KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The deck was stacked against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Playing on four days rest.
Traveling two time zones west for a key division battle.
Missing three defensive starters — defensive tackle Chris Jones, linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and cornerback L’Jarius Sneed.
Missing three players due to COVID-19 protocols — Jones, Gay and wide receiver Josh Gordon.
It was always going to be hard for the Chiefs to beat the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday Night Football at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.
But somebody forgot to tell Patrick Mahomes and the five-time reigning AFC West champs.
Sixty minutes wasn’t enough time to decide things in the de facto division title game, which ended 66 seconds into overtime when tight end Travis Kelce caught a pass over the middle, doubled back to lose linebacker Drue Tranquil then cut up field and outran five other Chargers defenders to the end zone.
“That was a special moment,” Mahomes said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a walk-off touchdown.”
Kansas City (10-4) has now won seven straight games after the 34-28 victory and owns a two-game lead in the AFC West over Los Angeles (8-6) with three games remaining.
“If I could jump, I’d jump with excitement,” KC coach Andy Reid said. “But that locker room was great. It was phenomenal. … It was like a walk-off home run in baseball. You have a walk-off like and you see the celebration. You see the guys jumping around, and you know all the hard work that goes into it. That’s satisfying.”
Give credit to a depleted Chiefs defense, which made goal-line stands to bookend the first half and another early in the fourth quarter in a gutsy performance under the circumstances.
“That defense is rolling right now and his (defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) preparation has been tremendous,” Reid said.
The Chargers only scored on three of six possessions in goal-to-go situations and also got stuffed on another fourth-down try in field-goal range.
“That’s the way we’re going to play,” LA coach Brandon Staley said. “When we have a quarterback like ours and we have an offense like ours, that’s the way we’re going to play, because that’s how you need to play against Kansas City, for sure.”
Los Angeles had marched 97 yards to the Kansas City 1-yard line early in the final period only to have Ben Niemann knife up the middle and meet Joshua Kelley in the backfield.
Tershawn Wharton then pawed the ball free from Kelley and Niemann, who finished with nine tackles stepping in for Gay, eventually won the arm-wrestling match at the bottom of the pile for the ball.
The Chiefs’ offense gave it right back three plays later.
One drive after Mahomes skipped a lame-duck throw to a wide-open Mecole Harman Jr. in the flats on Kansas City’s own fourth-down failing at the goal line, Uchenna Nwosu tipped a Mahomes pass to himself for an incredible interception.
Austin Ekeler scored on a 2-yard run the next play, but the Chiefs’ offense was ready to answer the bell this time.
Mahomes engineered a 75-yard drive, including a 69-yard pass to Travis Kelce and a 1-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill. It was one of three 75-yard touchdown drives in the final 10 minutes plus overtime as the offense rallied for the win.
“The defense held us in that game with all those fourth-down stops against a really good offense,” Mahomes said. “At the end of the day, the offense — we stepped up on those last three drives and got down there and scored when we needed to.”
Kansas City drew even on Mahomes’ two-point pass to Clyde Edwards-Helaire with 7:44 remaining, ramping up the drama in the AFC West title chase.
Herbert led Los Angeles right down the field, capping his own 75-yard drive with an 8-yard laser beam into Keenan Allen’s chest.
A gassed Mahomes kept pace, scrambling for 33 yards on a furious game-tying drive capped with a 7-yard touchdown to Kelce.
The defense managed to force the first LA punt of the game with 25 seconds left.
Fittingly, longtime former Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram called tails to win the coin toss for the Chiefs in overtime.
“That was like two heavyweights going after each other and we were able to have the ball last,” Reid said. “My hat goes off to Melvin Ingram for winning two coin flips.”
Herbert, who finished 22 of 38 for 236 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, and Los Angeles never saw the ball after Kelce capped a career-high 191-yard night with his game-winning 34-yard touchdown. He finished with 10 catches and two touchdowns.
Kelce’s previous career-best for receiving yards in a game was 168 in a December 2018 win at Oakland.
Mahomes finished 31 of 47 for 410 yards, the seventh 400-yard game of his career, with three touchdowns and an interception. he also tied for the team lead with 32 yards rushing.
Hill added 12 catches for 148 yards and a score.
But it was Kansas City’s defense — led by rookie linebacker Nick Bolton, who finished with game-highs for tackles (14) and passes defended (three) — that set the tone early.
The Chargers opened the game with a 75-yard kickoff return but ended up with no points after Herbert threw four straight incompletions from the Chiefs’ 5-yard line.
Unfortunately, tight end Donald Parham Jr. was injured and had to be taken from the field on a stretcher after the fourth-down incompletion.
Kansas City marched 95 yards on its first possession led by fullback Michael Burton, who had a 20-yard reception on a screen pass and capped the drive with a 7-yard touchdown.
After Nick Bolton tipped a pass for an Anthony Hitchens interception, a 30-yard Harrison Butker field goal extended the lead to 10-0.
“It was nice to get one,” Hitchens, who made eight tackles, said. “It’s been a while.”
It was all Los Angeles from there before halftime.
On three successive drives, Herbert scored on a 1-yard QB scramble, tossed a 4-yard touchdown to Jalen Guyton and, after Joey Bosa forced a Mahomes fumble, drove the Chargers to the Chiefs’ goal line again in the closing seconds before halftime.
On fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 3 seconds left, safety Daniel Sorensen batted down Herbert’s pass to keep it a four-point game.
The Chiefs’ opening drive of the second half netted a 33-yard field goal.
Charvaius Ward, who was a game-time decision after falling ill, chipped in 10 tackles.