Defense carries Chiefs to win over Chargers in Mexico

AP, MEXICO CITY

Wed, Nov 20, 2019 - Page 16

Nearly everything about their Monday night game felt foreign to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, from the gasp-inducing altitude of Mexico City’s raucous Estadio Azteca to the struggles of their powerhouse offense.

Mahomes loved the experience, but did not love how his offense played. The Chiefs’ defense picked it up time and again, culminating in the final pick that sent them all back home as winners.

“We kept that confidence all game long,” Mahomes said. “We knew that someone was going to make a play to win the game.”

Daniel Sorensen snared Philip Rivers’ fourth interception at the goal line with 18 seconds to play to help the Chiefs stay on top of the American Football Conference West with a 24-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

Mahomes passed for 182 yards and hit Travis Kelce for his only touchdown, while LeSean McCoy and Darrel Williams rushed for touchdowns as the Chiefs (7-4) hung on to win the fourth regular-season NFL game played in Mexico, despite being held to 310 yards of offense.

They also survived a few problems with Azteca’s grass field and a one-sided first half favoring the Chargers (4-7), who racked up 312 yards without a touchdown.

After throwing his second interception of the season in the first half, Mahomes led two sharp scoring drives in the third quarter with help from Kelce, who caught seven passes for 92 yards.

Mahomes also led the Chiefs with 59 yards rushing while his defense — which had only six interceptions all season entering the game in Mexico City — held Los Angeles to eight points in the second half.

However, the win still was not assured until Sorensen grabbed Rivers’ underthrown pass to Austin Ekeler at the goal line to secure the Chiefs’ 10th win over Los Angeles in 11 meetings.

“I was real proud of our defense for the job that they did,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Four takeaways, so for the guys that intercepted the football and then helped create the turnovers, I’m proud of those guys.”

Rivers passed for 353 yards during his first four-interception game since November 2016 for the Chargers, whose playoff hopes are nearly dead after five losses in seven games.

Keenan Allen caught his first touchdown pass since Week 3 in the third quarter, but the Chargers had three inept drives in the scoreless fourth quarter.

On the Bolts’ last gasp, Mike Williams made a spectacular 50-yard catch with 44 seconds to play. Los Angeles reached the Kansas City 14 before Rivers’ final mistake.

“He went out and he gave it his all,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said of Rivers.

“He made some mistakes and he understands that, but I thought he did some good things and put us in positions where we did move the ball down the field,” he added.

Rivers, who turns 38 next month, has thrown seven interceptions in the Chargers’ past two games, giving him 14 this season — more than every quarterback in the NFL except Jameis Winston.

“It’s a football game,” Rivers said. “If you could just pick and choose and never throw them ever, I would choose to throw zero, but it’s hurting us right now. I just need to cut them out.”

One year after the NFL called off a game at the Estadio Azteca on short notice because of poor field conditions, these teams played an entertaining game at the 2.2km elevation and on the Azteca grass, which yielded several significant divots from sharp stops or changes of direction.

The Rams and Chiefs were scheduled to play in the stadium last season, but severe damage to the turf field compelled the NFL to relocate the game to Los Angeles on six days’ notice.

Azteca removed its hybrid turf and installed natural grass this year, and the field had been untouched since Club America’s last home soccer game on Nov. 2.

The NFL and the stadium still threw an impressive party for 76,252 of Mexico’s football-loving fans, who packed the arena and mostly supported the Chargers, the nominal home team.

However, the Chargers trailed 10-9 at halftime despite outgaining Kansas City 312-109 and making five drives into Chiefs territory.

Rivers threw two interceptions and Michael Badgley missed a 40-yard field goal attempt while making three others, wasting a defensive effort that included Rayshawn Jenkins picking off Mahomes.

Tyrann Mathieu’s 35-yard interception return set up McCoy’s 6-yard touchdown run for the game’s first in the second quarter.

After Williams scored on the Chiefs’ opening drive of the second half, Mahomes hit Kelce with a picture-perfect 23-yard touchdown throw on the next drive.

Rivers and Allen answered with a touchdown connection late in the third quarter and a two-point conversion.