The Chargers hope that one day quarterback Justin Herbert will regularly pull off the kind of dramatic, mind-blowing drives that will turn likely losses into heart-pounding victories and make the Chargers a playoff team with realistic championship aspirations.
Herbert and the Chargers haven’t reached that stage yet. They are far from that. And on Sunday, they got a painful lesson in how a good team makes it when they suffered a stinging 30-27 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that made their path into the postseason that much treacherous, if not yet impossible.
When Kansas City regained the ball by 1 minute 46 seconds in Sunday’s fourth quarter, there was no longer any question that quarterback Patrick Mahomes would make a winning comeback. The only question was how he would do it.
“He gives you that confidence,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid. “The more you’re around him, the more you see what he’s doing, you know you have a chance.”
Last week, Herbert expressed his admiration for Mahomes as he prepared to face the Chiefs.
“There isn’t a throw on the field that he can’t make. He can do everything,” said Herbert. “He’s obviously one of the best that’s ever made it.”
Mahomes agreed, to the Chargers’ disappointment.
Confident, precise, and deadly accurate, Mahomes led the Chiefs through a seven-play 75-yard drive that was capped by a 17-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce, who put the clock ahead at 1:15.
The Chargers got the ball back with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter but got nowhere, with Herbert being sacked and then intercepted.
The Chargers, beset by injuries and without wide receiver Mike Williams after injuring his ankle again in the second quarter, deserve a one for effort, even if their execution grade is much lower.
“It seems like every time we come here, it boils down to something like this,” Reid said. “It is ridiculous.”
The Chiefs, 8-2 and winners of four straight games, have a stranglehold on first place in the AFC West. The Chargers are 5-5 after losing two straight games and three of the last four. There’s never a good time to stumble, but this is an especially bad time. As Chargers coach Brandon Staley noted last week, “The games get bigger later in the season. Every game means more when you’re halfway through.”
It also makes every stumble, missed tackle, and missed opportunity a bigger setback that puts them closer to yet another playoff miss.
“We need to make more plays, it’s as simple as that,” Staley said after the game. “We didn’t play enough games in the fourth quarter, in the second half.”
When the defending Super Bowl champion Rams lost yet again and fell into oblivion, the Chargers had a chance to capture the city’s attention, if not enduringly win the hearts of fans. A win over Kansas City would have put them in the spotlight and closer to a playoff position. Young and vibrant and heavily armed, Herbert has the talent and appeal to shine.
But on Sunday, Mahomes showed him and the Chargers how far they are from dominating the city or the division.
“We didn’t score enough points today,” said Herbert, who completed 23 of 30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 17 yards. “We will keep fighting. We will watch the film, painful as it is, and recover.”
The film will show some good things. They regained receiver Keenan Allen, who missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, and he made five catches (on eight goals) for 94 yards. Joshua Palmer made eight catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns, including the six-yard touchdown pass that gave the Chargers a 27-23 lead late in the fourth quarter.
But that wasn’t enough to stop Mahomes and the Chiefs.
“This team is something special. We believe in each other,” Herbert said with admirable loyalty, though it was difficult to understand his point while the memory of the loss was fresh.
Now what about the chargers? They need to pick out Sunday’s good points, hope they regain some bodies as the players get healthier, wish the situation will one day reverse and be the team to pull off exciting rallies that lead to season-changing victories .
In the short term, they need to win their next two games, next Sunday in Arizona and the following week in Las Vegas, as their path against the Dolphins and Titans at home will only get tougher in the following weeks.
Is a playoff spot feasible? Yes, but they will need a lot of help and that is never guaranteed.
“We fought at the high level that we need to go forward,” Staley said. “Everything is ahead of us.”
Including that foggy, distant day when they’ll do to others what Mahomes and the Chiefs did to them on Sunday.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/chargers/story/2022-11-20/patrick-mahomes-justin-herbert-chargers-chiefs-nfl Patrick Mahomes still has edge over Justin Herbert, Chargers