Chargers kicking themselves, but not field goals, in overtime loss to Chiefs

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Inglewood, CA, Thursday, December 16, 2021 - Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) reaches.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) weaves his way past Chargers defensive back Trey Marshall (36) and cornerback Michael Davis (43) to score the winning touchdown in overtime of a 34-28 win at SoFi Stadium on Thursday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

One of NFL’s largest games of the week didn't quite fit into four quarters Thursday night at SoFi Stadium.

Much the same way, the Chargers couldn’t quite squeeze past the Kansas City Chiefs — on the field or in the standings.

After falling behind in the final three minutes of regulation, the Chiefs rallied to win 34-28 in overtime when tight end Travis Kelce divided and conquered a scrambling defense.

Kelce turned a short pass from Patrick Mahomes into a winding, weaving 34-yard touchdown on the opening possession of the extra session.

The sudden score meant Justin Herbert never had an opportunity to answer in overtime, the Chargers falling to 8-6 and missing an opportunity to take over first place in the AFC West.

Kansas City improved to 10-4, opening a two-game edge atop the division. The Chargers probably are left to compete for a wild-card playoff spot with three games left.

“It's very disappointing,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said. “T.K. was making a play, doing what he does. Great player.”

The majority of the game was played with the backdrop of a scary situation that ended the Chargers’ opening possession.

Tight end Donald Parham Jr. was stretchered off the field and taken to a nearby hospital after hitting his head on the turf while attempting to make a catch.

The Chargers later announced that Parham was in stable condition while undergoing testing at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

Chargers tight end Donald Parham is stretchered off the field after sustaining an injury.
Chargers tight end Donald Parham is stretchered off the field after sustaining a serious injury while diving for a pass in the end zone Thursday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“That's where our thoughts are right now, with him,” coach Brandon Staley said. “That's one of those things that's the tough side of the game. He means so much to us. ... I’m hoping if D.P. can hear us, hear me, that we love him and we're thinking about him.”

Parham dived and had the ball in his hands briefly but was unable to secure the fourth-down pass upon landing.

He remained motionless as the game was delayed for several minutes. Parham eventually was surrounded by his teammates as medical personnel took him away.

Herbert finished 22 of 38 for 236 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. His touchdowns went to Allen and Jalen Guyton.

Justin Jackson carried 13 times for a season-high 86 yards, splitting time with starter Austin Ekeler, who was hobbled because of an ankle injury. Ekeler finished with 59 yards and a touchdown in 12 rushes.

Playing without starting left tackle Rashawn Slater, the Chargers ran the ball 39 times for season-high 192 yards. Trey Pipkins III filled in for Slater, who was out after testing positive for COVID-19 this week.

The Chargers lost star safety Derwin James Jr. early in the fourth quarter because of a hamstring injury. James was questionable entering the game but started after the Chargers deemed him fit following an early workout.

“This guy gave it a go,” Staley said. “He tried everything he could, but it was pulling on him. We just didn't want to do anything more to it. He's a warrior, the ultimate competitor.”

Chiefs defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton knocks the ball loose from Chargers running back Joshua Kelley near the goal line.
Chiefs defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton knocks the ball loose from Chargers running back Joshua Kelley near the goal line. Kansas City recovered the fourth-quarter fumble. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

After Kansas City tied the score 21-21, the Chargers took the lead with 2:19 left when Herbert hit Allen for an eight-yard touchdown.

But the Chargers’ defense was unable to stop Mahomes the rest of the way.

The former league MVP passed seven yards to Kelce for the tying score with 1:16 left in regulation. After winning the overtime coin toss, Kansas City went 75 yards in only five plays, Mahomes and Kelce connecting to win it.

Kelce finished with 10 catches for a career-high 191 yards. Teammate Tyreek Hill had 12 receptions for 148 yards. Mahomes was 31 of 47 for 410 yards and three touchdowns.

The Chargers failed to convert some good chances, finishing two for five on fourth down and four for seven in the red zone. One of their two turnovers was a crucial Joshua Kelley fumble near the Kansas City goal line.

“That's going to be the mindset no matter who we play,” Staley said of the fourth-down calls. “I felt really comfortable with all those decisions. ... That’s the way we're going to play around here.”

Leading 14-13 early in the fourth quarter, the Chargers were looking to stretch their advantage when Kelley fumbled on third and goal at the Kansas City one-yard line.

He took the handoff and went airborne but had the ball slapped out of his hands by Chiefs’ defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton. Ben Niemann recovered for Kansas City.

“You've just got to be careful when you go up and over,” Staley said. “It's one thing to go up and over. It's another thing to reach it when you go up and over. It was third down not fourth down. So that's not what we coach around here.”

Staley called the misplay a learning opportunity for Kelley. For the Chargers, this was a night full of lessons.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.