KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chargers had just turned the Kansas City Chiefs over for the fourth time Sunday. Los Angeles coach Brandon Staley was left with a crucial fourth-down call with less than a minute left in a tie game.
Send out his kicker for a 48-yard field goal, even though Tristan Vizcaino already missed an extra point. Or place the outcome with Justin Herbert and the offense.
“We wanted to leave the ball in Justin's hands,” Staley said. “We wanted him to be the game decider.”
Herbert threw a jump ball that produced a pass interference call on the Chiefs' DeAndre Baker and a first down. Then he hit Mike Williams with consecutive completions, including the TD throw with 32 seconds left that lifted Los Angeles to a 30-24 victory over the five-time defending AFC West champions.
“We're fortunate we have a gangsta quarterback,” Staley said with a grin.
Herbert finished with 281 yards passing and four TDs without an interception, outdueling Patrick Mahomes in a matchup not only of two of the game's best young quarterbacks but two teams expected to compete for a division title.
Instead, the up-and-coming Chargers (2-1) won for the third time in four trips to Kansas City while sending the two-time defending conference champion Chiefs (1-2) to the division cellar.
“You can't overcome four turnovers,” said Chiefs assistant Dave Toub, who took postgame questions because coach Andy Reid was feeling ill. “I thought that was the story of the game.”
The Chiefs trailed 14-0 early but had climbed back into the game in the second half, taking a 24-21 lead midway through the fourth quarter. But the Chargers tied it on Tristan Vizcaino's short field goal, and after Mahomes was picked by Alohi Gilman with 1:42 to go, Herbert began the march for the go-ahead touchdown.
He converted a third-and-2 near midfield with a pass to Allen, then the Chargers were bailed out on a fourth-down incompletion by Baker's pass interference. Herbert hit Williams for a 16-yard gain before finding his big wide receiver in the end zone for the second time in the game.
The Chiefs got to midfield in the closing seconds, but Mahomes' throw to the end zone was incomplete.
“The defense did a great job stepping up today and forcing all those turnovers,” said Herbert, who found Williams seven times for 122 yards and two touchdowns. "I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Austin Ekeler and Keenen Allen also had touchdown catches for the Chargers.
Mahomes finished with 260 yards passing and three touchdowns to go with his two interceptions, while Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran for 100 yards with a touchdown catch but was responsible for one of two Kansas City fumbles.
“Nobody is happy with the way we played,” Mahomes said. “You take a loss to a division opponent, it's not a good thing. We haven't done a lot of that in my time here. It's how you respond. We have a long season ahead of us.”
The Chargers' defensive game plan seemed simple: They refused to let Mahomes throw deep, forcing him into short check-downs, and made the Chiefs put together long drives while waiting for them to self-destruct.
Kansas City certainly abided.
On its opening possession, Mahomes bounced a pass off Marcus Kemp that rookie Asante Samuel Jr. grabbed for his second interception in as many weeks. The Chiefs coughed it up on their next drive and, on their third try, Edwards-Helaire lost the ball just one week after his fumble in the closing minutes cost Kansas City a shot at a winning field goal in Baltimore.
Herbert found Allen for a short TD pass early in the second quarter to give the Chargers the lead, then he hit Ekeler from 16 yards to push their advantage to 14-3 at the break.
The Chiefs must have pushed reset in the locker room.
They used a 12-play, 75-yard drive to start the second half that ended with a short TD throw to Jody Fortson. A 10-play, 70-yard drive then ended with Edwards-Helaire catching a TD pass.
Los Angeles answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive, converting on fourth down along the way, but Mahomes conjured some more magic in marching his team 72 yards and finding Mecole Hardman for another go-ahead touchdown.
The Chargers had a chance to regain the lead from the Kansas City 1, but an illegal shift penalty took away a TD pass. Los Angeles kicked a tying field goal — the first time in 13 red-zone trips this season the Chiefs had not allowed a touchdown.
The Chargers made sure to find the end zone the next time they were down there.
“Any loss is a gut punch. We could have been playing any team,” Edwards-Helaire siad. “The two most important letters in this game are ‘L’ and ‘W.’ If you're not getting Ws, you're getting Ls, and that's not a good feeling."
CALL IT EVEN
The Chiefs had DT Chris Jones (wrist) but were without starting DE Frank Clark (hamstring) and CB Charvarius Ward (quad). The Chargers had DE Joey Bosa (foot) but were missing DL Justin Jones (calf) and CB Chris Harris Jr. (shoulder).
Chargers: FS Derwin James Jr. (shoulder) left in the second quarter but returned to the game.
Chiefs: CB Rashad Fenton was evaluated for a concussion at halftime.
The Chargers face Las Vegas on Oct. 4.
The Chiefs visit Philadelphia next Sunday.