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Chiefs game report | Dominant 2nd half propels Kansas City past Chargers, into commanding division lead

Chargers Chiefs Football
Chargers Chiefs Football
Chargers Chiefs Football
Chargers Chiefs Football
Posted at 6:43 PM, Oct 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-22 22:38:26-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For a team that plays the Kansas City Chiefs twice a year, the Los Angeles Chargers sure looked clueless about how to stop tight end Travis Kelce.

Kelce had nine catches for 143 yards and a touchdown — and that was only the first half Sunday during a 31-17 victory, Kansas City's sixth straight since a season-opening loss — at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.

“The way he’s able to recognize coverage and adjust on the fly, we always talk about it, but it’s something that you can’t take for granted,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “It’s almost like he’s playing Madden. He can read the coverage then stop in the windows, be open and be on the same page as me at all times. He did a great job, man. It seems like he does it week in and week out. That’s why he’s the player that he is and why he’ll be in the Hall of Fame one day.”

He was Mahomes’ favorite target during those first two quarters but not the only production pass catcher.

Mahomes finished the opening half 20 of 23 for 321 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.

That stat line included two completions for 74 yards to wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who caught a 46-yard touchdown on a deep slant for his first score of the season.

Mahomes’ other first-half touchdown went to rookie Rashee Rice, who briefly tied Kelce for the team lead with his third score of the season.

Kelce later broke that tie with a 1-yard TD catch with 15 seconds left, giving Kansas City a 24-17 halftime lead.

Mahomes added a fourth touchdown to Isiah Pacheco in the fourth quarter for an offense that racked up 483 yards and averaged 7.5 yards per play.

“We’re definitely taking steps in the right direction,” Mahomes said.

It proved to be the game-winning TD.

Kelce finished with 12 catches for 179 yards, which is the second-most yards he's had in any NFL game. He's torched LA before — his career-high 191-yard game also came against the Chargers.

Mahomes finished 32 of 42 for 424 yards with four touchdowns and an interception.

Mahomes now has 10 career 400-yard games in the regular season.

SECOND-HALF SHUTOUT: Kansas City’s defense has been magnificent through the first six games of the season, but it got battered in the first half.

Running back Joshua Kelley burned the Chiefs for a 49-yard touchdown run and wide receiver Josh Palmer got free for a 60-yard catch and run to set up another touchdown.

Kansas City seemed to be on its heels, but the second-half goose egg had to feel good.

“Spags (defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) is doing a great job with design, and the players are playing their hearts out,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.

The defense finished with five sacks and eight hits against Herbert.

“They weren’t hanging their heads [at halftime],” Reid said. “They kind of figured it out. We had a plan for it. They got us on a few, but the guys figured it out.”

Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed and safety Bryan Cook picked off Herbert, once to halt a drive after a Blake Bell fumble then to ice the victory.

AFC WEST STRANGLEHOLD: The Chiefs have won an AFC West record seven straight division titles.

After Sunday’s win, an eighth in a row seems inevitable.

Las Vegas and Denver are in disarray and the Chargers — despite having Herbert, one of the most highly touted young QBs in the NFL — somehow aren’t significantly better.

Kansas City won its sixth straight game after a season-opening loss without both Kelce and defensive tackle Chris Jones in the lineup.

No other AFC West is above .500 — including the Chargers, who slipped to 2-4 with the loss.

The Raiders (3-4) actually sit second in the division, trailing the Chiefs by three games.

Mathematically, it’s far from a done deal, but given Kansas City’s dominance in the division under Andy Reid and led by Mahomes, that feels like too much of a stagger for anyone to make up.

WELCOME TO THE KINGDOM, CHARLES OMENIHU: Former Houston and San Francisco defensive end Charles Omenihu was the biggest offseason free-agent addition on defense.

But his Chiefs debut was delayed by a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy.

Omenihu made himself feel right at home Sunday inside Arrowhead, sacking Justin Herbert and tipping another pass for a L’Jarius Sneed red-zone interception in an impactful first game.

“Not playing football for the last six weeks has probably been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Omenihu said. “Coming out today and helping the team win, I just have no words.”

Omenihu finished with two tackles and had two hits on Herbert.

“It was great to get him in the mix,” Reid said.

Kansas City prized Omenihu for his versatility and pass-rushing upside, and the early returns were promising.

WELCOME BACK, MECOLE: Mecole Hardman Jr. failed to find a role with the New York Jets, who signed him to a one-year deal worth $4 million in the offseason.

The receiver-needy Chiefs brought back Hardman, who was a productive player in Reid’s system during his first four NFL seasons, via trade earlier in the week.

He’d had a quiet game without a punt or kickoff return and without a catch on two targets midway through the fourth quarter.

Kansas City was still nursing a 24-17 lead, the same score from halftime, when Hardman authored his signature “welcome home” moment with a 50-yard punt return.

Chargers punter JK Scott had helped keep the Chiefs’ offense in check by dominating the field-position battle with his booming kicks and eternal hang time in the second half.

Hardman finally flipped the field position then converted a key third-and-6 with a 6-yard reception, his first of the game.

“He busted that play then came back and had a huge catch, so welcome back, Mecole,” Reid said. “We only got him here on Thursday, so we'll keep adding stuff to his menu.”

One play after Hardman's catch, Mahomes flipped an 8-yard touchdown to Isiah Pacheco for the first points of the second half and the back-breaking score.

REVITALIZED IN THE RED ZONE: After scoring only one touchdown on five red-zone possessions and opening Sunday’s game with a 35-yard field goal on the first possession, the Chiefs rediscovered their red-zone mojo.

Kansas City’s first touchdown came via a big play when Mahomes found wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a deep crosser, and he did the rest, turning the corner and racing down the sideline for his first touchdown of the season.

But two of the next three possessions — sandwiched around a Mahomes interception when he got hit as he loaded up for a deep shot to Mecole Hardman Jr. — resulted in red-zone trips that finished in the end zone.

Mahomes found Rice then Kelce for touchdowns to quiet concerns about Kansas City’s red-zone offense, while Pacheco cashed in the offense’s only red-zone chance late in the fourth quarter to ice the win.

INJURY REPORT: Middle linebacker Nick Bolton suffered a dislocated wrist in the fourth quarter, Reid said.

The injury happened on the first play of the Chargers’ penultimate drive as he tackled Keenan Allen for a short gain.

Bolton popped up grabbing his wrist and winced his way to the sideline, where he collapsed to his knees on the edge of the field.

Officials stopped play to allow the Chiefs’ training staff to attend to his injury.

Bolton, a former second-round pick from Mizzou, has been Kansas City’s leading tackler each of his first two seasons in the NFL.

He missed three games earlier in the season with a sprained ankle.

“We’ll see how he does,” Reid said. “He had a heckuva game up to that point.”

Bolton finished with a team-high nine tackles despite missing Los Angeles’ final two drives.

'SWIFTLY' BECOMING A BIG FAN: Yes, Taylor Swift graced Arrowhead for a third straight Chiefs home game.

In fact, Kansas City improved to 4-0 when Swift was in attendance this season.

"Kelce keeps getting better with time," Reid said. "Taylor can stay around all she wants."

Chargers Chiefs Football
Taylor Swift watches from a suite during the first half of an NFL football game runs with the ballt Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Swift, who has been linked romantically to All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce, also attended Kansas City’s win Oct. 1 at the New York Jets.

Since her first appearance at a Chiefs game on Sept. 24, Swift has only missed one game — the Oct. 8 win at Minnesota.

She also attended Kansas City's win Oct. 12 against Denver.

Kelce has 34 catches for 432 yards and two touchdowns in those games, so he's averaging 8.5 catches for 108 yards with a touchdown every other game with Swift in the building.

Cameras caught Swift watching the game with Mahomes' wife, Brittany, including an intricate and choreographed touchdown celebration during the first half.

Swift-weary Chiefs fans take note, her "Eras Tour" resumes in South America on Nov. 9, so she’ll be too busy to make it to games for the next several months.

UP NEXT: For the second time in three weeks, the Chiefs face the Denver Broncos, which ends a run of three straight divisional games.

Kansas City will try to extend its win streak in the series to 17 consecutive games at 3:25 p.m. next Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High.