KANSAS CITY, Mo. – As he watched from the sideline, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was on an emotional roller coaster, a ride very similar to what the fans remaining in a soggy Arrowhead Stadium were experiencing at the end of Sunday’s game against San Diego.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was driving toward a potential tying touchdown. Starting at the San Diego 11-yard line with five minutes on the game clock, Rivers moved the Chargers to the Chiefs 1-yard line with five seconds left.
Watching it happen, was a drip, drip, drip torture for Smith.
“You’re standing on the sideline and there isn’t anything you can do about it,” Smith said. “It’s just like a fan. There’s so much emotion involved. That whole end of the game, it was tough. He’s (Rivers) done that so many times. He kept converting and getting another chance.”
Luckily for the Smith and the Chiefs, the defense stepped forward, broke up two passes in the end zone and preserved a 10-3 victory, the seventh consecutive winning effort for a now 8-5 team that still controls the wildcard spots in the AFC playoffs.
In their seven straight victories, Sunday was the worst performance by the Chiefs offense. Forget the 329 yards they picked up. The most important was the 44 yards that produced the game’s only touchdown, a touchdown pass from Smith to wide receiver Albert Wilson.
This was a game where the defense led the winning effort, as they sacked Rivers five times, grabbed an interception and made the San Diego offense one dimensional by allowing just 44 rushing yards.
Rain began falling Sunday morning, and it did not stop from opening kickoff to the game’s final play. While field conditions appeared solid, it was impossible for either team to keep the football dry and the chains moving. For the first time in his career, Smith wore gloves during the game trying to maintain ball security.
There were more turnovers (three) than touchdowns (one) on the afternoon and the Chiefs did not help themselves with eight penalties that wiped out 142 yards gained on offensive plays and a punt return.
“You are going to have these types of games and you’ve got to find ways to win,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said. “We’ve had games like this that we didn’t win. We had to have guys step in and do things for us. We have to stop shooting ourselves in the foot.”
It has been that type of season for the Chargers, now 3-10 and playing out the string of the 2015 season.
“That’s the story of our season,” Rivers said. “Losing close games, like a couple of others we lost this year. We couldn’t find a way to end it. That’s been the deal all year long.”
The Chiefs tried to help the Chargers in the first half when Smith threw his first interception since September. Before that, punt returner Frankie Hammond coughed up the football, the first time K.C. turned the ball over at Arrowhead Stadium since September.
“Just trying to take a shot, we were right there, I felt good about it, we had the match up with Jeremy (Maclin),” Smith said. “If I had it over again, I’d kind of take the shot, him or no one, just trying to give him a chance. The kid (Shane Veeren) made a good play. Obviously, the streak’s over so I don’t have to answer those questions anymore.”
San Diego was unable to take advantage of the gifts.
With starting position at the K.C. 26-yard line after the fumble, they were unable to make a first down, then kicker Josh Lambo was wide left on a 42-yard field goal attempt. After the interception, the Chargers put together a short drive, but it ended with a punt.
That kick was downed at the Chiefs 4-yard line and the Chiefs put together their best drive of the game, going nine plays and 96 yards before Smith connected with wide receiver Albert Wilson for a 44-yard touchdown with 1 minute, 53 seconds to play in the first half. The play came when Smith audibled out of the play sent in by Reid and found Wilson wide open in the middle of the field.
“That was all Alex,” Wilson said of the scoring play. “He changed the play at the line. They were coming with a full blitz and there was nobody deep. Pitch and catch.”
Kansas City wasn’t done in the first half, as linebacker Derrick Johnson grabbed a tipped pass for an interception and gave the Chiefs another opportunity, starting at the Chiefs 39-yard line with 29 seconds on the game clock. A 21-yard pass play to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and then an 18-yard run by Smith moved them into field goal range and Cairo Santos made a 40-yard field and the Chiefs took a 10-0 lead to the intermission.
On the Chiefs first possession of the second half, they got themselves in position for a 46-yard field goal attempt, but a botched hold by punter Dustin Colquitt led to a kick that got no more than five feet off the ground. The Chargers finally got on the scoreboard with 5 minutes, 47 seconds to play in the third quarter when Lambo hit a 30-yard field goal.
Neither team got close to the end zone in the second half until the final possession, when Rivers drove his team within a few yards of tying the score.
“Philip Rivers, that guy is amazing,” Reid said. “Go over to the 7-11 parking lot and he’ll give you the same thing. He plays hard and he’s going to come after you every time. It’s a great challenge for a defense.”
The Chargers will next face Miami in San Diego.
“I’m proud of the way the guys fought,” Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said. “Especially after we gave them those 10 points at the end of the first half. They came in at halftime and they had the right mindset going out.”
The Chiefs will travel to Baltimore next Sunday to play the 4-9 Ravens who were hammered by Seattle 35-6.
Bob Gretz is the senior editor for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @BobGretzcom.