Chargers-Chiefs: What we learned

Jay Paris, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

SAN DIEGO -- It was among the biggest hits the day, and it came from the back side, though a flag wasn't thrown.
San Diego Chargers coach Mike McCoy plowed into team president Dean Spanos with a blindside bear hug Sunday, but no one was complaining.
"I'm fine," Spanos said after the absorbing the postgame jolt.
Is he ever.
Nick Novak kicked a 36-yard field goal with 5:30 remaining in overtime, lifting the Chargers to a 27-24 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs and into the postseason.
Kansas City quarterback Chase Daniel threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-15 on the Chiefs' overtime possession, sealing San Diego's win.
Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop missed a 41-yard field goal with four seconds left in regulation.
All that was missing from San Diego's giddy locker room was confetti. The Chargers stormed into the playoffs by winning four straight and five of their final six games.
"We just kept fighting, and we believed in what we were going to do and how it was going to turn out," said McCoy, who ended the Chargers' three-year playoff drought in his rookie season. "I would have never scripted it that way, to be perfectly honest with you. It was do or die, and guys have to step up and make plays.
"That was a huge stand by the defense at the end of the game."
A massive gamble by the Chargers set up the winning field goal. On fourth-and-2 at the San Diego 28, Chargers up-back Eric Weddle called a fake punt and rushed for 2 yards for the first down.
"(McCoy) gives me the opportunity to call those things when I see them," Weddle said. "I was looking to see whether the corners were going to come in at all -- they did earlier in the game -- and they didn't.
"I just felt we could get 2 yards as a punt team with me running the ball, and if we are going to go down, let's go down doing what we do best, and that is being aggressive and fighting to the end.
"It probably wasn't the best field-position time for me to call, it but I went with it and it worked out. If it didn't, it wouldn't be a good time for me right now, to lose the game."
The Chargers (9-7) had momentum even before kickoff. With the Baltimore Ravens losing to the Cincinnati Bengals and the New York Jets upending the Miami Dolphins, all the Chargers needed was a victory to earn the AFC's No. 6 playoff seed. San Diego prevailed, earning a postseason date next Sunday in Cincinnati.
A junior varsity version of the Chiefs (11-5) managed to stay close even though 20 of the 22 regular starters didn't start. Kansas City, the AFC's fifth seed, plays at the fourth-seeded Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.
"I look at the positive of it," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "We got a lot of guys in to get practice with the game plan if we do meet up with San Diego again. And the guys came out and played, I think that's the positive part of it. You get to see, from a depth perspective, that you've got some guys who can play and want to compete."
San Diego running back Ryan Mathews gained 144 yards on 24 carries. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers completed 22 of 33 passes for 229 yards. He threw for three touchdowns and was intercepted once.
"It feels like we haven't won a game like this forever," Rivers said. "Missed field goal, down 10, all the circumstances, everything fell in our lap and we almost let it get away from us."
From the onset, it was obvious whatever boost the Chargers received from the results around the league didn't prompt the Chiefs to roll over.
Daniel finished 21-for-30 for 200 yards and a touchdown. Kansas City running back Knile Davis netted 81 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries.
"I came out with that mindset that I had a huge chip on my shoulder," Davis said.

What the Chargers said
"Maybe we felt the pressure a little (after falling behind by 10 points in the second half). We didn't make some plays we've been making all year long. We missed tackles, let the ball go over our heads, which we've been doing a great job (avoiding) the last month or so. On the interception, (wide receiver) Keenan (Allen) slipped, and that's going to happen. You can't worry about that. But it's the character of the team, and we talked about it from day one. They believed, and they just kept plugging away." -- Coach Mike McCoy.

What the Chiefs said
"Yeah, I guess you could say (Sunday was like a bye); that's one way to say it. There are a couple of guys with a lot of snaps under their belt like Jamaal (Charles, the Chiefs' top running back). They've been playing and playing in physical positions. They had a chance to rest up. It gave (offensive tackle Branden) Albert and (linebacker Justin) Houston another week to heal up. They're both ready to go, but it gave them one more week to heal up. I think those are all positives. (Nose tackle Dontari) Poe, who's played a lot of snaps, he got an opportunity to rest up. I think that's all for the good." -- Coach Andy Reid, who rested 20 of his 22 starters.

What we learned about the Chargers
1. Following their late-season surge, the Chargers played well enough to earn a chance at avenging their most recent defeat. San Diego won four in a row after a 17-10 home loss to the Bengals, the same team the Chargers will play Sunday in Cincinnati.
The Dec. 1 loss left the Chargers two games under .500, all but erasing their hopes of making the playoffs. Thanks to their winning streak and some help elsewhere in the league, San Diego is headed to the playoffs.
The Chargers must show they can stop the run better than they did in the previous meeting, as the Bengals collected 164 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground.
2. Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates remain the standard for quarterback-tight end tandems. Gates' game-tying touchdown in the second quarter on a pass from Rivers was the 60th scoring connection between the two, an NFL record for a quarterback-tight end combo.
Gates, in his 11th year, is closer to the end of his career than is Rivers, a 10-year pro. Gates doesn't possess the same explosiveness after the catch that he once did, but he still was good enough for four touchdowns this season while always proving the appreciative Rivers with a reliable target.

What we learned about the Chiefs
1. With coach Andy Reid giving the regulars a breather, the Chiefs' backups were nearly good enough to knock a division rival out of the playoffs.
With Kansas City locked into the AFC's No. 5 playoff seed, Reid wasn't going to take any chances with his standout players. The inactive list included quarterback Alex Smith, running back Jamaal Charles, linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson, defensive tackle Dontari Poe and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. In all, 20 of the 22 starters were replaced for the day.
Reid did sprinkle in some starters over the course of the game, but it was clear he is saving his best cards for Saturday's AFC playoff game against the Colts in Indianapolis. Still, he learned that his depth is pretty solid, as his backups took a playoff-bound team into overtime.
2. Even without Charles, the Chiefs proved they could run the ball.
The Chiefs rushed for 143 yards, with backup Knile Davis amassing a team-high 81 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. Quarterback Chase Daniel also was productive when escaping the pocket, rushing seven times for 59 yards, including a long of 29.
Of the Chiefs' 22 first downs, nine came via the run.
The Chiefs started four second-stringers on the offensive line, with rookie right tackle Eric Fisher the lone blocker remaining from the regular first unit.

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