they would sign up for that. The Chiefs don’t intimidate the Chargers, they just are a smidge better in spots.
Looking ahead at the Chargers last seven games, there are some W’s out there, starting with the Cardinals on Sunday, and then the woeful Raiders in two weeks.
Joey Bosa’s return will boost the whole defense, and maybe Rashawn Slater comes back for the playoffs.
Yes, I know Sunday night hurt, Kelce doing his Deion Sanders move and all, but I would take a Round 3 between the two teams.
The Madden Finish
We all grew up playing Madden football and learned how to manipulate the clock near the end of the fourth quarter and how you could execute plays at the end and try to score with very little time left in the game.
That’s the same situation the Chargers were in. Down 23-20, quarterback Justin Herbert, who really had a great night, drove the Chargers down, connecting with Keenan Allen on a deep shot when the Chargers faced third-and-18.
By the way, if the Chargers had won, that would have been the play everyone would be talking about.
Los Angeles let the two-minute warning pass and then Herbert hit Joshua Palmer for a touchdown with 1:46 left to put LA up 27-23.
I know, you’re like “that’s too much time for Patrick Mahomes.”
And it is, but the thing about playing a video game is, there are no real consequences if you win or lose. You can keep flipping the post corner (my unstoppable Madden play), but in the NFL, real players make real plays.
The Chargers had to stop Mahomes and Kansas City. They didn’t. Chargers coach Brandon Staley can’t manipulate the game and basically tell his defense he doesn’t believe in them. Madden isn’t the real NFL.
Go Fourth And Conquer
We had a situation earlier this year where the Chargers couldn’t do anything right early in games. Staley reportedly changed the practice routine and it’s worked. LA came out hot against San Francisco and hot against the Chiefs, but then ran out of gas at the end.
Playing with only five real NFL defensive linemen is just a recipe for disaster in the NFL. Khalil Mack was a non-factor Sunday night – and that was a big problem.
And then, Kelce.
Playing defense in the NFL is so hard. You can’t hit guys. You can’t touch the QB (hey, we see now that Herbert is going to get calls too now, he got a gift when he was pushed out of bounds).
Mahomes accuracy and mobility change the math in football, just like Steph Curry does in basketball and Shohei Ontani does in baseball. The Chargers had their best guy on Kelce, but he has an inherent advantage as a wide receiver.
He knows where he’s going and James has to react.
I also think James was afraid to get too handy after being called for a chump holding call a few plays before the touchdown catch and run. Kelce ran a short drag route, the Chiefs put some traffic in James’ way (a rub route, a pick play, everyone does it) and he couldn’t catch Kelce. That’s the way to win the NFL, your best players making big plays at the right time.
Let’s Do It Again
The Chargers did a lot of good things against the Chiefs. Austin Ekeler had another touchdown, man, when Mike Williams was in, he was dangerous. Herbert started 5-for-5 and was slinging it. The offensive line broke down late but was pretty good. 27 points wins a lot of football games in the NFL.
In fact, 27 points would have won seven games this week.
I almost feel like the Chargers are so overdue for some good luck. It just has to happen. Now is not the time to panic, just stay the course, let some of the injured guys get back and let’s see what happens in the next few weeks.
The Chargers are close. That doesn’t mean this doesn’t hurt, but it’s coming.
Did You Notice?
Chiefs offensive lineman Orlando Brown introduced himself on the NBC broadcast as hailing from “Easy Money University.” None of the Chargers did anything humorous with their two seconds of screen time.
Chargers tight end Stone Smartt out of Old Dominion saw his first significant action and had a catch. So let me get this straight, the Chargers have an offensive lineman named Storm (Norton) and now a Stone Smartt?
Don’t you hate it when you’re watching a game and you — yes, you — can tell what the play is going to be based on the formation or just the approach to the line of scrimmage? Sometimes the Chargers sets are super predictable, and you just know a running play is coming. That’s coaching.
I know a lot of people talk about the partisan crowds at SoFi, but you don’t even ever hear a D-Fence chant or a ‘Let’s Go Chargers!’ chant from the crowd during the game.
Is there anybody else who thinks that Dustin Hopkins may not get his job back from Cameron Dicker as the Chargers kicker right now? The dude is becoming a folk hero. He doesn’t miss.
Khalil Mack…one tackle for the Chargers Sunday night. One.
It’s astounding how bad the Chargers run defense is. They gave up six yards a carry to the Chiefs. Six.
Chargers rookie running back Isaiah Spiller had one good run out of four. He doesn’t look fast or super shifty.
Receivers Joshua Palmer and DeAndre Carter are the Chargers unsung heroes right now.
I love the halftime interview with Staley, Melissa Stark asks what the Chargers will do with Mike Williams hurt, how that changes the offense? Staley says other guys have to step up. Gee, thanks for the insight.