Led by another efficient performance by Philip Rivers, along with a key catch by a special-teams ace who seldom sees the field on offense, receiver Seyi Ajirotutu, the Chargers moved the ball with ease against the top-ranked defense in the NFL in a cathartic 41-38 win over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
The 41 points was the most scored by San Diego at Arrowhead in 27 years.
The win was therapeutic for the Chargers because they finally were able to finish in the final moments, and at 5-6 are tied with five other teams for the final AFC wild-card spot with five weeks left in the regular season.
Heading into Sunday’s matchup at Kansas City, five of San Diego’s six losses had come with a chance for the team’s offense to tie or win on the final drive of the game.
“We’ve had some difficult losses, but the true character of our team came out today,” San Diego coach Mike McCoy said. “And give the players, the coaches and everyone in the organization a lot of credit for battling through.”
Chargers tight end Antonio Gates said his team finally caught some breaks.
“You can see the tables turning,” Gates said. “We kind of got the calls down the stretch that normally went the other way. And we made the plays we needed to make.”
Defensively, the Chargers gave up a season-high 38 points and allowed nearly 400 yards of total offense, yet San Diego emerged victorious.
Just what you’d expected from this up-and-down team -- loser of three straight -- right?
“A win is a win,” San Diego linebacker Reggie Walker said. “We’ve played better and lost. It was ugly and we have some things to work on, but I’m just glad we won at the end of the day. We needed that, big time.”
Down 14-10 at halftime, the Chargers scored 31 points in the second half. San Diego benefited from Kansas City’s two best pass-rushers -- Tamba Hali (ankle) and Justin Houston (arm) -- leaving the game due to injury. But even with those two out, the Chargers still had to execute on offense.
Rivers was sacked just once and was hit four times on 39 throws. He played as well as he has all season, finishing 27-of-39 for 392 yards and three touchdowns. Rivers completed passes to eight different receivers, posting a 127.3 passer rating and throwing for more than 300 yards for the fifth time this season.
And when his team needed it, Rivers marched San Diego 78 yards with 1:22 left on a seven-play scoring drive, capped by a 26-yard touchdown to Ajirotutu.
“There’s not many things that cause me to completely spaz out,” Rivers said. “But a touchdown to win is one of them.”
Rivers delivered a perfect ball, but the play of Ajirotutu, an undrafted free agent in his fourth season out of Fresno State, says what this team is all about.
Heading into this contest Ajirotutu had played 10 offensive snaps through 10 games. He made a couple of big catches last week on San Diego’s final drive that came up short against Miami. Ajirotutu was pressed into duty against the Dolphins because Keenan Allen was out with a knee injury.
And he was in there during the final drive against Kansas City because Eddie Royal was not available due to a reported chest injury.
“It’s a route that he’s going to run a 15-yard stop, unless he gets some form of Cover 2,” Rivers said about the winning score. “So I reminded him when he broke the huddle, not that he needed to be reminded, that if you get [Cover 2], get up the boundary in a hurry.”
Ajirotutu did what his quarterback asked, and the result was his first touchdown since his rookie season.
“I know the plays,” Ajirotutu said, when asked what his strengths are. “I know what to do. The opportunity or moment isn’t too big for me. And then just having that connection with the quarterback -- if you make plays for a quarterback, they like to keep throwing you the ball.”
The Chargers have now won 10 of their past 12 games against Kansas City, and since 2004 are 6-4 at Arrowhead. They now head back home to Qualcomm Stadium, where they will play four of their last five to finish the season.
“It was just a huge win for us,” Eric Weddle said. “But if we lose next week at home, it will be irrelevant.”