2021 NFL season, Week 15: What we learned from Chiefs' win over Chargers on Thursday night

Kansas City Chiefs
2021 · 10-4-0
Los Angeles Chargers
2021 · 8-6-0

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  1. Patrick Mahomes ripped the door open for overtime, then slammed it shut. Down by seven in the final minutes of regulation, the Chiefs quarterback led a 75-yard march on eight plays in 1:03 to knot the score at 28. Two huge plays delivered the goods, the first being a 20-yard scramble throw to Tyreek Hill. Mahomes then chewed up 32 yards with his longest rush of the season as his targets flooded the left side of the field, clearing a massive gap in the secondary that allowed him to squirt out of the pocket to the right and run uncontested. That set up a 7-yard TD pass to Travis Kelce to set up overtime. Mahomes left Chargers QB Justin Herbert a chance to answer in regulation, but not in the extra period. He put K.C. back in the end zone for the game winner in just five plays, capped by a 34-yarder to -- guess who -- Kelce again. It was a thrilling finish befitting the game’s most dangerous quarterback.
  2. Herbert started cold, but eventually warmed up. The Chargers quarterback’s stat line after one quarter looked ugly: 3 of 9 for just 25 yards and an interception. Over the rest of the game, he went 19 of 29 for 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns without a pick. It’s not the first time Herbert has looked human early and superhuman late; he entered the game having thrown for 735 first-quarter yards, the lowest total of his quarter splits. A trademark Herbert rainbow to Keenan Allen on Los Angeles’ final offensive snap was a bit overthrown and disrupted somewhat by some incidental contact. Ultimately, the Chargers missed too many scoring chances early, but Herbert went down firing and acquitted himself well overall.
  3. The Chargers pass defense was completely unable to contain Mahomes’ best two targets -- Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. It would’ve made a huge difference had L.A. been able to take just one of them away, because Mahomes leaned on them heavily. The two combined for three touchdowns, 22 catches and an eye-opening 339 yards, commanding 26 targets among Mahomes’ total of 45. Kelce delivered the game-winner, weaving through the Chargers secondary for a 34-yard touchdown and a career-high 191 yards. On a night when the K.C. running backs didn’t eat the way they should have against one of the NFL’s worst run defenses, Kelce and Hill were the offense.
  4. The Chargers got too cute near the goal line, and it cost them. A tip of the hat to the Kansas City defense is merited for stoning the Chargers for zero points with a pair of fourth-down stops from the K.C. 5-yard line -- one on L.A’s opening drive and the other on its last possession before the half. But the Chargers’ insistence on throwing on six of those eight plays, including four incompletions from a shotgun formation, was a head-scratcher. Los Angeles ran all over the K.C. defense all night (39 for 192), with Austin Ekeler establishing himself as a money option in the first half. Getting under center and playing downhill football with Ekeler that close to the goal line would’ve likely paid off.
  5. Sometimes, Mahomes’ magic is box-score evident. Other times, it’s embodied in individual moments of brilliance. His how-did-he-do-that highlight on Thursday was easily forgotten in all the late drama, but won’t be forgotten here. Near the end of the first quarter, he began his niftiest play with a deft dodge of a Chris Harris blitz, barely escaping a sack before sliding out of the pocket to his right. He then slung a perfect pass back toward his left for a 17-yard completion to Kelce. The play put K.C. in easy field goal range, and the drive resulted in three points that proved critical in a game that was tied after regulation. These are the plays Mahomes can make that few, if any, others, including his supremely gifted Thursday night counterpart, can make.


Next Gen stat of the night: The Chargers’ win probability was positively impacted by all five of coach Brandon Staley’s decisions to go for a fourth-down conversion. 

NFL Research: Justin Herbert passed former Colts QB Andrew Luck for the most passing yards in NFL history over a quarterback’s first two seasons. Luck totaled 8,196 yards in his first two years. Herbert now has 8,394.

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