What we learned from Chargers’ 30-24 road win over the Chiefs

Chargers' Asante Samuel Jr. (26) makes an interception and an awkward landing against the Chiefs.
Chargers’ Asante Samuel Jr. (26) makes an interception and an awkward landing against the Chiefs. The The defense came up with four turnovers, two picks and two fumble recoveries.
(Ed Zurga / Associated Press)

The Chargers improved to 2-1 by beating Kansas City 30-24 in their AFC West opener Sunday. Here are seven takeaways:

Secondary shines: How potent are the Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes? The Chargers had to come back twice in the second half and still almost lost despite winning the turnover battle 4-0.

Cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. made a spectacular diving interception to end Kansas City’s first possession inside the Chargers’ five-yard line.


The Chiefs’ next two series ended when defensive back Tevaughn Campbell caused fumbles that were recovered by cornerback Michael Davis.

“You have to take the ball away in order to beat that team,” safety Derwin James said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win today.”

For Samuel, a rookie second-round pick, the interception was his second in two games.

Campbell, a former undrafted free agent playing in his 17th NFL game, started as an extra defensive back at what the Chargers call the “star” position. Because of his speed, he often was matched against Mecole Hardman or Tyreek Hill.

When push came to shove, Chargers rookie coach Brandon Staley said he was happy to put the game in the hands of quarterback Justin Herbert, who delivered a big win against Chiefs.

Sept. 26, 2021

“He was connected all day in pass coverage,” coach Brandon Staley said. “I don’t think you can say enough about that guy.”

James called Campbell “really the MVP out there today.”

Starting Campbell at star allowed James to play deeper in the field as the Chargers tried to limit Kansas City’s explosive plays.

And they did limit those plays: The Chiefs had two pass completions longer than 20 yards, and Mahomes scrambled once for 26 yards.

But the Chargers forced Kansas City’s offense to work its way down the field, avoiding what Staley called “knockout punches.” The Chiefs’ touchdowns came on plays of 10, eight and two yards.


Mahomes finished with 260 yards passing on 47 attempts, 26 of which he completed.

“When you can hold that guy to 5.5 yards per attempt, that’s rare,” Staley said. “I’d love to know how many times it’s been done because putting a roof over that guy is not easy.”

The answer: Mahomes has had the only one game in his career with a lower yards-per-attempt rate. Last December against New Orleans, he threw for 254 yards on 47 passes (5.4).

Herbert keeps rolling: Second-year quarterback Justin Herbert is mocking the notion of a sophomore slump. He finished 26 of 38 for 281 yards and four touchdowns with no turnovers. His quarterback rating of 125 was his third highest in 18 career starts.

“I love 10,” James said of Herbert. “I love him at all times. We try to get the ball to him as much as we can because we know what they’re going to do with it. When our offense gets stopped, they’re really stopping [themselves].”

Behind Herbert, the Chargers scored touchdowns on four of five red-zone trips after starting the season three of 10.

One of Herbert’s most impressive passes came early in the fourth quarter when he connected with Mike Williams for a 20-yard touchdown just as Kansas City’s Chris Jones hit him.

“This guy made some incredible throws with people right on him,” Staley said. “I thought he took some shots that were borderline. This guy just delivers the football. He’s got real toughness.


“We all know how talented he is. But when you talk about his intangibles and his toughness, more than his talent, that’s saying a bunch. He showed all that stuff today, and we needed all of it in order for us to win.”

The Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes (15) is sacked by the Chargers' Joey Bosa (97) in the first half.
(Ed Zurga / Associated Press)

Bosa shows his toughness: After not practicing all week, edge rusher Joey Bosa played anyway and played extensively despite his ankle and foot problems.

He finished with three tackles and two quarterback hits, and split a sack with linebacker Drue Tranquill.

“Joey Bosa exemplified the warrior spirit that you need in order to beat a team like this,” Staley said. “When you’re not feeling great, you need your premium players out there.”

The Chargers need shifting practice: For the second consecutive week, the Chargers lost a late touchdown because of an illegal shift penalty. This time, tight end Jared Cook was cited.


On the fourth-quarter play, Herbert pass to fullback Gabe Nabers for what the officials ruled to be a one-yard scoring pass. The drive then stalled, forcing the Chargers to settle for a Tristan Vizcaino 24-yard field goal that made it 24-24 with 2:17 left.

The Chargers are using motion formations more this season than they had in recent years. Staley took the blame Sunday for their recent issues.

“There are some things that are happening out there that, quite frankly, are on me,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job practicing, and we will because we can’t have the procedural issues.”

Another illegal shift — on Jalen Guyton — cost the Chargers a 30-yard completion to Keenan Allen late in the second quarter. That play would have converted a fourth and four. The Chargers instead punted.

Noting that his team “got bailed out” of the mistakes, Staley said, “We’re fortunate we have a gangster quarterback.”

Chargers’ 30-24 road victory over the Chiefs by the numbers

Sept. 26, 2021

James is a tough one, too: After leaving the game in the second quarter because of a shoulder injury, James was questionable to return, the Chargers announced. He returned from the locker room and was back on the field before halftime.

Afterward, James explained that he was hurt during a collision with Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce. He said he underwent X-rays at the stadium and pronounced himself to be just fine.


“I’ll be out there,” James said. “I’m ready.”

Run defense still not ideal: The Chargers permitted a 100-yard rusher for the second straight game as Clyde Edwards-Helaire finished with 100 in 17 carries. Washington’s Antonio Gibson had 90 yards on the ground against the Chargers in Week 1.

Kansas City finished with 186 rushing yards. The Chargers entered Sunday giving up an average of 162 yards on the ground, which ranked fourth worst in the league.

Staley didn’t sound overly concerned Sunday, noting that Mahomes gained 45 yards on four scrambles.

“I felt like we tackled exceptionally well today,” he said.