By Lazaro Cruz
San Diego -- On a chilly Southern California day at Qualcomm Stadium, the Chargers ended what could be their final season in San Diego with a disappointing 37-27 loss Sunday to the rival Kansas City Chiefs.
The game started well enough for San Diego, with each team trading field goals to tie the game at 3-3 in the first quarter. Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa did his part to keep things close early and limit Kansas City to a 35-yard field goal from kicker Cairo Santos, as Bosa had a tackle-for-loss and a sack after the Chiefs got into the red zone.
Chargers coach Mike McCoy, who was relieved of his coaching duties shortly after the game, heaped praise on Bosa during his post-game press conference, saying he wished “Joey was here for the first four weeks” of the season.
The Chargers went to work on their second possession. Hunter Henry had a spectacular one-handed catch, helping to extend the 11-play, 76-yard drive, which culminated in a two-yard touchdown reception by tight end Antonio Gates for a 10-3 lead.
The touchdown reception tied Gates with former Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez for the most touchdown receptions in NFL history by a tight end. Unfortunately for Gates, he would not be able to claim the record all to himself, as the Chiefs decided to focus their coverage on him for the remainder of the game anytime the Chargers ventured into the red zone.
The Chargers' lead was short-lived however, as from that point forward it was all Chiefs. Kansas City answered Gates’ history-tying score with a touchdown of their own, as quarterback Alex Smith rushed for a five-yard touchdown around the left end to even things at 10-10.
Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters intercepted Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (the first of back-to-back picks) on San Diego’s ensuing possession and went to work adding to their lead. Kansas City took advantage of the short field, going on a nine-play drive that ended with a four-yard touchdown pass from Smith to running back Charcandrick West. It was West’s first receiving touchdown of the season.
The Chiefs also added another Santos field as time expired in the second quarter to go into halftime up 20-10.
In the second half, Chargers defensive back Jahleel Addae made an immediate impact, returning an Alex Smith interception 90 yards to the house to close the gap to 20-17.
Unfortunately for San Diego, this would be as close as the Chargers would get the rest of the way.
Chargers kicker Josh Lambo booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, gifting Kansas City with good field position. Starting at the 40-yard line, the Chiefs marched down the field and increased their lead when West scored his second receiving touchdown of the afternoon. This one came on a two-yard pass from Smith that put the Chiefs up 27-17.
The Chargers punted on their next possession to Chiefs rookie speedster Tyreek Hill, who promptly returned the punt 95 yards for a touchdown to essentially put the game out of reach. With the touchdown, Hill tied the Chiefs rookie record for most total touchdowns in a season with 12.
The Chargers kept fighting however, scoring ten more points in the fourth quarter, but it was simply not enough. With the victory, and the Raiders 24-6 loss to the Broncos, the Chiefs won the AFC West division title, securing not only home-field advantage for their first playoff game, but also a first round bye.
Meanwhile, for the Chargers, this loss ended their season with a 5-11 record, and may have been their last game in San Diego. The franchise is dissatisfied with the current stadium facilities in San Diego, and has a league-approved option to move to Los Angeles next season.
After the game, Chargers veterans Rivers and Gates appeared disappointed, perhaps not just due to the loss or their poor season, but the possibility of a Los Angeles move.
When Gates was asked what he would remember most about San Diego, he replied, "The passion of the fans. The passion of the players."