It was a night to remember for the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday as they came out on top in one of the most thrilling games in recent memory to defeat the Los Angeles Chargers, 34-28, and tally their seventh-consecutive victory.
Trailing by eight points with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game, quarterback Patrick Mahomes led a 5-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Tyreek Hill to pull within two points. Mahomes then found tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the end zone on the two-point try, tying the game at 21 points apiece.
The Chargers responded, however, as quarterback Justin Herbert found wide receiver Keenan Allen for an 8-yard score to reclaim the lead for Los Angeles with just over two minutes remaining, but the Chiefs weren't done.
Mahomes had Kansas City in the end zone just over a minute of game clock later with a 7-yard pass to tight end Travis Kelce to force overtime, and after winning the coin toss to begin the extra period, Mahomes once again found Kelce for a 34-yard, walk-off score that ended the game on the Chiefs' opening series.
It was a wild and improbable finish to a critical divisional matchup between two teams vying for the AFC West crown, but it was also an oddly fitting conclusion to an absolute rollercoaster of a game that swung in every which direction.
"If I could jump, I would [have jumped] with excitement," said Head Coach Andy Reid. "That locker room was great. It was phenomenal. It was like a walk-off home run in baseball. When you have a walk-off like that and a celebration, you look over and see the guys jumping around, and knowing all of the hard work that goes into it, that's satisfying."
The victory meant that Kansas City assumed a two-game lead in the AFC West with just three regular-season contests remaining, and perhaps even more importantly, the Chiefs maintained pace in their pursuit of the top overall seed in the conference. Kansas City is the first team to reach 10 wins in the AFC, and if the chips fall its way over the weekend, the Chiefs can take sole ownership of that spot heading into Week 16.
That possibility is due in part to a gutsy performance from Mahomes, who completed 31-of-47 passes for 410 yards and three touchdowns in the game. It began on the Chiefs' opening series, as Mahomes led an 11-play, 95-yard drive that culminated in a 7-yard touchdown run by fullback Michael Burton to give Kansas City the early lead. That scoring drive came on the heels of a defensive stand by Kansas City on fourth down at its own 5-yard line, effectively amounting to a 14-point swing.
The Chiefs' defense then picked off Herbert a possession later, as linebacker Nick Bolton tipped Herbert's throw and fellow linebacker Anthony Hitchens hauled in the takeaway. The Chiefs went on to turn the interception into a field goal – extending their lead to 10 points – but the Chargers managed to respond in a big way.
Los Angeles outscored Kansas City 21-3 over the next 36 minutes or so to put the Chiefs in an eight-point hole with just nine minutes and 29 seconds left in the game, but as it turned out, that was more than enough time for some truly unforgettable heroics to ensue.
The middle portion of the game featured numerous swings in momentum, including two more goal-line stands by the Chiefs' defense that held Los Angeles scoreless despite driving all the way to Kansas City's 1-yard line on two separate occasions. Safety Dan Sorensen was responsible for the first of those stops, as he successfully defended Herbert's pass at the goal line in the closing seconds before halftime. The second stand was courtesy of defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton, who punched the ball free from Chargers' tailback Joshua Kelley during an ill-fated attempt to dive over the scrum of bodies along the line of scrimmage.
Los Angeles – who didn't elect to punt until less than a minute remained in regulation – was 2-of-5 on fourth down in the game, repeatedly opting to go for it rather than kick field goals in the red zone. It's a strategy that often works, but the Chiefs' defense managed to make play after play when it counted.
"That's what they do. They do it with everybody," Reid said. "It wasn't just us, and we knew that coming into the game, if it was fourth down — the head coach has said it, he said that it's like third down to them – but, you have to stop them. Our guys got enough of those to help."
The Chiefs also turned it over on downs just inches from a score, however, when Mahomes missed wide receiver Mecole Hardman on fourth down late in the third quarter. The Chargers drove the length of the field on their ensuing possession before Wharton's forced fumble thwarted the drive, but a Mahomes' interception just three snaps later set up a 2-yard run by tailback Austin Ekeler to provide Los Angeles with its aforementioned eight-point advantage.
The wild back-and-forth ultimately titled in the Chargers' favor through the second and third quarters, but once Mahomes took the field for the Chiefs' penultimate drive in regulation, it was nearly all Kansas City from there. The performance was a great example of Mahomes' resiliency in even the most dire of situations, which permeated throughout the team on Thursday despite some early struggles.
"He just keeps firing," Reid said. "That's the part that you love about him. He is never out of it – mentally – in a game. He just keeps rolling."
His biggest pass was the final throw to Kelce, who finished the game with 10 grabs for 191 yards and two scores while surpassing 1,000 receiving yards on the season for a sixth-consecutive year. The veteran pass-catcher is the only tight end in NFL history to record six 1,000-yard campaigns, let alone successively. It was only fitting then that Kelce, who racked up the most receiving yards in a single game of his outstanding career on Thursday, was the last player to touch the ball.
"To be in that moment, to find him underneath and for him to make such a dynamic play where he cut back and ran by people [was special]," Mahomes said. "You'd think he's old, so he can't run by people, but he's still running by people and he got in the end zone. It was just a special moment and I'm glad that all that hard work that he puts in every single day is paying off."
Mahomes also found Hill on numerous occasions throughout Thursday's game, connecting with the speedy playmaker 12 times for 148 yards and a touchdown. Hill and Kelce are the first pair of teammates to each reach 1,000 yards this season.
On the other side of the ball, Bolton led all players with 14 tackles and three passes defensed as part of an overall valiant effort for the defense despite missing defensive lineman Chris Jones, linebacker Willie Gay and cornerback L'Jarius Sneed. It's worth pointing out, too, that the performance by the defense on Los Angeles' final drive in regulation was what permitted the fireworks in overtime to even take place. Herbert and the Chargers took over with over a minute remaining following Kelce's game-tying score, but despite only needing a field goal to reclaim the lead, Kansas City didn't budge.
An unforgettable series of moments followed, as it all helped the Chiefs secure a massive victory on the road against a divisional opponent on a short week, and now with the AFC West crown within sight, Kansas City will prepare for a matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium next Sunday.