The Kansas City Chiefs completed a thrilling comeback on Sunday night to defeat the Los Angeles Chargers, 30-27, and take what essentially amounts to a commanding, four-game lead in the AFC West with only seven games remaining in the season.
It was an enormous win in the biggest of moments, but it looked far from certain when Chargers' quarterback Justin Herbert found wide receiver Joshua Palmer for a 6-yard, go-ahead touchdown with only one minute and 46 seconds left in the game.
The score put Los Angeles ahead by four points, but 106 seconds remained on the clock for quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense to make something happen, and they didn't waste it. Only six plays and 75 yards later, the Chiefs managed to re-claim the lead when Mahomes found tight end Travis Kelce for a 17-yard, go-ahead touchdown with 31 seconds remaining in the game.
"We do this a lot. Coach Reid prepares us for these moments…We just went through what we do at practice every single day, and we executed," Mahomes said. "Travis is Travis. He's the greatest tight end of all time. He makes plays like that, [and] we win games."
The game-winning touchdown was a fitting exclamation point on a massive night for Kelce, who finished with six catches for 115 yards and three touchdowns. It marked his 33rd career game with at least 100 receiving yards, passing Rob Gronkowski for the most by a tight end in NFL history.
The All-Pro tight end was responsible for all three of the Chiefs' trips to the end zone, as he hauled in a 4-yard pass early in the second quarter and a 32-yard strike on the first play of the fourth quarter before tallying his third score of night in the game's final minute. All three of Kelce's touchdowns put the Chiefs in front at the time of each respective score, continually wrestling the lead back for Kansas City as part of a wild game that featured multiple shifts in momentum throughout.
"He battled," said Head Coach Andy Reid. "They had a plan for him. They were going to bang him around, and they put an All-Pro safety on him with [Derwin James]. He had to fight like crazy the whole game and come up with things on the fly to get open. It's a tribute to the Chargers, but it's also a great tribute to Kelce for battling through."
Kelce's presence was also especially critical on Sunday due to injuries elsewhere on offense. The Chiefs entered the game without wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion protocol) and Mecole Hardman (placed on Injured Reserve), and quickly lost Kadarius Toney to a hamstring injury early in the game. That left Kansas City relatively thin in terms of pass-catchers, but multiple players stepped up throughout Sunday's game when called upon.
That included rookie wide receiver Skyy Moore, who caught five passes for 63 yards – including a 13-yard grab on the Chiefs' game-winning series. Moore was one of three players, joining wide receiver Justin Watson (67 yards) and tight end Jody Fortson (51 yards), to set career-bests in receiving yards on Sunday.
"To have those new guys step right in and make those plays is special," Mahomes said. "[I] credit [General Manager Brett] Veach. He brings a lot of good players in here, and I just go through my reads and guys get open."
Moore's last catch helped make the Chiefs' final touchdown series a reality, as he was one of three players – joining Kelce and wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling – to catch a pass on the drive. In total, Mahomes completed 3-of-4 passes for 48 yards while also scrambling for 22 yards on the final series. It would have all been for naught, however, if the defense didn't hold Los Angeles scoreless for the final 31 seconds remaining in the game.
The Chargers only needed a field goal to tie the score at 30 points apiece, after all, but defensive lineman Chris Jones sacked Herbert on Los Angeles' first offensive play before linebacker Nick Bolton tallied a game-sealing interception one snap later.
It was a strong finish for the Chiefs' defense, which kept Kansas City in the game when the offense was struggling early. In fact, despite a prime opportunity for Los Angeles to build a sizable lead during the middle portion of the game, the Chiefs weathered a determined Chargers' offensive attack to keep the score within reach.
That began late in the second quarter, when the Chargers – who were already leading by four points – drove to the Chiefs' 2-yard line in the final minute of the first half. Kansas City managed to hold Los Angeles to a field goal, however, and kept the deficit within one score. The Chargers then punted on each of their first two possessions of the second half, providing the Chiefs with a chance to take the lead when Kelce caught his second touchdown of the night early in the fourth quarter.
Los Angeles eventually answered when Herbert found Palmer in the back of the end zone two possessions later, but – as it turned out – the Chargers' go-ahead score left too much time on the clock for Mahomes and company. Kansas City drove right down the field for the game-winning touchdown, and as Bolton snagged his first interception of the year on the Chargers' ensuing series, the Chiefs secured their eighth victory of the season in vintage fashion.
"I was proud of our guys for stepping up," Reid said. "That was big-time football at the right time."
Mahomes competed 20-of-34 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns in the contest, recording his 37th career 300-yard performance. No player has more such games since 2018.
Additionally, Mahomes – who moved to 14-0 in road divisional games in his career on Sunday – matched Ken Stabler (58) for the most victories by a quarterback through 75 starts in NFL history. Mahomes did so in just his 73rd career start, meaning that he can take sole possession of the record with a win in either of the Chiefs' next two games.
Elsewhere on offense, tailback Isiah Pacheco racked up 107 rushing yards on 15 attempts in Sunday's game. The rookie running back now has 189 rushing yards over his last two outings.
In terms of injuries, Coach Reid mentioned tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire (high ankle sprain), wide receiver Kadarius Toney (hamstring), safety Juan Thornhill (calf) and cornerback Jaylen Watson (hand) following the game.
The Chiefs will now quickly turn their attention to a matchup with the Los Angeles Rams at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium this upcoming Sunday.