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GAME OBSERVATIONS

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Beyond the Surface: 10 Observations from Chiefs vs. Chargers

The Kansas City Chiefs got their 2018 season started off the right way with a 38-28 win over the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday afternoon at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. 

It marked the Chiefs ninth-straight win over the Chargers, which is not only a franchise record but it’s also the longest active winning streak for anyone in the NFL right now. 

Here are 10 observations from the game:

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1. De’Anthony Thomas’ forced fumble may have been the biggest play of the game

Early in the fourth quarter after the Chargers had just closed the Chiefs’ lead to 11 points at 31-20 and had some momentum, they forced the Chiefs’ offense to a three-and-out before veteran punter Dustin Colquitt stood back there with a chance to do what he’s always done—flip momentum and field position with a fantastic punt. 

And that’s exactly what happened. 

Not only did Colquitt’s punt land exactly where he wanted at the Chargers’ six-yard line, it also made for a difficult catch for Chargers’ returner J.J. Jones, who fumbled the ball after a fantastic play and effort by De’Anthony Thomas. 

As soon as Colquitt had punted the ball, Thomas was forced out of bounds by two Chargers players on the near side of the field as he ran down to try and make a play. About half way through his sprint down the field, Thomas split the two Chargers’ players and broke free with a lane to Jones, and that’s when he was able to knock the ball out of Jones’ hands. 

The Chiefs scored a few players later and extended their lead to 38-20 with just under 10 minutes remaining in the game.

2. Ron Parker’s interception came at the perfect time

If it wasn’t Thomas’ forced fumble, the other “turning point” in Sunday’s game—besides the moment Tyreek Hill stepped on the field, but we’ll get to that soon—the other play that changed everything was Ron Parker’s interception. 

Parker, who has been with this particular Chiefs’ team for about a week, stepped up once again and made a game-changing play when it was needed the most.

With 4:03 left in the third quarter and with the Chiefs holding a 24-12 lead, the Chargers were driving into Chiefs’ territory and were threatening to make it a one-possession game. 

But then Parker happened. 

On third-and-4 from the Chiefs’ 26-yard line, Rivers had plenty of time in the backfield and then fired a bullet out to the left as Parker made a phenomenal break on the ball to come away with the interception.

It was Rivers’ 14th interception in his last nine games against the Chiefs, and it was one of the key plays of the game. 

After the game, linebacker Dee Ford said “it’s good to have our brother back. It felt like something was missing,” and that was obviously in reference to Parker. 

Parker finished with eight tackles, two pass breakups and the interception.

3. It was a day to remember for Tyreek Hill

He was already one of the most electrifying players in the NFL but Tyreek Hill made a statement for everyone in attendance at the StubHub Center on Sunday afternoon, and we all should be paying attention.

There are no more surprises with Hill. His quickness. His Speed. It’s a different level, and the Chargers knew that but they still couldn’t stop him. 

Hill finished the game with seven receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns, and also added a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown. He got everything started from the very beginning. 

After the Chiefs held the Chargers on a third-and-1 run up the middle on their opening drive of the game, they punted it to Hill, who then casually took it 91 yards the other way for his 12th touchdown of at least 50 yards in his career, which is nine more than any other player in the league over the same time span. 

Then, just a few minutes later, Hill took a shallow crosser from Patrick Mahomes 58 yards for the score. Mahomes did a fantastic job of “throwing Hill open” as Mahomes had pressure and threw the ball well before the window opened for Hill, who made Chargers’ safety Jahleel Addae miss and that was it. He was gone.

Mahomes said after the game that the play was an RPO and as soon as he saw the linebacker commit, he pulled and fired to Hill, who did the rest. 

After the three scores on Sunday, Hill is still averaging more than 53 yards-per-play on his 23 career touchdowns, which is crazy to think about.

Chiefs at Chargers on September 9, 2018

4. Dee Ford is back, and he made an impact

One of the least-talked about key storylines for the Chiefs’ defense in 2018 is surrounding the impact that outside linebacker Dee Ford could bring opposite of Justin Houston. 

And Ford made an impact on Sunday—finishing with four tackles, a sack, and four quarterback hits. He spent a lot of time around Rivers.

The Chiefs were also able to keep Ford and Houston fresh by mixing in rookie Breeland Speaks and second-year player Tanoh Kpassagnon as well.

5. Patrick Mahomes had a (QB1) debut to remember

The final line for Patrick Mahomes on Sunday against the Chargers—15 of 27 for 256 yards and four touchdowns, adding five rushes for 21 yards as well. He completed passes to seven different receivers. 

It was everything Chiefs’ fans wanted to see. He was efficient. He made plays in and out of the pocket. He made some “wow” throws and most of all, he looked in control. 

On the first drive of Mahomes’ career as QB1 for the Chiefs, he went 3 of 3 for 68 yards and a touchdown—hitting a slashing Hill across the middle on a pass he had to throw a tad earlier than he wanted, but he threw Hill open and Hill did the rest.

Even a few of the passes that weren’t completed were impressive, which included a deep shot to De’Anthony Thomas that was broken up because of a phenomenal play by rookie first-round pick Derwin James. 

But perhaps the most important play was a third-and-13 completion to Hill for 34 yards, which came with the Chiefs backed up deep in their own territory at the 11-yard line and was following Parker’s interception. The Chiefs needed to sustain a drive to keep the momentum. 

Mahomes stepped up in the pocket when he felt pressure, rolled to his right and threw a strike on the run to Hill along the sideline. 

A few plays later, Mahomes hit his fullback for a 36-yard score.

6. Anthony Sherman’s touchdown reception was a thing of beauty 

It wasn’t what the play was designed for but all three times they ran it this week at practice, Anthony Sherman kept making the play. 

So, when the opportunity presented itself in a game situation, Mahomes had all the trust that his fullback would make the difficult catch, and he did.

Late in the third quarter on first-and-10 from the Chargers’ 36-yard line, Mahomes dropped in the pocket, surveyed the field and tossed a beautiful strike to Sherman, who was streaking down the left sideline vertically and had gotten past the linebacker who was covering him.

With his hands outstretched, Sherman secured the pass that went right over the tips of the fingers of the defender in coverage, and Sherman took it and kept running for the end zone. 

It was a perfect display of arm talent from Mahomes, which is about more than just pure strength—that throw was about touch.

Chiefs at Chargers on September 9, 2018

7. Anthony Hitchens was a tackling machine 

There were a few flash plays from inside linebacker Anthony Hitchens on Sunday, and both of them came in relatively key times in the game. 

Hitchens, who finished with a game-high 15 tackles, which included two for loss, made a key tackle on a second-down screen late in the first quarter. 

It looked to be the right play call as there was plenty of room for running back Melvin Gordon to run if Hitchens didn’t make the tackle, but he did—flying downhill as the screen play resulted in a loss of two yards and forced the Chargers to attempt a field goal early in the game. 

Then, late in the game, Hitchens made another huge tackle out in space on Gordon on third down this time, and that forced the Chargers to attempt a 48-yard field goal with 1:11 left in the game while they were trailing by 10 points.

The field goal was no good and that essentially sealed the win for the Chiefs.

8. The Chiefs are young on special teams, but they stepped up  

The Chiefs no longer have a lot of veterans on their special teams’ units—guys like Frank Zombo and Daniel Sorensen aren’t out there right now. Zombo was released and Sorensen is injured.

And while there are still a few veteran leaders like Anthony Sherman and others, the majority of the special teams’ units for the Chiefs right now are young players.

Earlier this week, Chiefs’ Assistant Head Coach and Special Team’s Coordinator Dave Toub spoke about the need for his young players to step up and make an impact that they hadn’t yet shown they could make.

And Sunday was a big step in the right direction for them. 

Between the 91-yard punt return for Hill or the fumble recovery deep in Chargers’ territory, which may have been the play of the game, the Chiefs’ young special teamers stepped up against a veteran Chargers’ group that had Toub’s respect coming into this game. 

He said it was going to be a challenge, and his group responded.

9. Sammy Watkins had a key reception 

Sammy Watkins finished the game with three receptions for 21 yards, but he made one of them really count. 

On second-and-10 from the Chargers’ 20-yard line early in the third quarter with the Chiefs leading 17-12, Watkins was targeted across the middle as Mahomes fired it his way. The pass was low and towards the middle of the field but Watkins laid out to make the 16-yard reception and put the Chiefs in a goal-to-go situation. 

It wasn’t a big stat day for Watkins, but that one play was huge as Thomas would take the first of Mahomes’ two shovel passes for touchdowns just a couple of plays later to give the Chiefs a little cushion at 24-12.

Chiefs at Chargers on September 9, 2018

10. Ben Niemman left with a hamstring injury

After the game, there was only one injury to report.

Undrafted rookie linebacker Ben Niemann “tweaked” his hamstring, according to head coach Andy Reid.

That’s good news to get a key win on the road against a divisional opponent and escape relatively healthy.

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