NFC West Reporter
INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The Los Angeles Chargers knew where the ball was going Sunday night at SoFi Stadium.
But they still couldn’t stop Travis Kelce.
In a come-from-behind 30-27 win over the host Chargers, the talented Kansas City Chiefs tight end finished with six receptions for 115 yards and three scores on eight targets, including the game-winner: a 17-yard reception on a drag rub route while Pro Bowl safety Derwin James Jr. chased helplessly from behind with 31 seconds left to play.
“You expect things to fall into place at the right times,” Kelce said. “And sure enough, by the end of the game I knew I was trying to sit on my outside shoulder on a lot of things, so anything vertical or outside was closing me down pretty well.
“Coach [Andy] Reid saw that and called a play where he could cross the field and try to beat him with his legs.”
Mission accomplished for Kelce, who passed Rob Gronkowski for most 100-yard receiving games by a tight end in NFL history (33). Kelce’s last-minute catch completed quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ 12th career game-winner.
The Kansas City All-Pro quarterback finished 20-for-34 for 329 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His counterpart, Justin Herbert, was almost as impressive, completing 23 of 30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
However, the Chiefs sacked Herbert five times. The seesaw had six lead changes, including two touchdowns scored in the final two minutes.
With the win, the Chiefs improved to 8-2 on the year, defeating the Chargers for the 15th time in their last 18 games. The Chargers fell to 5-5 with the loss and will have to grind it out to make the postseason for the first time since 2018.
“Close isn’t good enough in this league,” James said of the loss. “I didn’t make enough winning plays to win the game. It hurts, but we have to move on and get ready for the next one.”
Even more impressive for the Chiefs was the impact of some of their rookies.
With the team’s top receivers in JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion) and Mecole Hardman (abdomen), the Chiefs played big-boy football, relying more on two and three tight end sets to create mismatches in the game in passing and in the football game.
Rookie running back Isiah Pacheco finished with 107 yards on 15 carries. Rookie wide receiver Skyy Moore totaled five receptions for 63 yards and first-year tight end Justin Watson finished with three receptions for 67 yards.
“We have a lot of new faces,” Mahomes said. “And to see them excel in times like these is special. Obviously, we’ve done that a little bit in this organization now. But to have these new guys step in and make those plays, not just on offense, but It seemed like in a at one point all the DBs were rookies or guys. We’ve done a great job of bringing talented players in here, and they’ve stepped up and made great things happen.”
Down 23-20 midway through the fourth quarter, the Chargers got the ball back when linebacker Troy Reeder forced Kansas City running back Jerick McKinnon to fumble and Alohi Gilman recovered the ball at the LA 36-yard line.
From there, Herbert drove the Chargers 64 yards in six plays, with the big 46-yard strike on a route to Keenan Allen. Four plays later, Herbert found Joshua Palmer in the back of the end zone for a six-yard score. Palmer finished with a game-high eight receptions for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
Unfortunately for the Chargers, they left 1:46 on the clock, too much time for Mahomes to lead the Kansas City offense down the field for a score.
“That’s what we practice day in and day out all offseason,” Kelce said. “Coach Eric Bieniemy stresses us a lot about situational football. Two minutes to win the game by four, that’s a situation we like a lot. And it’s a lot of fun. And the thrill of being able to persevere through that. it’s like a ticking time bomb. When you get into the end zone, you just explode.”
The Chiefs have won their last six games going into halftime, the longest active streak in the NFL.
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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