A lot of airtime, bandwidth and ink was used over the offseason explaining why some team not named the Kansas City Chiefs would win the AFC West.
The Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill, one of the best receivers in the NFL. The rest of the AFC West upgraded their rosters with huge, splashy moves.
And here we are, not even to Thanksgiving, and the Chiefs have all but won the AFC West again. Everyone must have forgotten that the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes, who is still the best player in the NFL.
The division isn’t clinched yet, but it won’t be long. The Chiefs got a scare but escaped with a key 30-27 win on Sunday night at the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers took a 27-23 lead with 1:46 left after some great plays by Justin Herbert, but that was a lot of time for Mahomes. Everyone watching could guess how the game would end. Mahomes led a long drive and hit Travis Kelce for a 17-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left for the lead. It was Kelce’s third touchdown of the game.
Kansas City is 8-2, with a three-game lead and the tiebreaker over the 5-5 Chargers. The Chiefs would need to lose four times the rest of the season to give the Chargers any chance, and that’s extremely unlikely.
There’s more than one reason for the Chiefs’ being great year after year, but one factor stands out: Kansas City has Mahomes, and nobody else does.
Chargers start fast, Chiefs rebound
The Chargers came out strong. Herbert had a magnificent 50-yard touchdown pass to Josh Palmer, when he rolled left and threw all the way back across the field to his left, where Palmer caught it for the score.
The Chargers seemed confident after that. Austin Ekeler scored a short touchdown in the second quarter. Los Angeles got a field goal near the end of the half. They led 20-13 at halftime.
The Chargers needed to keep scoring after that to keep distance between themselves and Mahomes’ Chiefs. That’s not what happened. Their first two drives after halftime resulted in 18 net yards and two quick punts. That allowed the Chiefs to take back the lead.
Kansas City took back the lead when Travis Kelce ran a crossing route, Mahomes threw a pass exactly where he had to just out of the reach of Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. in coverage, and then Kelce took it upfield and scored a 32-yard touchdown.
Kelce is a great player and on all three of his touchdowns, he made something out of practically nothing. But it’s also not a coincidence that Chiefs receivers always get the ball in the exact right spot, and are in perfect position to turn it up for plenty of yards after the catch. Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL, but Herbert is one of the rare players in the league close to his level.
The back-and-forth between the quarterbacks was fantastic theater on Sunday night.
Chargers take a late lead
The Chargers and Chiefs traded crushing fumbles in the fourth quarter. Keenan Allen had a catch that would have put the Chargers in field-goal range, but he coughed it up and the Chiefs recovered. After that Kansas City went on a drive that could have put the game away, but Chargers linebacker Troy Reeder punched out the ball from Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon and Los Angeles recovered.
The Chargers had a shot, trailing 23-20 with good field position. On third-and-18 after a sack, Herbert hooked up on a great play with Allen. Herbert threw it deep and Allen caught it for a 46-yard gain. Allen, returning from a hamstring injury that kept him out for all but two games this season before Sunday, made a great adjustment to work around the cornerback and made a great catch. The Chargers were in field goal range but wanted a touchdown and the lead.
The Chargers got a goal-to-go situation at the two-minute warning. Herbert hit Palmer for a touchdown with 1:46 remaining and the Chargers led 27-23. It was way too much time for Mahomes.
A huge defensive penalty on third down with 1:05 remaining gave the Chiefs a first down in Chargers territory. That was the opening Mahomes needed. Mahomes hit Kelce on a 17-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left to give Kelce a hat trick.
The Chargers didn’t have much time but they did have 31 seconds and three timeouts. But Herbert threw a desperation pass downfield that was tipped and intercepted.
The Chiefs will be AFC West champions again. That’s a formality at this point. They’re also a Super Bowl contender. They probably will be as long as Mahomes is in his prime.