This noise. This chill. This challenge.
“Kansas City has made it known we have to go through them,” coach Anthony Lynn said this week, “if we’re going to win this division.”
Down 14-0 early and 28-14 late, the Chargers rallied for a pair of touchdowns and a two-point conversion in the final 3 minutes 49 seconds for their biggest victory since relocating to Los Angeles.
“We don’t flinch in those situations,” center Mike Pouncey said. “We’re prepped for them. Everybody was calm in the huddle. We knew we could make the plays when we had to make them.”
With only four seconds remaining, Philip Rivers passed one yard to Mike Williams to make it 28-27.
Rather than settle for a tie and overtime, Lynn opted to go for the win. Rivers again hit Williams, who was wide open when the Chiefs’ secondary crumbled, for the two points and the victory.
“We didn’t come here to tie,” Lynn said of the thinking behind going for two. “We came here to win. To me, it was a no-brainer.”
The win clinched a postseason berth for the Chargers for the first time since 2013.
They are tied atop the AFC West with Kansas City at 11-3, though the Chiefs own the tiebreaker.
“Everybody feels good right now,” Lynn said. “It’s good to be in the playoffs, but we’re not done. We want to win this division. So we’ve got work to do. We’re going to need a little help to get that done. But that’s our goal.”
The Chargers won without their top two running backs, Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, both out with injuries.
Then, in the first half, they lost their top receiver, Keenan Allen, to a hip problem.
They won despite two first-half interceptions by Rivers, one coming in the end zone, and even though they led the game for only those final four seconds.
These Chargers have won on a fourth-quarter field goal, on a defensive stop in the final 35 seconds, twice with no time remaining and Thursday on their last offensive play.
“We’ve been in this situation so many times,” Lynn said. “We believe we’re going to win now. I think the guys are really comfortable when we’re in these situations. There’s no panic. There’s no anxiety.”
The circumstances appeared grim when the Chiefs moved ahead 28-14 with a 13-play, 75-yard drive that extended into the middle of the fourth quarter and ate up 7:55 of clock time.
Kansas City converted three third downs on the drive and the Chargers were called for three penalties to aid the Chiefs’ efforts.
The Chargers responded with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Justin Jackson scoring from three yards out with 3:49 to play.
The defense, needing a quick stop, then forced a three-and-out, giving the offense the ball back at the Chargers’ 40-yard line.
“They always make a stop when we need it,” Lynn said of his defense. “We have complete confidence in them.”
Armed with the ball, Rivers and Williams took over. The Chargers’ final drive was extended on a fourth-and-seven conversion, Rivers hitting Travis Benjamin for 26 yards.
Benjamin caught only two passes in the game, but both came on the winning possession and totaled 57 yards.
Rivers finished 26 for 38 for 313 yards and two touchdowns. He has overcome deficits of 14 points or more to win 11 times, the most among active quarterbacks.
“That was awesome to see,” Lynn said. “It didn’t surprise us. That’s Phil. He’s a clutch player.”
Defensively, the Chargers limited nemesis Tyreek Hill to four catches for 46 yards and minus-five yards on three carries. This marked the first time Hill has failed to score against the Chargers in six career games.
They also managed to not allow quarterback Patrick Mahomes to weave his typical magic. One of the NFL’s leading MVP candidates, Mahomes did pass for two touchdowns and 243 yards, but he never took over the game.
The Chargers became the first opponent this season to hold Kansas City’s offense below 300 total yards.
They also improved to 6-1 in one-score games and 6-1 on the road.
“We have dudes in our locker room who want the ball at the end,” defensive lineman Isaac Rochell said. “We have dudes on defense who want to make the big plays at the end. So, when you have a bunch of dudes doing that, you’re going to win games.”