A lot of airtime, bandwidth, and ink was used during the off-season to explain why some team not named the Kansas City Chiefs would win the AFC West.
The Chiefs traded Tyreke Hill, one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. The rest of the AFC West revamped their lineups with huge flashy moves.
And here we are, not even until Thanksgiving, and the Chiefs almost won the AFC West again. Everyone outside of Missouri must have forgotten that the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes, who is still the best player in the NFL to this day.
The separation is not yet complete, but it won’t be for long. The Chiefs got scared but saved themselves with a 30-27 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night. The Chargers took a 27–23 lead with 1:46 left after some great plays from Justin Herbert, but it was too long for Mahomes. Everyone watching could guess how the game would end. Mahomes led and hit Travis Kelsey with a 17-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left in the lead. It was Kelsey’s third touchdown of the game.
Kansas City is 8-2, with a three-game lead and a 5-5 tiebreaker over the Chargers. The Chiefs would have to lose four before the end of the season to give the Chargers any chance, which is highly unlikely.
There are several reasons why the Chiefs have become great year after year, but one factor stands out: Kansas City has Mahomes and no one else has.
Chargers start fast, Chiefs bounce
The Chargers were strong. Herbert had a superb 50-yard touchdown on Josh Palmer as he rolled to the left and threw all the way back across the field to his left, where Palmer caught him and scored.
After that, the Chargers looked confident. Austin Eckeler scored a short touchdown in the second quarter. Los Angeles scored a field goal towards the end of the half. At halftime they were leading 20-13.
After that, the Chargers needed to keep scoring to keep distance between themselves and the Mahomes Chiefs. This is not what happened. Their first two drives after the break resulted in 18 clean yards and two rushing punts. This allowed the Chiefs to regain their lead.
Kansas City regained control as Travis Kelsey ran the crossing route, Mahomes passed exactly where he should have been out of range of Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. in cover, and then Kelsey took him forward and scored a 32-yard touchdown.
Kelsey is a great player, and in all three of his touchdowns he has achieved something from almost nothing. But it’s also no coincidence that the Chiefs’ receivers always get the ball exactly where they need it and are in the perfect position to turn it over a large number of yards after the catch. Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL, but Herbert is one of the rare players in the league that comes close to his level.
The shootouts between the quarterbacks on Sunday night were fantastic theatre.
The Chargers are late
In the fourth quarter, the Chargers and Chiefs exchanged devastating fumbles. Keenan Allen had a catch that would have put the Chargers in field goal distance, but he coughed it up and the Chiefs recovered. After that, Kansas City went on the attack that could have ended the game, but Chargers linebacker Troy Reeder cleared the ball from Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon, and Los Angeles recovered.
The Chargers had a chance, trailing 23-20 with good outfield position. On the third and 18th after the sack, Herbert played Allen well. Herbert threw him deep and Allen caught him with a 46-yard lead. Allen, who returned from a hamstring injury that kept him out of all but two games this season until Sunday, has adapted well to working at fullback and has had a great catch. The Chargers were within field goal range but wanted a touchdown and a lead.
The Chargers scored after a two-minute warning. Herbert hit Palmer for a touchdown with 1:46 left and the Chargers led 27–23. It was too much time for Mahomes.
A huge defensive penalty on the third down with 1:05 left gave the Chiefs their first down in Chargers territory. This was the opening Mahomes needed. Mahomes hit Kelsey for a 17-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left to give Kelsey a hat-trick.
The Chargers didn’t have much time, but they had 31 seconds and three timeouts. But Herbert made a desperate pass down the field, which was intercepted.
The Chiefs will once again be AFC West Champions. For now, this is a formality. They are also Super Bowl contenders. They probably will be while Mahomes is in his prime.