The Kansas City Chiefs completed a thrilling comeback on Thursday night to defeat the Los Angeles Chargers, 27-24, behind a relentless defensive effort that refused to let multiple double-digit deficits get in the way of a significant early-season victory.
Kansas City – which climbed back to tie the game midway through the second half – racked up eight quarterback hits and two sacks while pressuring Chargers' quarterback Justin Herbert on 18 of his dropbacks during the game, consistently swarming and harassing Los Angeles' Pro Bowl signal caller. It was the secondary, however, that was responsible for arguably the play of the game.
The score was tied at 17 points apiece early in the fourth quarter, but the Chargers were poised to re-claim the lead with a first down at Kansas City's 3-yard line. Los Angeles had marched 57 yards on eight plays and had wrestled back momentum from the Chiefs – who had tied the game with a field goal one possession earlier – but everything immediately changed on the very next snap.
Herbert's first-down pass landed in the hands of rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson rather than his intended target, providing the former seventh-round pick with a 99-yard pick-six that constituted a 14-point swing.
"The ball just ended up in my chest and I took it home," Watson said after the game. "It was a surreal feeling. I'm just so grateful and blessed to be in this position. I didn't even know what to do when I got in the end zone – that's [why] everyone saw me just standing there. It's a moment I'll never forget."
Watson's efforts made him the first player since 2017 to record an interception return for a touchdown of at least 99 yards during the fourth quarter of a game, and following his dash to the end zone, the Chiefs never looked back. Kansas City added a field goal two possessions later, and despite a Chargers' touchdown in the final minutes, the Chiefs' late advantage was too much for Los Angeles to overcome.
"All in all, [it was a] great win. For whatever reason, we like to keep it real close with these guys, and they're a heck of a football team. [I'm] glad we came out on the right end of it," said Head Coach Andy Reid. "The crowd was phenomenal, and they just kept bringing it and bringing it. I thought our defense kept bringing it and bringing it, [too], especially in the second half. The thing I'm probably most proud of was how we all stuck together, and nobody was pointing fingers."
Indeed, the Chiefs maintained their resolve through a tough first half, particularly on offense. The Chargers forced Kansas City to punt on four of its first five possessions, with the lone exception being a 75-yard scoring drive that ended with a tremendous, 9-yard touchdown connection between quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tailback Jerick McKinnon. The play – which involved Mahomes scrambling to his right and evading multiple defenders before zipping a sidearm throw across his body – was exceptional, but it accounted for the Chiefs' only points of the first half.
Fortunately, the Chiefs' defense held Los Angeles to only 10 first-half points and prevented the Chargers from pulling away on the scoreboard. In fact, after beginning the game with points on each of its first two possessions, Los Angeles gained a total of three first downs during the remainder of the first half.
"The defense kept us in the game," Mahomes said. "I'm so proud of those young guys on the defense, man. You just don't know until you get in these situations, and in some games where the offense played like we did today – because we didn't play our best football – a lot of times, we'd lose those games. For the defense to keep us around, it's a big, big step I think in the right direction."
Los Angeles managed to find the end zone on its first series of the second half – driving 75 yards on 11 plays before Herbert found wide receiver Mike Williams for a 15-yard touchdown – but that was largely it for the Chargers' offense. Kansas City held Los Angeles scoreless across its next five possessions, including forcing four punts and Watson's interception.
The offense, meanwhile, moved beyond its first-half struggles to find the end zone on its opening series of the third quarter. Trailing 17-7 and facing a long third down, Mahomes bought time in the pocket and fired a pass deep downfield for wide receiver Justin Watson, who hauled in the reception for a 41-yard touchdown. The play was especially significant considering that Watson had only recently rotated in for wide receiver Mecole Hardman, who was injured a few snaps prior.
"I wanted that route. [You] never want to see one of our receivers go down, but I just want to give them the confidence that if they do have to take a play off the field, I'm going to come in and do my job," Watson said. "There's been a lot – a lot – of work, [beginning in] Texas with Patrick [and through] the offseason, [working on] making that catch. I'm just glad to see the work show."
The Chargers went three-and-out on each of their next two drives, the latter of which included a sack of Herbert by defensive lineman Chris Jones at the Chargers' 2-yard line. It was one of two sacks for Jones in the game.
That defensive stop created a short field for the Chiefs' ensuing offensive possession, providing newly-signed kicker Matt Ammendola – who was filling in for the injured Harrison Butker – with an opportunity to connect on a game-tying, 19-yard field goal a bit later.
Los Angeles then seemed primed to answer on its next drive, but Watson picked off Herbert at the goal line and the rest was history. It wasn't always pretty, but the collective determination on both sides of the ball to simply keep fighting paid off in a big way.
"The best thing that we did today is we stuck together as a team," said safety Justin Reid. "Nobody got on each other's tail. We stayed together. We kept playing the next play. When crunch time came, players made big plays."
Mahomes finished the game with 24 completions for 235 passing yards and two touchdowns, moving beyond former quarterback Alex Smith for the third-most passing completions (1,604) in franchise history. Only Len Dawson (2,115) and Trent Green (1,720) recorded more.
His favorite target on the night was tight end Travis Kelce, who hauled in five grabs for 51 yards. His 717 career receptions are now the sixth-most by a tight end in NFL history.
Altogether, the victory moved Kansas City to 42-13 vs. AFC West opponents since 2013, which is by far the best mark for any team against their own division in the NFL during that span. Mahomes, specifically, is now 22-3 in divisional matchups as a starter.
Additionally, the win was the Chiefs' 28th victory since 2018 in which they trailed at some point during the game. They have the most such wins in the NFL during that span despite trailing in the third-fewest games (43) of any team.
The Chiefs have become synonymous with comeback victories during Mahomes' tenure at quarterback, and while it's still early in the season, Thursday's win demonstrated that the six-time defending AFC West champions are eager to show that the AFC still runs through Kansas City.
"We know that we have a target on our back, and we know we're going to get every team's best shot," said Justin Reid. "We're going to be ready for it. We're going to have to come out and perform. Credit to the offense, defense and special teams. Everybody came out and we did what we needed to do to come away with a win. "
In terms of injuries, defensive end Mike Danna exited the game late in the fourth quarter due to a calf injury. The Chiefs will now have an opportunity to enjoy a bit of an extended break before traveling to Indianapolis to take on the Colts on Sept. 25.