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What we learned from Chiefs' win over Chargers

*The Los Angeles Chargers in Mexico look a whole lot like the Chargers in Los Angeles. The Kansas City Chiefs (7-4) withstood a last-gasp drive from Philip Rivers and company to beat the Bolts (4-7), 24-17. Here's what we learned from the AFC West clash south of the border on Monday night: *

  1. Another curious evening from Philip Rivers, but aren't they all? Rivers threw at least three interceptions for the second consecutive game, both to division rivals, bringing his season total to 14; the veteran signal-caller is on pace for at least 20 picks, his most since 2016. Rivers didn't have the benefit of his starting tackles once again, and he played hurried in the unfamiliar confines of Estadio Azteca. Against the league's 31st-ranked run defense in Kansas City, it was curious, too, that the Bolts put the game on Rivers' shoulders, attempting just 19 carries to 54 dropbacks when L.A.'s backs were averaging 4.9 yards per rush. In another oddity, the Chargers didn't punt once in the first half and reached K.C.'s 31-yard line five times, but came away with just nine points. At halftime, L.A. had outgained the Chiefs, 312-109, and was down 10-9. Go figure.

And yet despite L.A.'s inefficiency on offense, Rivers and the offense had the ball four times down seven in the second half with a chance to tie. They failed to reach Chiefs territory on the first three drives. On the fourth, however, Rivers finally connected on a deep pass to Mike Williams, a 50-yard connection that got the Bolts within striking distance of a tying score. But one first down later, Rivers tossed up a jump ball to 5-foot-10 pass-catching back Austin Ekeler in the end zone. The ball ended up instead in the hands of Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen, who boxed out the diminutive back and sealed a victory for the visitors. Rivers' fourth interception finished off the Chargers' seventh loss and their seventh by one score. It's been that type of year for quarterback and club.

  1. Injuries hamstrung the Chiefs offense from Kansas City's second drive forward, when Tyreek Hill exited the proceedings with a hamstring injury and never returned. Patrick Mahomes' top deep threat was gone, and so with it went the Chiefs' explosiveness in the first half. K.C. entered halftime with just five first downs, their one touchdown drive lasting one play from the 6-yard line. In the second half, the Chiefs lost even more bodies when Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy were bounced with rib and head injuries, respectively. But Mahomes was sharper in the third quarter, in the air and on the ground, and picked up the slack. The Chiefs signal-caller's connection with Travis Kelce was key to K.C. extending its halftime lead to 15 points. After catching just one pass in the first half, Kelce (92 yards) grabbed six in the second, beating the Chargers' zone coverage again and again, including on a picture-perfect toe-drag snag in the end zone. Perhaps inspired by MVP front-runners Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson, Mahomes let his legs carry the team, as well. The QB led the team with 59 rushing yards on five carries, with three of his runs picking up first downs. Mahomes wasn't at his best on Monday night, but with his teammates hurting, the reigning MVP made the most of what and who were left.
  1. One week to the day that Jadeveon Clowney broke out in prime time for the Seahawks, a former Seattle pass rusher did something similar in Mexico City. Frank Clark, acquired by the Chiefs via trade this offseason, enjoyed arguably the best game of his short Kansas City career. Lined up against backup left tackle Trey Pipkins, Clark hit Rivers three times, sacked him once, logged a tackle for loss in the fourth quarter and forced a second-quarter interception. "He had a heck of a game," Chiefs coach Andy Reid noted in his opening statement at the postgame podium. That was putting it mildly. A K.C. defense that was not attacked at its weakness (the run game) enjoyed an inspired performance in its pass defense, as well. The Chiefs logged 12 passes defensed against L.A., with Charvarius Ward (3) and Tyrann Mathieu (2) leading the way in the secondary and Chris Jones (2) shutting Rivers down at the point of attack. Overall, a well-rounded performance from a maligned unit just hitting its stride as it reaches the bye. The same can be said of Clark.
  1. Much was made in the run-up to Chiefs-Chargers at Estadio Azteca about the effect of the altitude on how both teams would attack the game. Would either club tire out? Will the kickers attempt and make 70-yard field goals? Will Mahomes attempt to complete a 100-yard pass? (Seriously, we looked into it.) The answers: yes, no and no shot. But a year after the Mexico game was cancelled due to adverse field conditions, the aesthetic storyline coming out of Monday night is that the Azteca field surely affected how players played and runners ran. The slickness of the sod made it difficult for some runners to quickly change direction. Multiple players were caught by the turf monster, forcing stadium staff to fill divots at halftime. All this did not necessarily have an adverse effect on the game's outcome, but was certainly a factor. Let it be known: When teams come to Azteca, the home of the Mexican national soccer team, they shouldn't be surprised when their players slide before they're tackled.
  1. The AFC West is still in Kansas City's control, if only just. Monday night's win keeps the Chiefs a half-game ahead of the Oakland Raiders (6-4) atop the division and sends the Chargers to playoff purgatory in the AFC. Kansas City heads into its Week 12 bye with a tenuous hold on the division. By the time the Chiefs return for their all-important (and flexed!) game against Oakland, the Raiders could be tied for the division lead at 7-4. K.C. currently owns the tiebreaker thanks to a Week 2 win in Oakland, but a loss to the reborn Raiders in Week 13 could change the complexion of the division.

The Chargers, meanwhile, are likely relegated to playing spoiler the rest of the way. Los Angeles finishes with games against Minnesota, Oakland and Kansas City, all of whom, unlike the Bolts, appear playoff-bound.

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