Chiefs top Bolts 31-21 to earn No. 2 seed, first-round bye

Sports
Melvin Ingram III, Patrick Mahomes

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass in front of Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram III (54) during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes kept scrounging around the Kansas City sideline for a score update from New England, and all the Chiefs quarterback learned was that Tom Brady had thrown a touchdown pass and an interception against Miami.

That news blackout was by design.

Andy Reid didn’t want anybody to know what was transpiring in Foxborough, where the Chiefs needed the Dolphins to spring a big upset Sunday for any hope of a first-round playoff bye. Instead, the Chiefs’ coach wanted Mahomes and Co. to focus on beating the Chargers, a game they needed for the outcome in New England to have any consequence.

“There was no scoreboard at all that had any number of stats or anything like that,” Mahomes said. “Then I saw that Brady had a touchdown and an interception and I was trying to add that together to figure out what the score was.”

In the end, the two scores that mattered went Kansas City’s way: The Chiefs beat the Chargers 31-21 behind big games from Mecole Hardman and Damien Williams, and the Dolphins rallied to stun the Patriots 27-24 in the closing seconds.

“I knew when the fans started to go crazy,” Mahomes said with a smile. “It’s basically a win, that’s what it is. You win the first round of the playoffs and you get to play a home game. We’re excited for that.”

Mahomes had 174 yards passing and a touchdown in a relatively low-key performance, but his supporting cast picked up the slack. Hardman returned a kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown, Williams ran 84 yards for another score — and finished with 124 yards rushing and two TDs on just 12 carries — and the Chiefs (12-4) turned in another defensive gem.

Now, the Patriots have to play next week and the Chiefs can set their sights on the divisional round of the playoffs.

“The extra week off, it’s great to have this time of year. You work hard for that,” Reid said. “I’m proud of our guys for pushing through here today, because that’s hard to do. You don’t know the scores and you have to have the right mindset coming into this. The Dolphins were a 16-point underdog or whatever it was coming into this, but it’s a great example of why you’re playing. If you’re on that field, you go 100 miles an hour and play your heart out.”

The Chargers (5-11) made it stressful for Kansas City in the fourth quarter, though, driving for a touchdown that got them within 24-21 with 5:23 to go. But the Chiefs answered with an eight-play, 77-yard scoring drive that allowed them to wrap up their sixth straight win overall and 11th victory in 12 meetings with their longtime division rival.

They held Philip Rivers to 281 yards passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions in what could be the veteran quarterback’s final game for the Chargers. His contract is up after this season, and while Rivers has said he would like to play next year, nobody is quite sure whether that will happen in Los Angeles.

“There’s a lot of questions that have to be answered,” Rivers said. “It’s not just, ‘Am I back?’ And we’ll win 12 games. We’re far from that being, ‘Check that box and we’re good.’ That would be inaccurate. There’s a lot of question marks moving forward. As those get answered and how those get answered along with my personal question will clear up a lot of things.”

The Chiefs’ offense has long been the headliner, but it has been their revamped defense under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo that has carried them on their current win streak. They had not allowed a touchdown the past two games, and Kansas City stretched that to 10 consecutive quarters when it forced a punt on the Chargers’ initial possession.

The streak finally ended when Rivers found Keenan Allen in the end zone early in the second quarter — a drive that proved doubly costly for the Chiefs. Safety Juan Thornhill (knee) and cornerback Bashaud Breeland (illness) left the game.

The Chiefs regained the lead late in the half. Mahomes zipped a 30-yard strike to Hardman that set up a 24-yard TD pass to Demarcus Robinson, giving them a 10-7 advantage heading into the locker room.

The back-and-forth continued in the second half. And it happened in a flash.

Mahomes threw just his fifth interception of the season, and second in two games against Los Angeles, and the Chargers punched into the end zone three plays later for a 14-10 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Hardman showed why he was voted a Pro Bowl return specialist, skirting the sideline for a TD return that restored the Chiefs’ lead.

The Chiefs scored almost as quickly when they got the ball back.

Williams took the first-down handoff and angle to his left, then turned up field. Three defenders converged on him but none of them wrapped him up. The oft-injured running back made a nifty pirouette, found the open field and sprinted the rest of the way with Tyreek Hill by his side for the 84-yard touchdown.

“We had two guys try to make the play,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “I think they ran into each other and fell off the ball carrier, but we had some guys slow down. The pursuit slowed because they thought someone else made the play.”

At that point, eyes shifted to cell phones and scoreboards for the outcome in New England.

They remained there as the AFC West champions put away another win over the Chargers, and the Dolphins wrapped up an improbable victory over Bill Belichick’s bunch to shake up the playoff pecking order.

“We don’t plan on slowing down,” Reid said. “We’re going to keep our foot on the pedal and keep rolling.”

NICE SUGGS-ESTION

Terrell Suggs had his first sack with the Chiefs late in the third quarter. It not only forced the Chargers to punt in a close game but moved the longtime Ravens pass rusher past Demarcus Ware for eighth on the NFL career list with 139.

INJURIES

Chargers: Defensive back Desmond King left in the first half with an ankle injury.

Chiefs: Thornhill’s injury looked particularly bad — he needed the help of two trainers to limp off the field, never putting any weight on his knee. The Chiefs already were missing cornerback Morris Claiborne to a shoulder injury, so losing Thornhill and Breeland left Kansas City depleted in the secondary.

UP NEXT

Chargers get ready for the beach.

Chiefs get ready for the playoffs.

___

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