Amid an impressive turnaround, the Kansas City Chiefs grow more confident with each victory.
Frustration continues to consume the floundering San Diego Chargers.
The Chiefs can record a seventh straight win by beating the visiting Chargers for the second time in four weeks Sunday.
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Kansas City players don't dig too deep when explaining how the Chiefs (7-5) reeled off their longest winning streak since opening 9-0 in 2013.
''We knew we dug ourselves in a hole in the beginning of the year, but we're been battling back every week,” linebacker Josh Mauga said. “Just working hard and believing in each other and coming out with victories.”
Receiver Jeremy Maclin took a more direct approach.
“We're on a mission,” he said.
The Chiefs' play has certainly reflected that as they hold down the fifth seed in the AFC.
“Just the character of this team,” Mauga said. “There's a lot of heart.”
Kansas City showed its mettle by breaking open last Sunday's back-and-forth road contest by outscoring Oakland 20-0 in the fourth quarter to win 34-20. Second in the NFL with a plus-13 turnover differential, the Chiefs overcame two first-half fumbles by intercepting Derek Carr three times in the final two periods, the last returned 38 yards for a touchdown by Tyvon Branch.
Kansas City has allowed an average of 14.4 points in the last eight games after yielding 35.0 in the first four.
“We just hung together, kept playing hard, good, tough, angry football, we were going to be OK and I thought the guys did that,” coach Andy Reid said.
Maclin, who caught a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes against the Raiders, has 18 receptions for 255 yards and three TDs in the last two games.
“He does so many things; he can do it and do it well,” said Reid, whose team has won the last six by an average of 18.8 points. “Most of all, he has the quarterback's trust. (Alex Smith) and Jeremy have a good relationship. He's a competitor.”
The Chiefs should have complete trust in Smith, who has thrown two TDs in each of the last two contests and 305 consecutive passes without an interception. Only Bernie Kosar (308) and Tom Brady (358) have thrown more in a row without being picked off.
Smith, last intercepted at Green Bay in Week 2, didn't throw a TD at San Diego on Nov. 22 but received plenty of support. Spencer Ware rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns on 11 attempts, Justin Houston returned a Philip Rivers interception 17 yards for a score and the Chiefs held the Chargers (3-9) to a season-low 201 yards in the 33-3 rout.
Kansas City will try to sweep a second straight season series from the Chargers, who have won once in the last eight games and managed 272 yards in last Sunday's 17-3 loss to Denver. San Diego's dropped five straight and seven of eight within the West, and was held to 10 points in the last two against the Chiefs.
It would be easy for the Chargers to give in at this point, but coach Mike McCoy doesn't expect the effort to drop off.
''If you don't care you won't be playing,'' McCoy said. ''They all know that. This is the NFL. It'll be not for long if you don't play very hard.
“There's not only our football team but there's 31 other teams out there watching it, and if you can't show up every Sunday and play your tails off, you're in the wrong business.''
Philip Rivers continues to play hard but has been battered even harder. Five of his nine interceptions have been returned for touchdowns and he's been sacked 30 times, the sixth consecutive season he's reached that mark.
Rivers, playing behind an ineffective line that's been plagued by injuries, was sacked four times and hit 11 by the Broncos.
''Obviously he's our franchise and it's on us to protect him and it's on us to do better,'' center Trevor Robinson said.
Rivers has thrown three INTs and no TDs while being sacked 10 times in the last two against Kansas City.
He hasn't been helped much by rookie Melvin Gordon, who has rushed for just 565 yards – a team best – but does not have a TD and was benched last Sunday after fumbling twice and losing his fourth of the year. Gordon held on to the ball but managed 37 yards on 15 carries Nov. 22.
San Diego, 30th in the NFL with 82.7 rushing yards per game, could catch a break if Houston misses a second straight contest with a knee injury.