KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)—Strip away the great plays and the wild action and San Diego’s 34-31 victory over Kansas City is reduced to a simple fact: big plays.
The revitalized Chargers (8-3) showed why they keep winning and the distraught Chiefs (3-8) showed why they continue to lose. San Diego made the big plays Sunday, got expert quarterbacking from Drew Brees and let tight end Antonio Gates and running back LaDainian Tomlinson carry most of the load.
The Chiefs gave up big plays, sustained costly penalties and turned the ball over at the worst possible time.
“Everybody got their money’s worth today,” said San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer, whose Chargers were a league-worst 4-12 last year. “It was quite an exciting game.”
A few minutes earlier, Brees’ 11-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates tied it 31-31 and capped a 71-yard drive that saw the Chargers overcome four penalties, including one that nullified Antonio Gates’ 51-yard gain. Making it possible was Kassim Osgood’s 65-yard run-and-catch on second-and-22 from the Chargers 19.
“Kassim Osgood made what, in my mind, is as fine a play as I’ve seen in my entire career in football,” Schottenheimer said.
Even more memorable for Chiefs fans was the Dante Hall show. The little return specialist, who took the NFL by storm last year when he returned five kicks for touchdowns, sped 77 yards with the second-half kickoff and was just a few steps from the end zone when the ball inexplicably popped out of his hands.
Jerrell Pippens recovered for San Diego on the 5, and a few minutes later Kaeding’s 25-yarder tied it 17-17.
But in the fourth quarter, after Brees’ 18-yard TD pass to Gates gave the Chargers a 24-23 lead, Hall took the ensuing kickoff, burst up and the middle and fled 96 yards to the end zone, tightly holding onto the ball all the way.
“The guys did a heck of a job blocking,” said Hall. “There were two or three ways I could have gone.”
He refused to make an excuse for dropping the ball on the first long return.
“I’m running and the ball came out of my hands,” he said. “Those things cannot happen when you’re fighting to keep your playoff hopes alive.”
Kansas City seems headed for its worst season since 1988.
“Something’s not right this year,” said Chiefs tackle Willie Roaf. “It’s been going on all year.”
After Kaeding’s 25-yarder tied it at 17, things started to get crazy.
Back came the Chargers, who have won five in a row and seven of eight, to forge a 23-23 tie when Gates beat backup safety Willie Pile on an 18-yard touchdown pass. Pile was playing in place of safety Greg Wesley, who injured his hamstring during pregame warmups.
“I think Willie Pile played pretty well overall,” said Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil.
After Kaeding’s extra point made it 24-23, Hall brought the crowd to its feet with his first touchdown return of the year, then Green hit Eddie Kennison for the 2-point conversion and the Chiefs led 31-24.
But helped by Osgood’s big play, the Chargers tied it on Brees’ 11-yard pass to Gates.
“Drew saw me open and he made a great throw,” said Osgood.
Brees was 28-for-37 for 378 yards and two touchdowns and has thrown 18 touchdown passes and only one interception in his last eight games. Gates had seven catches for 92 yards and Tomlinson had 46 yards rushing and 57 yards on 10 receptions.
“Personally, I just feel more confident each time we go out and we win,” said Brees. “It just keeps giving me momentum.”
Tynes’ 28-yard field goal with 45 seconds left gave the Chiefs a 17-14 halftime lead.
Tomlinson scored on runs of 1 and 3 yards in the first half.
Blaylock, starting for the injured Priest Holmes for the third straight game, scored on a 5-yard run in the first quarter.
Midway through the second quarter, Kansas City drove 94 yards in 13 plays capped by Larry Johnson’s 6-yard run.
^Notes: The Chiefs totaled 310 yards, the first time in four games they’ve failed to go over 400. … The Chiefs are 12-3 at home against the Chargers since 1990. … Gates’ two touchdowns gave him 11, breaking Kellen Winslow’s record for San Diego tight ends.