Head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith can breathe a sigh of relief as, for now, their jobs appear safe after the San Diego Chargers blew out the hapless Kansas City Chiefs 31-13 on Thursday night.
The win pulls the Chargers even at 4-4 and are now a half-game behind the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos, who travel to face the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. The Chiefs fall to 1-7, still have yet to lead a game in regulation this season, and on Nov. 11 will face the Pittsburgh Steelers, where former head coach Todd Haley now works as offensive coordinator.
San Diego opened the scoring on Thursday night with a seven-play, 80-yard drive where quarterback Philip Rivers completed all four of his pass attempts for 70 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Antonio Gates, the 52nd time the two have hooked up for a touchdown, extending their own NFL record. The Chiefs responded with an impressive 17-play drive that spanned 64 yards and took up over eight minutes of the game clock, but came to an end when Chargers linebacker Donald Butler knocked the ball out of second-year wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin's arm for a fumble that was recovered by cornerback Quentin Jammer.
Following the fumble, the Chargers drove 71 yards in 12 plays as Nick Novak added a 25-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0. Kansas City put its first points on the scoreboard with a 49-yard field goal by Ryan Succop with 2:56 to play in the first half. The Chargers drove down to the Chiefs' 1-yard line and had an opportunity to build upon their seven-point lead entering the break, but Rivers made an ill-advised attempt to squeeze the ball to tight end Dante Rosario, who was blanketed by safety Eric Berry, who came down with the interception for the touchback.
Rivers' interception was the only mistake he'd make on the night. Coming off two forgettable performances in losses to the Broncos and Cleveland Browns, Rivers completed 18 of 20 attempts for 220 yards with two touchdowns for a passer rating of 125.0 on the night. What makes Rivers' performance more impressive was the Chargers were playing without two of their top three receivers, with free-agent additions Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal both inactive due to hamstring injuries. Their absences thrust recent additions Seji Ajirotutu and Danario Alexander into larger roles on offense, with the two combining for four receptions and 89 yards on Thursday night. Chargers running backs Ryan Mathews, Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown added 125 yards on 23 carries, with Brown adding a team-high five receptions as Rivers' preferred target on frequent check-downs.
The Chiefs went three-and-out to start the second half, but were given a golden opportunity to put more points on the scoreboard when backup punt returner Eric Weddle muffed a Dustin Colquitt punt that was recovered by Corey Greenwood. San Diego's defense held firm and the special teams miscue didn't cause any harm as Succop missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt. On their next possession, the Chiefs would chip into the Chargers lead when Succop hit from 41 yards out to cap off a 10-play, 70-yard drive with 53 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The final quarter would belong to the Chargers.
Following Succop's field goal, the Chargers' backfield trio of Mathews, Battle and Brown would churn out 67 yards on seven plays before Rivers completed a back-shoulder fade to Malcom Floyd for a 13-yard touchdown to extend San Diego's lead to 17-6. A face mask penalty on Chiefs backup offensive lineman Donald Stephenson on the ensuing kick and a false start penalty on right tackle Eric Winston pinned the Chiefs inside their own 5-yard line.
A 1-yard run by Jamaal Charles on first down was followed by quarterback Matt Cassel being sacked and fumbling inside his own end zone, which was recovered by linebacker Shaun Phillips for a touchdown. On their next possession, the Chiefs drove into Chargers territory before a Cassel pass bounced off Dexter McCluster and into the hands of linebacker Demorrio Williams, who would rumble 59 yards for the game-sealing touchdown. With Charles exiting with a neck injury, Shaun Draughn added a 6-yard touchdown in the final five minutes to close the scoring.
Starting in place of a concussed Brady Quinn, Cassel completed 19 of 29 attempts for 181 yards and both of his turnovers resulted in touchdowns. The Chargers' run defense rose to the challenge of stopping Charles, limiting the back to just 39 yards on 12 carries. On the season, Cassel has accounted for 18 (11 interceptions, seven lost fumbles) of the Chiefs' league-high 25 turnovers on the season. The only NFL team that has more giveaways than Cassel's 18 are the Dallas Cowboys, who have 19 turnovers on the season.