KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Eric Berry made his long-awaited return to the field, Chris Jones piled up some more sacks to match an NFL record, and the Kansas City Chiefs’ maligned defense finally looked like a dominant force for a while.
Or at least, one that wouldn’t hold back their high-powered offense.
But all that was wiped away in just more than three minutes Thursday night, when Philip Rivers engineered a dramatic fourth-quarterback comeback for the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chiefs did their part with blown assignments and penalties, and rather than clinch the AFC West title and a first-round playoff bye, they left Arrowhead Stadium with a 29-28 loss and the very real possibility of hitting the road for the postseason.
Their defense had once again let them down.
“We’ve got to finish. Ain’t no differences. We beat ourselves. That’s how I feel,” Chiefs linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “Only thing that can stop us is us, and we beat ourselves.”
Not at the start, when Berry returned from a heel injury that had kept him out since the opening weeks of training camp. Steven Nelson intercepted Rivers’ pass on the second play of the game, Kendall Fuller picked off another throw in the end zone late in the first half and Berry was back in the middle of just about everything as he energized a raucous crowd that braved freezing temperatures.
Jones finished with 2 1/2 sacks, tying an NFL mark with at least one in 10 straight games.
But the plan all along was for Berry to only play a certain amount of snaps, and the Chiefs stuck to it by sitting him most of the second half. And while it might have been purely coincidence, that was when Los Angeles finally hit its stride on offense.
After trailing the entire way, and still facing a 28-14 hole with 3:49 to go, Rivers led his team on a drive that fill-in running back Justin Jackson capped with a touchdown. And when the Chargers’ own defense took the field, they did their job by quickly getting the ball back.
Rivers started the deciding drive with a 31-yard strike to Travis Benjamin, then hit him again moments later to convert on fourth down. The Chiefs still had a chance to hold the Chargers, but Fuller was called for pass interference to give Los Angeles the ball just outside the end zone.
Mike Williams hauled in a touchdown pass with 4 seconds to go. And when it was confirmed by video review, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn sent his team out for a 2-point conversion and the win.
The Chiefs’ defense had one more chance to make a stop, but nobody was within 10 yards of Williams as he made the catch and raced up the field to celebrate.
“It’s definitely tough. Any time you get so close and come up short, it’s tough, especially when you know how hard the guys you’ve been putting in the work with,” Chiefs linebacker Dorian O’Daniel said. “It’s frustrating obviously, but it’s part of the game.”
Even more frustrating given what was at stake.
The Chiefs (11-3) could have clinched their third consecutive AFC West crown, something the club has never accomplished, along with a first-round playoff bye. And they could have earned home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if Pittsburgh were to knock off New England on Sunday.
Instead, their games at Seattle and home against Oakland have taken on real importance.
“If you narrow it down, it was both sides of the ball,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We were in great position to get off the field. We didn’t. We extended a lot of those drives with penalties, right or wrong. They’re done. So we’ve got to do better. We’re not making any excuses.”
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