When Chargers face Chiefs, Derwin James vs. Travis Kelce grabs spotlight

Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. reacts after tackling Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.
Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. reacts after tackling Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce in September. The rematch is Sunday.
(Peter Aiken / Associated Press)

During his most recent visit to SoFi Stadium, Travis Kelce scored the tying and winning touchdowns against the Chargers — both coming in the final 2 minutes, 31 seconds.

The Kansas City tight end had a seven-yard scoring reception with 1:16 left in regulation and then a 34-yarder 1:15 into overtime during Week 15 a year ago.

It must be remembered that Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. was injured early that night and not in the game at the end.

On Sunday, Kelce and the Chiefs return to SoFi Stadium for another headlining matchup against James and the Chargers, the two AFC West rivals’ third consecutive game against each other in prime time.

“It’s always fun playing Kelce,” James said. “He’s knows who I am. I know who he is. It’ll be a show on Sunday, for sure.”

Injuries to defensive linemen Otito Ogbonnia and Christian Covington leave the Chargers will just three on the roster after 49ers game.

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This will be the seventh time James and Kelce have faced each other since James entered the NFL in 2018. For a player who has done significant damage against the Chargers historically, Kelce hasn’t done much against James.

When the two have been matched in coverage, Kelce has five receptions in six targets for 32 yards and no touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. He has only 14 yards after the catch and a long gain of 18 yards.

Asked Wednesday about James’ showing against Kelce, Chargers coach Brandon Staley pointed to James over any defensive scheme, saying, “All credit is deserved by these players when they perform well.”

“The level of play is just so high between those two guys and what they do for their teams,” Staley said. “That’s what you appreciate, that both of them play at such a high level. Hopefully, it will be another show for people on Sunday.”

When these teams last shared the same field — on Sept. 15 in Kansas City — James had perhaps the highlight tackle of his career. Late in the third quarter, he picked up Kelce and slammed him to the ground near the goal line.

Chargers standout Derwin James Jr. is one of the NFL’s top safeties, following through on a strong football legacy established by his father in Florida.

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On a podcast that he does with his brother, Jason, Kelce joked this week that he was going to show up for the game Sunday night dressed as a professional wrestler.

James is coming off another solid effort in prime time. He finished with 13 tackles — equaling the third-highest total of his career — and a forced fumbled in the Chargers’ 22-16 loss at San Francisco.

He jarred the ball loose from wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk as teammate Asante Samuel Jr. was making the tackle in the first quarter. The turnover led to a field goal on a night when the Chargers struggled for points.

“We had really talked about attacking the football in that game,” Staley said. “Asante did a good job holding Aiyuk up and then the second man came in. We preach it all the time. Derwin was able to sting that ball with his hat.”

Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. (3) tackles San Francisco's Brandon Aiyuk as  Michael Davis (43) pursues.
Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. (3) tackles San Francisco’s Brandon Aiyuk as Michael Davis (43) pursues.
(Jed Jacobsohn / Associated Press)

James is having another award-winning type season three months after signing a four-year contract extension worth up to more than $75 million with $42 million in total guarantees.

Against the 49ers, he lined up at five different positions, according to PFF, playing at least 10 snaps at four of them, Staley calling the game “one of those virtuoso Derwin performances.”

That type of versatility, particularly in a scheme that some Chargers have described as complex, sets James apart NFL-wide.

“It would just be hard to explain to people the tax that Derwin has on him during a week,” Staley said. “That’s what special players in the league get paid for, for that tax. But he always answers the bell and there is no role that he won’t perform for our team.

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Nov. 17, 2022

“I think what he does is he does all of those roles at a premium level. That is what is rare about him. You don’t have any defensive backs that can do what he can do. That is why I say you can never take what you are seeing for granted because you can name a handful of people in the last 20 years who are doing what he’s doing on a day-to-day, game-to-game basis.”


Wide receivers Keenan Allen (hamstring) and Mike Williams (ankle) were limited in practice Wednesday, the Chargers unlikely to know the game status of either until late in the week. ... Right tackle Trey Pipkins III (knee), tight end Gerald Everett (groin) and wide receiver DeAndre Carter (ribs) also were limited. Punter JK Scott (illness) did not practice. ... The Chargers signed defensive lineman Tyeler Davison to their active roster from Cleveland’s practice squad. They signed another defensive lineman, David Moa, to their practice squad. ... The Chargers put defensive linemen Christian Covington (pectoral muscle) and Otito Ogbonnia (knee) on the injured reserve list.