Even with four players recently named to the Pro Bowl watching from the sideline and a starting unit full of backups, the Chiefs gave the San Diego Chargers all they could handle.
But ultimately, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers led his team to a 27-24 overtime win and the playoffs as the AFC’s No. 6 seed.
The Chiefs (11-5) rested quarterback Alex Smith, running back Jamaal Charles, linebacker Derrick Johnson, left tackle Branden Albert and defensive tackle Dontari Poe. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (concussion) and linebacker Tamba Hali (knee) were previously ruled out.
Their absences opened the door for numerous players to see extended playing time, which they took advantage of.
Rookie running back Knile Davis capped off the team’s opening drive with a 17-yard touchdown run to put the Chiefs up 7-0.
The Chargers (9-7) answered after Rivers found tight end Ladarius Green for a 22-yard touchdown to tie the score at 7-7.
Making his first career start, Chiefs quarterback Chase Daniel then connected on a 2-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Dexter McCluster to pace the Chiefs to a 14-7 first quarter lead.
Daniel finished the game completing 21-of-30 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown, adding 59 yards rushing on seven carries.
Meanwhile, the second quarter saw the teams trading touchdowns.
San Diego scored first just seconds into the period when Rivers found tight end Antonio Gates on a 4-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 14-14.
But Davis put the Chiefs ahead with his second rushing touchdown, this one coming from 2 yards out to give the Chiefs a 21-14 halftime lead.
Davis filled in admirably for Charles, finishing the game with 81 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 27 carries. He added two catches for 4 yards.
The third quarter became a slugfest, as both teams struggled for consistency on offense with the exception of a 46-yard field goal by Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop to push the lead to 24-14.
The Chargers found a rhythm early in the fourth quarter and Rivers closed the scoring gap after finding wide receiver Eddie Royal for a 6-yard touchdown.
Kansas City couldn’t do anything on the subsequent possession, leading the Chargers to march down the field and tie the score at 24-24 on a 22-yard field goal by Nick Novak with 3:21 remaining in the game.
There was no panic in the Chiefs, however.
Displaying the poise he had all game, Daniel drove the Chiefs down the field. And after nine plays, the Chiefs were in position to win with :08 remaining in the game.
Unfortunately, Succop’s 41-yard attempt missed to the right and the Chargers took over on downs to end regulation.
San Diego had the first possession of overtime and kept a drive alive on a fake punt, which safety Eric Weddle converted on 2-yard run.
The play had some controversy surrounding it. The officials ruled Weddle’s forward progress had stopped even though replays showed him still moving forward and the Chiefs stripped the ball, which Cyrus Gray ran back for an apparent touchdown.
But because there are no challenges surrounding forward progress, the Chargers were awarded the first down and used the drive to put up the final score on Novak’s 36-yard field goal.
With Sunday’s win, the Chargers have swept the regular season series against the Chiefs for a second straight year.
Notes: Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith, who entered the game after Ron Parker had a finger injury, suffered a knee sprain … Linebacker James-Michael Johnson, who was helped off the field in fourth quarter, has an ankle injury … The Chiefs open the first round of the playoffs on the road against the Indianapolis Colts.