Chiefs Fall to Chargers on Sunday: 10 Observations, Postgame Notes, and Much More
The Chiefs have lost back-to-back games. What is happening and when should we worry?
The Kansas City Chiefs dropped another tough one Sunday afternoon - falling to the Los Angeles Chargers by a score of 30-24.
Despite having a lead in the fourth quarter for a second-straight week, the Chiefs couldn’t overcome four turnovers - three inside the red zone - as they fall to 1-2 on the season and sit at the bottom of the AFC West Division.
For some perspective - it’s the first time the Chiefs have had a losing record since 2015, and also it’s the first time Patrick Mahomes has had a losing record in his young career. But we’re seeing a confluence of key mistakes in crucial times to go along with high expectations, and it’s a frustrating place for fans to try and make sense of it all.
We’ll try and make sense of some of it, and once again, thanks again for supporting us here at KC Sports Network.
Here are some postgame notes, courtesy of Chiefs’ communications:
MAHOMES MAKES NFL HISTORY REACHING 15,000 YARDS: QB Patrick Mahomes recorded 260 passing yards in today’s game, giving him 15,092 career passing yards in just 49 career starts. It is the fewest number of starts for a QB to reach the 15,000-yard plateau in NFL history, besting the previous number of 53 career starts which was set by both PFHOF Kurt Warner and Matthew Stafford. He becomes the fifth quarterback in franchise history to record at least 15,000 passing yards and needs 2,186 yards to pass QB Bill Kenney (17,277) for fourth-most career passing yards in franchise history.
NFL RECORD BOOK
FEWEST STARTS TO 15,000 CAREER PASSING YARDS
1. 49 Patrick Mahomes
2. 53 Kurt Warner
4. 54 Dan Marino
[Mahomes] three passing touchdowns in today’s game move his streak of consecutive games with a passing touchdown to 28 games, extending his franchise record and extending the longest active streak in the NFL.
KELCE REACHES CENTURY MARK TO TOP CHIEFS CHART: TE Travis Kelce finished today’s game with seven receptions for 104 yards, bringing his career total to 8,170 receiving yards, the second-most receiving yards in franchise history. This marks the 27th game of Kelce’s career with at least 100 receiving yards, which breaks a tie with TE Tony Gonzalez (26) for the most such games in team history and ranks as the third-most 100-yard games by a tight end in league history. It marked his first-career 100-yard performance against the Chargers, and he’s now recorded a 100-yard receiving game against 19 different NFL teams. His performance also extends his streak of consecutive games with a reception to 113, the second-longest streak in franchise history and the third-longest active streak in the NFL by a player currently on a roster.
CHIEFS RECORD BOOK
MOST RECEIVING YARDS, CAREER
1. 10,940 Tony Gonzalez 1997-08
2. 8,170 Travis Kelce 2013-21
3. 7,306 Otis Taylor 1965-75
4. 7,155 Dwayne Bowe 2007-14
5. 6,545 Henry Marshall 1976-87
CHIEFS RECORD BOOK
MOST GAMES, 100 OR MORE RECEIVING YARDS, CAREER
1. 27 Travis Kelce 2013-21
2. 26 Tony Gonzalez 1997-08
3. 20 Otis Taylor 1965-75
4. 18 Carlos Carson 1980-88
5. 17 Eddie Kennison 2001-07
NFL RECORD BOOK
MOST 100 YARD GAMES, TIGHT END, CAREER
1. 31 Tony Gonzalez 1997-13
2. 29 Rob Gronkowski 2010-21
3. 27 Travis Kelce 2013-21
4. 24 Kellen Winslow 1979-87
5. 22 Jackie Smith 1963-78
FORTSON GRABS FIRST-CAREER TOUCHDOWN RECEPTION: TE Jody Fortson hauled in his first-career touchdown reception on a two-yard pass from QB Patrick Mahomes. He finished the game with two receptions for seven yards to go along with his touchdown.
EDWARDS-HELAIRE HITS 100 YARDS: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire recorded 17 carries for 100 rushing yards in today’s game, marking his third-career 100-yard performance and first since Oct. 19, 2020 when he rushed for 161 yards at Buffalo. He added two receptions for nine yards, including a 10-yard touchdown reception. It marks his second-career receiving touchdown and his sixth-career overall touchdown (four rushing, two receiving).
HARDMAN FINDS THE ENDZONE: WR Mecole Hardman scored his first touchdown of the season, taking a short pass from QB Patrick Mahomes eight yards into the end zone. He now owns 11 career receiving touchdowns.
CHIEFS OFFENSE RACKS UP FIRST DOWNS: The Kansas City offense recorded 33 first downs in today’s game, tying for the fourth-most first downs in a single-game in franchise history.
DANNA DROPS HERBERT: DE Mike Danna recorded his first sack of the season, dropping Chargers QB Justin Herbert for a six-yard loss in the third quarter. Danna now owns 3.5 career sacks (-28.5 yards). He finished today’s game with two solo tackles, including one for loss, and added a career-high three QB pressures to go along with the sack.
Here are 10 quick observations from Sunday’s loss:
Patrick Mahomes doesn’t look comfortable in the pocket. Everyone has an opinion what it means and why that’s the case, but there’s a level of comfortability needed to sit and deliver from an ideal platform consistently, and the Chiefs’ offense doesn’t look like it’s in that space right now.
The red zone defense is a problem. The Chiefs have allowed 11 touchdowns in just 12 red zone trips from opposing offenses so far this year. While the one stop did come on Sunday, the ability to make things tougher on opposing teams as the field constricts hasn’t yet happened for the Chiefs’ defense.
Justin Herbert isn’t intimidated by Arrowhead. Maybe this kind of stuff is blown out of proportion anyways, but it shouldn’t be discounted that the 23-year-old Herbert, who finished 26 of 38 for 281 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, looked more comfortable in the pocket on the road than Mahomes did at home.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s performance will unfortunately primarily be about the fumble. CEH finished with 109 total yards on just 19 touches, including a go-ahead touchdown in the second half. The second-year RB knifed his way through the Chargers’ defense at times for a nice display for a player with a lot of attention on him recently. The fumble will make the headlines, but the totality of work for CEH on Sunday was a positive one.
The fourth-down pass interference call needs to be explained. The original call was on Daniel Sorensen, but that was quickly debunked. The flag was thrown near CB Deandre Baker, who made the play on the ball but didn’t appear to get there early enough for a flag to be thrown in that kind of situation - ESPECIALLY SINCE A FLAG WASN’T THROWN WHEN TYREEK AND TRAVIS WERE BASICALLY TACKLED ON THE HAIL MARY. No, it shouldn’t get to this point, but it was still egregious.
Willie Gay is needed on the defense. We knew there were areas of the team that weren’t as strong as others - that’s going to be the case with every team, but it’s getting pretty consistent that when we’re beat in high-leverage situations defensively, the ball is generally targeted at our linebackers. Willie Gay was drafted as an athletic off-ball linebacker, and his return will be highlighted in the weeks to come.
Mike Williams has always seemed underrated. He finished Sunday’s game with 7 catches for 122 yards and 2 touchdowns,
Andy Reid, who did not do postgame media, was reportedly taken to a hospital.
Appreciate the combo of Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes. It might be the best combination of QB to pass-catcher in NFL history.
The Chiefs played bad and almost won again this week. That sentence will mean different things to different people. It does matter because at the end of the season we’ll look back at missed opportunities, and this was definitely one of those. But how they react to it and approach the next few weeks will ultimately mean more to how the season plays out.
Red zone execution, ball protection major issues
There is no genuine formula to beat the Chiefs offense — but if there was it would be somewhat close to what we saw in the first half of the week three matchup against the Chargers.
Los Angeles did a great job limiting explosive plays early on by the Chiefs offense — forcing sustained drives. The Chiefs had zero issues driving the ball into Charger territory. Smart teams have shown a willingness to allow completions in between the twenties — hoping to catch the Chiefs making a mistake within the volume of plays they have to run to get into the red zone.
There’s a window of hope for defenses in that if they can tighten up in the red zone and try to force turnovers, they can slow this offense down. That was the case in the first half of the game.
The Chiefs started with three turnovers in the first three series of the game: a Mahomes interception off the hands of special teams ace Marcus Kemp, a Tyreek Hill fumble, and a Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumble.
Is it repeatable? Not always. But limiting explosive plays increases opportunities for turnovers like we saw from the Chiefs early and often. It was clearly an emphasis by the Chargers this week, and they capitalized.
The Chiefs need to get back to the basics in about every facet of the game. Little things matter and ball security was a real issue for this team in the first week of the season. Teams are going to be hunting for the football — it has to be part of the formula for defenses to slow down the Chiefs.
The Chiefs will look to get on track against the Eagles next week — finishing drives will be a priority.
Play of the Game
Unfortunately the inaugural edition of this segment has to go the sad route but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.
The Chiefs received the football with 2:14 left in a tied ball game and the entire football world anticipated them marching down the field and scoring a game winning TD or FG. That prediction went the way of the trash can in three quick plays.
After an opening play short run followed by a slightly off target pass/dropped ball, the Chiefs were looking a quick 3rd and 8 to keep the drive alive. This is the play that we got that resulted in an interception that some are calling the worst one of Patrick Mahomes’ career.
The Chargers are showing a 2-high shell but the FS is already aligned closer to the LoS to potentially rob a crossing route form the slot WR on the opposite side of the field. From here, it becomes just a series of unfortunate events for the Chiefs.
The Chiefs are running a Levels concept on the strong side, a concept designed to beat zone coverage. To the strong side, it’s an isolate route to Travis Kelce with the RB slipping out to the flat late. Since the Chargers show man coverage pre-snap, Mahomes begins to work the iso to the weak side.
Unfortunately, since there is no vertical presence from the slot WR the FS is able to provide help to the defender in coverage on Kelce. Add in the LB not coming on pressure when his responsibility - the RB - stays in initially to block and the Chargers end up with three defenders occupying the space that one receiver is working in. It’s hard to say the focus shouldn’t have been on Kelce based on the pre-snap look and the concept the Chiefs are running, but there also has to be an understanding of Brandon Staley’s defense which was almost certainly going to have a Robber S and not send the extra defender/LB on a “green dog blitz” when the RB stayed in to block.
To make matters worse, the Chiefs only other consistent receiving option - Tyreek Hill - had run a route that actually beat the coverage he saw even if the concept wasn’t necessarily meant too. We can nitpick from the outside and say that Mahomes should have recognized the coverage sooner, stayed in a relatively clean pocket, and worked to the other side of the field but that ignores the pressure he had just faced the play before through the inside shoulder of the RT.
Nothing here excuses the poor decision to loft a football off his backfoot into what would still be double coverage but some blame has to be put onto the play call as well. It was 100% Kelce or bust with no one occupying potential help-defenders on his route over the middle of the field.
There isn’t a ton of reason to split “blame” up on to certain people of this play or game. The Chiefs simply have to play better from top to bottom but this play, in the biggest moment, accentuates some of the issues the team is currently facing. There are some problems on the surface level - the decisions made by the players - and deeper rooted issues - the concept of the play - that the Chiefs need to fix sooner rather than later.
0-2 - Chiefs Record under Andy Reid with a -4 Turnover Differential
Hey, it’s bad when you turn the ball over on offense, but it’s WORSE when you do it at the rate that the Chiefs did on Sunday. Only one other time under Andy Reid have the Chiefs turned the ball over four more times than their opponent: a Thursday night week two loss in 2015 against the Denver Broncos. That affair had an eerily similar scoreline (31-24) as this matchup, and featured a back-breaking turnover late in the game to seal it for the Broncos.
Reid’s teams have turned the ball over more than 4 times on just three previous occasions: a 2020 win against the Miami Dolphins, a 2018 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, and the aforementioned 2015 Broncos game. Oddly enough, that 1-3 record now stands with a point differential of just -9 points.
3 - Number of 185+ yard rushing games in the Mahomes era
For all that went wrong on the offensive side of the ball, the Chiefs ran the ball well against the Chargers poor rushing defense. The Chargers ranked 28th in rush defense DVOA (the Chiefs were 32nd) coming into this matchup, and the Chiefs offense was able to take advantage of the mismatch to the tune of 186 yards and 6.2 yards per carry. That’s happened just three times since Mahomes has been the starter: in 2020 against the Buffalo Bills and in 2018 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
However, this is the first time the Chiefs have lost with that kind of ground production, and the other two performances were multi-score victories. Obviously the turnovers were killer for the Chiefs offense, but it was good to see stretches of the game where the Chiefs new offensive line were able to flex their muscles and blow open some holes in the run game. While the Chiefs should prefer to pass the ball at a greater clip than running -- as they still did on Sunday -- if they can repeat this kind of rushing success, it’ll give them another way to help out when the offense is struggling.
4 - Number of late game-winning scores under Spagnuolo since 2019
Steve Spagnuolo’s defenses have let some games get closer than Chiefs fans would like since he took over as the Chiefs defensive coordinator. However -- prior to this season -- the Chiefs defense had allowed just two go-ahead touchdowns with less than four minutes remaining: against the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020 and the Tennessee Titans in 2019. Thus far, the Chiefs defense has allowed two such scores in the 2021 season.
Spagnuolo’s defenses have struggled in some areas -- particularly in the red zone the last two years -- but they tend to tighten up and get the job done at the end of games. Whether it be through a timely turnover or a sack, Spagnuolo’s group has found a way to close out games in his time in Kansas City. Through three weeks of the season, that’s not been the case. Although they were stuck in some tough situations due to turnovers, they did allow 154 yards and 16 points in the fourth quarter on Sunday. When the offense is struggling and the defense can’t get stops late, that just makes winning even harder.