Surging Chiefs take on tough-luck Chargers in Los Angeles
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chargers seem to have the market cornered on close, gut-wrenching losses, whether they have happened in San Diego or Los Angeles or on the road against the rest of the league.
One that sticks out more than most happened last season in Kansas City.
The Chargers were cruising in their season opener, building a 24-3 lead late in the third quarter and still clinging to a 27-10 advantage with less than 10 minutes left.
But the Chiefs scored three times in a dramatic flurry, the tying touchdown coming with 1:10 left in regulation, and Alex Smith capped a remarkable comeback with his touchdown run in overtime.
It was a 33-27 defeat, the first of nine by seven points or fewer for the Chargers last season.
“We were going about as good as you can go there for three quarters,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers recalled this week. “That was about as good a half, really three quarters, and we still left a few plays out there. We were up 17 at their place with 10 minutes to play. That was pretty positive.”
The Chargers didn’t finish the job, though.
They haven’t the first two weeks of this season, either.
As they prepare to welcome Kansas City to the StubHub Center on Sunday, the Chargers are coming off the sting of two more close defeats.
Younghoe Koo had a potential tying field goal blocked at the end of their opener against Denver, then missed a game-ending, go-ahead field-goal attempt last week against Miami.
It was the 25th time the Chargers had lost by a field goal or less with Rivers under center.
“I’d love to know the flip side of that, how many we’ve won by three points or less? I bet we’ve been in a heck of a lot of those, too,” he said. “We’re in a bunch of games. We know that, but those are 25 losses that could have been wins. That’s the way I look at it.”
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have been excellent at putting away games this season.
They trailed New England 27-21 late in the third quarter of their opener before rattling off three unanswered touchdowns in a 42-27 victory.
Last week against Philadelphia, they trailed 10-6 in the third quarter before pulling ahead, then batting down a last-gasp throw to the end zone in a 27-20 win.
“It was a close game until the fourth, then we just took off,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. “It was exciting to see the offense come together. When we’re rolling up front, we’re a heck of a team.”
The Chiefs don’t appear to be taking the Chargers for granted, either. Andy Reid cautioned his guys this week not to look too closely at their record the past couple of years, clearly aware that all of those close losses could just as easily be razor-thin wins.
“The main point is they’re right there. That’s important,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we take care of our business and detail all our practice work. We can do a lot better job than we did last week.”
As the Chargers and Chiefs prepare to meet in Los Angeles, here are some other things to know:
DIVISION DOMINANCE: Kansas City has won 11 straight games against the AFC West, not to mention six in a row against the Chargers. “All these games have such a unique rivalry to them. They all come down to the wire,” Smith said. “I wish I had the secret. I’m sure it is a ton of things. It is ultimately about the 53 guys. It is about us scratching and fighting and clawing for the smallest of little victories.”
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Keenan Allen was dominating Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters in last season’s opener before getting hurt. Then, Allen tweeted his disdain for Peters ahead of their teams’ December matchup. The two stars will finally get to continue their rivalry on the field Sunday.
HAPPY HUNTING: The Chargers’ biggest task could be slowing down rookie running back Kareem Hunt, who has already reached the end zone five times. The Chargers gave up more than 100 yards rushing to the Dolphins’ Jay Ajayi last week. “He is very instinctive,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “I know they have a lot of dynamic players, but he is probably one of the best football players on that team.”
CATCHING KELCE: The Chiefs’ star tight end has produced plenty of big plays lately, but he has also produced an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in three straight games. Reid bristled at constant questions about Kelce this week, but he did admit they’ve had a conversation about his antics.
NEW DIGS: Reid, a Los Angeles native, was jazzed about the Chargers moving to the city, but Smith was less than enthused. He grew up going to Chargers games in San Diego. “There will be some newness, new stadium, new surroundings,” he said. “Not letting it detract from our focus or attention to the game.”