It turns out the best defense against Patrick Mahomes II is a good offense. The Chargers stole a 29-28 win from the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night in one of the most impressive comeback wins in recent franchise history. After two consecutive Philip Rivers touchdown drives, the Chargers were down one point with four seconds to play; head coach Anthony Lynn put the cherry on top and decided to go for the two-point conversion to win the game. It worked. Rivers found receiver Mike Williams wide open in the back corner of the end zone.
The catch brought the score to 29-28, giving the Chargers their first win against the Chiefs since December of 2013. It may have been worth the wait: Not only does it snap a nine-game losing streak against Kansas City, but the win clinches L.A. a playoff berth, evens their record with the Chiefs, and keeps their hopes alive for an AFC West title.
For the first three quarters, that scenario seemed completely out of reach. Kansas City dominated the game on both sides of the ball. The Chiefs intercepted Rivers’s first pass of the game and then scored 10 plays later for their league-leading eighth touchdown on their first possession. On that drive, Mahomes pulled a Russell Wilson–esque escape act by rolling left out of the pocket, looping back right while outrunning three defenders, and rocketing a pass by the sideline to find running back Damien Williams for a first down on third-and-4.
He finished the drive with a ridiculously nonchalant roll to his right where he slowed to a jog, then slowed to a walk, pump-faked throwing out of bounds, and then, with Chargers safety Adrian Phillips wrapped around his waist mid-tackle, found receiver Demarcus Robinson in the end zone for the score.
Former Texas Tech Qb Patrick Mahomes is not human pic.twitter.com/rnjvakgTLw— Texas Tech Probs (@TexasTechProb) December 14, 2018
He also tossed a sidearm pass behind pass rusher Melvin Ingram III that resembled the curved bullets from Wanted.
Another week, another crazy Mahomes arm angle pass pic.twitter.com/iM4NoXfsrt— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) December 14, 2018
After forcing a Chargers punt, the Chiefs scored again, taking a 14-0 lead with less than a minute to go in the first quarter.
Mahomes finished the game with 24 completions on 34 attempts for 243 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers. As great as Mahomes was, Kansas City’s defense also stifled the Chargers for most of the game. Kansas City finished with five sacks (two and a half from defensive lineman Chris Jones, who logged his 10th consecutive-game sack, an NFL record), as the Chiefs pressured Rivers for most of the night. The Chargers, who are tied for fourth in the league in scoring with 28.2 points per game, managed just one first-half touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Rivers to Williams. Kansas City’s secondary, bolstered by the return of safety Eric Berry, snagged one interception on the second play of the game, and cornerback Kendall Fuller came down with another in the end zone with under a minute left in the second quarter to keep the game 14-7 at halftime. Rivers finished with 26 completions on 38 attempts, 313 yards, two touchdowns, and the two picks.
As the Chiefs rolled, the Chargers stumbled. Running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler were ruled out before the game (along with tight end Hunter Henry), and receiver Keenan Allen left the game with a hip injury. In his absence, Williams fulfilled the promise the team saw when drafting him seventh overall in 2017; he had possibly the best game of his career, with seven catches for 76 yards, two touchdowns, and the game-winning extra point.
Williams even looked comfortable as a runner when he took a toss on first-and-10 in the red zone, cut upfield to split two defenders, outran two more, and rumbled into the end zone for a 19-yard rushing touchdown.
The Chargers entered halftime down 14-7 and exchanged two third-quarter touchdowns to make the game 21-14 entering the fourth quarter. With less than nine minutes left in the game, the Chiefs scored another touchdown to extend their lead to 28-14, but Rivers responded by leading an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to cut Kansas City’s lead to 28-21 with less than four minutes to go. With the division on the line, L.A. forced a three-and-out from Kansas City, who has the second-lowest three-and-out percentage of any team in football (14 percent). Head coach Anthony Lynn wisely decided not to use his final timeout on Kansas City’s fourth down, which could have left enough time on the clock for Mahomes to get the ball one more time.
The referees were busy all night, calling a total of 17 penalties in the game, but none more consequential than the one called at the end of the Chargers’ final drive, which involved a slew of questionable penalties that affected both teams. (To be fair to the refs, the Chiefs lead the NFL in penalties and penalty yards.) With less than 35 seconds to play, Rivers seemingly suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit on second-and-goal from the 10, but there was no call. Rivers was livid, but the clock kept ticking.
Helmet-to-helmet hit on a defenseless QB in final minute. No call.— Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. (@ChrisNowinski1) December 14, 2018
Interesting to see how upset Philip Rivers was. pic.twitter.com/gmRGMyQ5Qt
On the next play, third-and-goal from the 10-yard line, Rivers looked for Mike Williams, but Fuller drew a ticky-tacky pass-interference call. It was the last of Kansas City’s 10 penalties for 66 yards, and also the costliest. It gave the Chargers the ball at the 1-yard line, down seven points with eight seconds left to play. Once again, they called on Williams, who snagged the jump ball for a touchdown as defensive back Orlando Scandrick screamed for an offensive pass-interference penalty that didn’t come. Rivers had led a stunning comeback, barring the extra point, and the game would head to overti– wait, why is Rivers holding two fingers up?
The offense stayed on the field. Seven weeks after the Chargers won because the Titans declined to go to overtime and attempted—and failed—a two-point conversion, Lynn made the call to end the game now, one way or the other. It’s perhaps the most daring call of the entire NFL season by any coach.
The Chiefs and Chargers now have the same record, but Kansas City still holds the tiebreaker in the AFC West because of their intra-divisional record. But Kansas City heads to Seattle next week, and if the Chargers win their final two games while the Chiefs drop one of their next two, it would make the Chargers the AFC West champions—and potentially give them a first-round bye. If you thought this game was magic, just wait: We’re on the cusp of the AFC playoffs running through the StubHub Center.