CARSON, Calif. — The Chiefs’ offense and special teams was good enough to win Sunday.
And for three quarters, the defense was, too.
But Bob Sutton’s unit faltered in the fourth quarter, allowing the Chargers to climb back in the game after being up by three scores.
In the end, the Chiefs prevailed 38-28, but the Chargers still managed to score on two of their last three possessions, making the game unnecessarily close.
With Tyreek Hill’s explosion for 268 all-purpose yards and Patrick Mahomes’ steady afternoon, the Chiefs’ defense had a decent margin for error.
The Chiefs nearly used all of it in the fourth quarter, allowing the Chargers to pick up four first downs in a row. But the defense got the stop it needed with a third-down tackle by Anthony Hitchens of Melvin Gordon with a minute to go in the game, ending the Chargers’ comeback.
Before the final quarter, the Chiefs’ defense looked like a much more solid unit than it appeared in the preseason.
On a day when Eric Berry’s absence might’ve meant the Chiefs’ defense was dead on arrival, Dee Ford brought the unit to life in the Chiefs’ ninth consecutive win against the Chargers.
Ford was electric in the first half, recording a sack and four quarterback hits.
With the Chargers facing third-and-10 midway through the first quarter, Ford burst through the offensive line and drilled quarterback Philip Rivers for a six-yard loss.
The hit forced the Chargers off the field after just four plays _ and announced that Ford would be force to be reckoned with after a quiet preseason.
While Ford’s sack was impressive, the hit on Rivers as the quarterback threw the Chargers’ first touchdown might’ve been even more impactful.
Right as Rivers got the ball out of his hands, Ford crashed into the 15-year veteran, putting him flat on his back before Austin Ekeler grabbed the touchdown over Anthony Hitchens.
Ford was just one piece of a defense that looked much improved from a shaky preseason outing.
With Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ arsenal of offensive weapons, it was almost a given that the Chiefs would score a lot of points. It was far from assumed that the defense would prevent the Chargers from doing the same thing, however.
But the Chiefs opened up by forcing the Chargers’ offense off the field after three plays in the opening series, and in the Chargers’ next series, the Chiefs held Los Angeles to a field goal. The Chargers’ fourth possession also ended in a field goal with the Chiefs limiting the damage _ an 18-yard carry and a 13-yard reception _ done by running back Melvin Gordon on the first two plays of the series.
At halftime, the Chargers had 94 rushing yards and 124 passing yards.
Safety Ron Parker, who joined the team a week ago, brought some stability to the secondary, and he made one of the biggest defensive plays in the second half.
With the Chargers methodically marching toward the end zone on the back of Melvin Gordon, Parker stepped up and intercepted Rivers’ pass intended for Keenan Allen. He tried to give the Chiefs better field position with a sizable return, but after review, he was ruled down by contact at the Chiefs’ 14-yard-line.
Even so, it was a major victory for the Chiefs defense, who halted the Chargers’ 60-yard, 5-minute drive in the red zone. Parker nearly did it again with 3 minutes to go in the game, pulling down Rivers’ pass before dropping it.
The defense did enough to win the game, but it was far from perfect _ especially late in the game.
Gordon frequently imposed his will on the Chiefs, rushing for 64 yards on 15 carries and picking up 102 more yards on nine catches.
The secondary still showed cracks at times, but it was helped by a few lucky breaks.
Rivers hit wide receiver Travis Benjamin for a would-be touchdown strike in the end zone, but Benjamin dropped the ball. Cornerback Steven Nelson was supposed to cover him, but he got lost and was far away from Benjamin when he tried to haul in Rivers’ pass.
Early in the fourth quarter, Rivers hit a wide open Allen for a touchdown as Orlando Scandrick got faked out on a jab step early in Allen’s route.
Scandrick also gave up another late touchdown with five minutes left in the fourth quarter when he lost Tyrell Williams and Rivers hit him in the corner of the end zone to pull the game within two scores.