By Dave Thomas
If you have a liking for the dramatic, then you had no problem watching the San Diego Chargers and their wild 27-24 overtime victory Sunday over Kansas City.
With their playoff backs to the wall, the Chargers (9-7) waited until the final hours to punch their ticket to the AFC playoffs, in part thanks to Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop sailing a potential game-winning field goal wide right with :08 remaining in regulation.
When Succop missed the kick, the host Chargers had a second life, something they took advantage of thanks to Philip Rivers, Ryan Mathews, and a game-winning field goal from Nick Novak in the extra session.
As a result, San Diego makes the playoffs for the first time in four years, the first try in new head coach Mike McCoy’s tenure as head man. San Diego will travel to AFC North champion Cincinnati next Sunday (10 a.m. Pacific time) for a match up with the third-seeded Bengals.
Chiefs Nearly Win it Playing Mostly Reserves
With Kansas City’s playoff spot already locked up going into Sunday’s game (fifth seed), the Chiefs used mostly reserves in their second meeting of the season with the Chargers. Maybe to the surprise of some, Kansas City (11-5) proved to be very competitive with their old AFC West rivals, holding a 24-14 lead into the start of the fourth quarter.
Meantime, playing for its playoff lives, the Chargers turned to their starters to get the job done.
Among the highlights for the Bolts on this afternoon, Mathews turned in perhaps his best overall game of the season, rushing for 144 yards on 24 carries. Rivers, meantime, threw for 229 yards and three touchdowns, with Eddie Royal, future Hall-of-Famer Antonio Gates, and Ladarius Green all hauling in TD receptions.
Defensively, San Diego did just enough to keep backup Kansas City QB Chase Daniel (200 yards passing, one TD) from ending its season. Daniel got the start under center with starter Alex Smith getting the day off, while Knile Davis rushed for 81 yards and a pair of scores in place of starter Jamaal Charles.
With Novak hitting the winning kick in the extra session, San Diego showed the resilience that has sometimes been lacking with this team in recent years.
Then again, Chiefs kicker Succop was probably the real “hero” in the minds of most Charger fans on this final Sunday of the regular season.
TEAM GRADES –
Offense: (B+) – The Chargers posted 41 points on the Chiefs in their November meeting at Arrowhead Stadium (won 41-38), but 27 did the job on this day, that against a defense that did not have all of its top players in action. As noted earlier, Mathews has had his best season to date wearing Charger colors. Not only has he cut way back on the problem fumbles that pegged him the first few seasons in the league, but he has been more punishing running the ball this season, leaving some defenders on their backs along the way. Mathews finished up the regular season with a career high 1,255 yards rushing. One of the best pick ups in recent years. Also give some kudos to the offensive line that opened up some nice holes for Mathews and his teammates running the ball. Maligned at times during the season with inconsistent play and not to mention injury issues, the O-Line has been much better this season than a year ago.
Defense: (B+) – Even though the Chiefs sat the majority of their offensive weapons, they still had enough firepower to nearly win the game. San Diego’s ‘D’ got some great contributions on this day from the likes of Eric Weddle and Donald Butler (nine solo tackles apiece), Manti Te’o (seven), Marcus Gilchrist (six) and Shareece Wright (five). Both Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes sacked Daniel.
For more Chargers news and updates, visit Chargers Central.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.