The return of the NFL's reigning Most Valuable Player coincided with a drop in performance among Kansas City Chiefs defenders.
In the two-plus games quarterback Patrick Mahomes missed with a dislocated kneecap, the Chiefs stopped the run effectively and did not give up a 100-yard performance. Their defense held its own.
When Mahomes returned last week, the defense contributed to a total team collapse. The unexpected letdown tightened the AFC West chase as Kansas City (6-4) meets a division rival, the Los Angeles Chargers (4-6), on Monday night at Mexico City.
"You can't change what happened," Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen said. "What you can do is focus on fixing and improving as we go down this last stretch.''
The closing run is tighter than most predicted. The Chiefs are tied in the loss column with the Oakland Raiders (5-4) atop the AFC West, and the Chargers can tighten things even more by beating Kansas City on a neutral field in prime time.
"We're in a battle now,'' Mahomes said.
The matchup is a second crack for Kansas City to play in Mexico City after field conditions last year at Estadio Azteca prompted a scheduled appearance against the Rams to be moved to Los Angeles.
"I was hopeful that we would have a chance to go to Mexico City,'' said Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, noting that the league assured his staff that the turf is much improved. "All of the international games are very important for the league, and they are also important for the Chiefs from a branding standpoint. I frankly did not expect that we would be (scheduled again for) Mexico City so fast.''
Kansas City is designated as the visitor, leaving the Chiefs with three home games, one each against division rivals, and road tests at New England and Chicago. The Chiefs' strength of schedule currently ranks fifth.
Expect the Chargers to try to establish a balanced attack. Melvin Gordon, coming off a 108-yard performance in a loss to the Raiders, will try to exploit a Chiefs run defense that ranks 31st.
Kansas City allowed 188 yards last week to Derrick Henry, who led a Tennessee rally that capitalized on two botched field goals.
In preparation for the 7,200-foot altitude in Mexico City, the Chargers are practicing in Colorado Springs, Colo. (at 6,035 feet), which prompted some players to complain about the arrangements on Twitter.
"I've felt the effect, so I wanted my players to come and practice in it for a week,'' said Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, referencing his playing days in Denver.
Defensive end Joey Bosa, with 12 tackles for loss, leads a Los Angeles defense that will attempt to keep Mahomes from spotting his electric receivers.
The Chargers face a battered Kansas City line that continues to hope for the return of left tackle Eric Fisher and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, both of whom practiced in full on Thursday. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has a tender knee but practiced on a limited basis.
Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah underwent surgery for a pectoral tear. Another defensive end, Alex Okafor, continues to be slowed by an ankle injury.
The Chargers are hopeful the extra day of preparation can help left tackle Russell Okung rebound from a groin strain suffered in last Sunday's loss at Oakland, but he was absent at Thursday's practice, along with right tackle Sam Tevi.
--Field Level Media