Chargers can’t find a way to finish: Takeaways from overtime loss to Chiefs

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert passes under pressure from Chiefs defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert passes under pressure from Chiefs defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton during the third quarter of the Chargers’ 34-28 overtime loss at SoFi Stadium on Thursday night.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers lost 34-28 in overtime to Kansas City on Thursday night at SoFi Stadium.

They fell to 8-6, two games behind the Chiefs in the AFC West but still in a wild-card position with three weeks left in the regular season.

Here are five takeaways from the defeat:


Running on empty

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes scrambles away from Chargers outside linebacker Joey Bosa during the fourth quarter.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)


During his first year as an NFL head coach, Brandon Staley has talked often about his desire to build the Chargers into a team that can produce game-winning plays late.

On Thursday, they were on the opposite end of that equation against a Chiefs team — and a quarterback in Patrick Mahomes — that’s famous for its fantastic finishes.

“I thought our guys in the fourth quarter just didn’t have a lot left,” Staley said. “There wasn’t a lot left in our tank, defensively. They [the Chiefs] had a lot to do with that. I give full credit to Kansas City, full credit to Patrick and those skill players, their coaching staff.”

After falling behind 28-21, the Chiefs scored the tying and winning touchdowns in the span of two minutes, 31 seconds. On those two series, they gained 150 yards on just eight plays.

The breakdowns included a 32-yard scramble by Mahomes late in the fourth quarter to set up the tying score.


“Defensively, we’re going to learn from that, learn how to finish against a quarterback like that,” Staley said. “We finished against them in the first game [a 30-24 win in Kansas City in September]. It didn’t go down this game.”

The Los Angeles Chargers fell to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime 34-28, but concerns about Donald Parham Jr.’s well-being overshadowed the loss.

Dec. 16, 2021


A missing ‘safety’ net

Chargers free safety Derwin James follows a play against the Kansas City Chiefs.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The loss of safety Derwin James Jr. was going to hurt the Chargers no matter who they were playing. The fact they were matched up against the Chiefs and Travis Kelce hurt even more.

James was in and out of the lineup before leaving the game for good in the second half as he dealt with an ailing hamstring. He has fared well against Kelce in the past, and the three-time All-Pro tight end exploited James’ absence Thursday.


Kelce finished with 10 receptions for a career-high 191 yards and Kansas City’s final two touchdowns.

His 34-yard catch and run ended the game and exposed several Chargers defenders. Drue Tranquill, Nasir Adderley, Michael Davis and Trey Marshall all were closing in on Kelce at some point during the play.

“We just didn’t tackle very well,” Staley said. “We had a lot of guys in position. We had a five-man rush, just had three guys miss a tackle.”


Charging forward on the ground

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler is upended during a carry in the second quarter.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Kansas City was missing standout defensive tackle Chris Jones (COVID-19 list) and the Chargers made his absence noticeable. They rushed 39 times for 192 yards, a season-high even with Austin Ekeler slowed by an ankle injury and left tackle Rashawn Slater (COVID list) unavailable.


Staley praised his offensive assistants for their scheme and the variety of runs they employed.

He also said the Chargers were able to take advantage of the Chiefs playing a more conservative defense deep because of the absence of cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, who missed the game for personal reasons.

“Just felt like that would be something we would be able to do to control the pace of the game,” Staley said. “I really felt like that was a strength of ours today. I thought all three of our backs ran at a high level.”

Justin Jackson finished with 13 carries for 86 yards and Ekeler 12 for 59 and a touchdown. Joshua Kelley carried seven times for 21 yards.

The Chargers’ second touchdown drive started with eight consecutive running plays before Justin Herbert hit Jalen Guyton for a four-yard score.


Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 34-28 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at SoFi Stadium on Thursday — scoring and statistics.

Dec. 16, 2021


Going for it, again and again

Chargers coach Brandon Staley congratulates quarterback Justin Herbert after a touchdown drive against the Chiefs.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers finished two for five on fourth down, inviting questions about the impact of those three failures, two of which came on fourth-and-goal situations at or inside the five-yard line.

Staley has remained aggressive on fourth down throughout his rookie year as a head coach, the Chargers now 15 of 26 for the season. Their 15 conversions lead the NFL. Their 57.7% success rate ranks 12th.

“From where my mindset is, I know that the quickest way to win a game like that is to score touchdowns, not field goals, especially considering who’s on the other side,” Staley said. “To me, when you feel like you’re in an advantage situation, when you don’t feel like it’s a gamble . . . then that’s going to be our mindset.”


The Chargers passed on nine potential points with those three misses. They could have attempted two short field goals and what would have been a 46-yarder.

But Staley repeatedly has talked about his preference to keep the ball in the hands of Herbert, saying the young quarterback gives the Chargers their best chance.

“I don’t think that any decision that I made tonight was a gamble,” Staley said. “We felt like it was an advantage situation for us. That’s why we did it. . . . That’s the way we’re going to do things around here. I know our team embraces that mindset. We’re going to continue to do it every game we play.”

The Chargers had the opportunity to win their biggest game of the season, but coach Brandon Staley’s continued insistence to go on fourth down cost his team the game.

Dec. 16, 2021


Slippery mitts

Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen has his shoe pulled off as he is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Deandre Baker.
Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen has his shoe pulled off as he is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Deandre Baker in the first half.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)


The Chargers’ issues with dropped passes continued when tight end Jared Cook was unable to secure what would have been a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half. The throw was high but within Cook’s grasp.

Later, Keenan Allen had a dart from Herbert slip through his hands.

“It’s not a lack of concentration,” Staley said. “It’s definitely not a lack of talent. I truly believe that’s what the storyline is. It’s nothing more, nothing less than that.

“We have one of the best passers in the history of the NFL, and we have an outstanding skill group that has good hands, a history of good hands. We just need to continue to stay together, which is what we’re going to do.”

The Chargers lost to the AFC West-rival Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. Here’s a photographic recap of the game.

Dec. 16, 2021


Stat pack

Chargers defensive lineman Joe Gaziano stretches in the end zone at SoFi Stadium before Thursday's game.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Allen topped 1,000 receiving yards for the season for the fifth time in his career. . . . Edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu had his first career interception. . . . Herbert has more passing yards (8,394) and combined passing and rushing touchdowns (71) than any player in NFL history through his first two seasons. . . . Joey Bosa had his league-leading sixth strip-sack.