KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Strip away the great plays and the wild action, and San Diego’s 34-31 victory over Kansas City is reduced to a simple fact: big plays.
The revitalized Chargers (8-3) showed why they keep winning, and the distraught Chiefs (3-8) showed why they continue to lose. San Diego made the big plays yesterday, got expert quarterbacking from Drew Brees and let tight end Antonio Gates and running back LaDainian Tomlinson carry most of the load.
The Chiefs gave up big plays, sustained costly penalties and turned the ball over at the worst possible time.
“Everybody got their money’s worth (yesterday),” said San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer, whose Chargers were a league-worst 4-12 last year. “It was quite an exciting game.”
Nate Kaeding, set up by Donnie Edwards’ interception of Trent Green’s pass, made up for missing two field goals with a tiebreaking 43-yarder with 2:24 left.
A few minutes earlier, Brees’ 11-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates tied it 31-31 and capped a 71-yard drive that saw the Chargers overcome four penalties, including one that nullified Antonio Gates’s 51-yard gain. Making it possible was Kassim Osgood’s 65-yard run-and-catch on second-and-22 from the Chargers 19.
“Kassim Osgood made what, in my mind, is as fine a play as I’ve seen in my entire career in football,” Schottenheimer said.
Even more memorable for Chiefs fans was the Dante Hall show. The little return specialist, who took the NFL by storm last year when he returned five kicks for touchdowns, sped 77 yards with the second-half kickoff and was just a few steps from the end zone when the ball inexplicably popped out of his hands.
Jerrell Pippens recovered for San Diego on the 5, and a few minutes later, Kaeding’s 25-yarder tied it 17-17.
But in the fourth quarter, after Brees’s 18-yard TD pass to Gates gave the Chargers a 24-23 lead, Hall took the ensuing kickoff, burst up and the middle and fled 96 yards to the end zone, tightly holding onto the ball all the way.
“The guys did a heck of a job blocking,” Hall said. “There were two or three ways I could have gone.”
He refused to make an excuse for dropping the ball on the first long return.
“I’m running and the ball came out of my hands,” he said. “Those things cannot happen when you’re fighting to keep your playoff hopes alive.”
Kansas City seems headed for its worst season since 1988.
“Something’s not right this year,” Chiefs tackle Willie Roaf said. “It’s been going on all year.”