Patrick Mahomes threw two touchdown passes, rookie Jaylen Watson returned an interception 99 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, and the Kansas City Chiefs held on to beat the Los Angeles Chargers 27-24 on Thursday night.
Mahomes finished with 235 yards passing, and Jerick McKinnon and Justin Watson hauled in TD passes for the Chiefs (2-0), who fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter and spent most of the game catching up.
Jaylen Watson finally put the Chiefs ahead after the Chargers (1-1), who answered Matt Ammendola’s tying goal, marched to Kansas City’s three-yard line. Justin Herbert looked at tight end Gerald Everett as Watson, a seventh-round pick making his first start, headed the pass with 10:29 left and ran almost untouched the other way to the end zone. Watson had to take a break from his college football career and worked at a Wendy’s while getting back on track that would eventually lead him to the NFL.
Things got worse for the Chargers two series after the pick-six when Herbert was drilled by Mike Danna delivering a throw. He left the field and stayed on the sideline, returning one play later, then threw an incompletion that forced the Chargers to punt. Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said after the game he doesn’t expect Herbert’s injury to be a problem going forward.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire immediately split the defense on a 52-yard run to set up a Kansas City field goal.
Herbert, who finished with 334 yards and three touchdown passes, tried wildly to keep the Chargers alive. He threw a 36-yard dart on fourth down to extend the ensuing possession, then found Joshua Palmer in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-goal to pull Los Angeles within 27-24 with just over a minute left.
Kansas City recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock in a decisive AFC West victory.
The highly anticipated matchup between two of the league’s prolific young quarterbacks, each surrounded by premier playmakers, turned out to be a defensive slugfest early on.
The Chargers held the Chiefs to 13 yards in the first quarter, thanks to relentless pressure from Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack and the fact that Derwin James Jr. was just about everywhere, keeping a team that scored 44 points last week in Arizona off the scoreboard until Mahomes threw a sidearm pass to McKinnon early in the second quarter.
The Chargers fared better offensively, although coach Staley chose to play conservatively, twice on fourth down and twice near midfield. Dustin Hopkins kicked an early field goal before Mike Williams, dominating the smaller Chiefs defensive backs, put the Chargers in position for Zander Horvath to catch a short TD pass.
Staley eventually went for it on fourth down on the opening drive of the second half. And one play after Austin Ekeler picked it off, Williams made a one-handed grab around Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed to give the Chargers a 17-7 lead.
The game appeared to be getting away from the Chiefs when Mahomes was intercepted by Asante Samuel Jr on their next possession. But replays showed Samuel did not control the ball and the call was overturned, and Mahomes took advantage of his second chance by throwing a 41-yard strike to Justin Watson for a touchdown.
The Chiefs tied the game at 17-all on the first play of the fourth quarter when Ammendola, who was signed earlier this week to replace the injured Harrison Butker, knocked in a chip shot on fourth down at the goal line.
That set up Jaylen Watson’s pick six and the first lead Kansas City had all night.