Chargers survive Chiefs in OT, gain playoff berth
San Diego, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The San Diego Chargers got exactly everything they wished for this holiday season.
Kept alive by a pair of losses earlier in the day, the Chargers rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to post a 27-24 overtime win over Kansas City and nail down the AFC's final wild card spot.
Nick Novak kicked a pair of clutch field goals, the first coming with 3:21 remaining in regulation and the other giving San Diego a 27-24 edge in the extra session, while Philip Rivers threw three touchdown passes to help the Chargers outlast a surprisingly competitive Kansas City squad fielding predominantly backups.
San Diego (9-7) remained in contention when both Miami and Baltimore lost prior to kickoff, then got another gift when the Chiefs' Ryan Succop pulled a would-be game-winning 41-yard field goal try wide right with four seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Rivers, who finished 22-of-33 for 229 yards with an interception, began the Chargers' comeback with a 6-yard touchdown toss to Eddie Royal early in the fourth quarter, while Ryan Mathews ran for 144 yards on 24 carries in San Diego's fifth straight triumph to close out the regular season.
The win propels the Chargers into a matchup with AFC North champion Cincinnati in the wild card round on Sunday, Jan. 5 at 1:05 p.m. ET.
"A great team effort," said Chargers coach Mike McCoy. "The one thing I'll say about this team and I've said it since day one, the character of the organization and the players we have here never gave up."
Already locked into the conference's No. 5 seed, Kansas City (11-5) rested the majority of its regulars in preparation for next Saturday afternoon's playoff clash at Indianapolis. The Chiefs fell to the Colts by a 23-7 score in Kansas City last Sunday.
Knile Davis rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns on 27 attempts in place of star back Jamaal Charles, while Chase Daniel threw for 200 yards and a touchdown on 21-of-30 in his first NFL start filling in for Alex Smith.
Despite their makeshift roster, the Chiefs gave San Diego all it could handle and had the Chargers on the brink of elimination after three straight Daniel completions, the last a 24-yarder to Junior Hemingway, placed his team in scoring range with the game tied at 24-24 at the two-minute warning. After gaining another first down, head coach Andy Reid ran down the clock before sending out Succop, who misfired on the kick to give the Bolts renewed life.
The Chiefs then appeared to have San Diego stopped on the opening possession of overtime, but a direct snap to safety Eric Weddle on a fake punt got the necessary two yards to move the chains. Seven straight runs split by Mathews and Danny Woodhead moved the Chargers down to the Kansas City 31, and an 8- yard catch by Woodhead enabled Novak to split the uprights from 36 yards away with 5:09 left in OT.
A 28-yard catch-and-run by Dexter McCluster on the Chiefs' overtime chance pushed Kansas City past midfield, but the Chargers forced Daniel into three consecutive incompletions after stopping Davis for a loss to end the contest on downs.
"I was proud of the guys, the way that they battled," said Kansas City head coach Andy Reid. "(I) would have liked to come out on the long end of the stick there and not the short end, but I'm happy that the AFC West has three teams in the playoffs. That's a positive."
San Diego's offense generated little in the third quarter as the Chiefs lengthened their lead to 24-14, but came to life with a 10-play, 69-yard drive that ran into the fourth.
A 20-yard run by Mathews brought the Chargers into the red zone, and a defensive holding call on third down gave San Diego a 1st-and-goal and led to Rivers' connection to Royal that trimmed the Chiefs' lead to three with 11:45 left.
After inducing a Kansas City punt to get the ball back, the Chargers got another big play when Keenan Allen hauled in Rivers' third-down pass and raced 38 yards to the Chiefs' 8. The drive stalled thereafter, but Novak came on to knock home a 22-yard field goal to knot the score at 24-24.
Both offenses were sharp on their initial drives, with each needing just five plays to reach the end zone to get the track meet started.
Daniel hit A.J. Jenkins deep down the right sideline for 48 yards on his second pass of the day, and Davis went untouched up a gaping hole for a 17- yard touchdown on the next snap to put the Chiefs up less than two minutes in.
The Chargers had a swift response, though, as Mathews ripped off a 44-yard run into Kansas City territory on the second play of a short series that ended in Rivers' 22-yard strike to Ladarius Green that forged a 7-7 tie.
Rivers was intercepted by Ron Parker on San Diego's following possession, however, setting the Chiefs up at the opposing 23-yard line. After Daniel extended the march with a third-down completion to Hemingway that created a 1st-and-goal, McCluster eluded a defender on a short toss from the substitute quarterback and went in for a 2-yard touchdown that sent Kansas City back in front with 5:07 left in the opening quarter.
Rivers quickly shook off the turnover, hitting on all four of his attempts while leading San Diego down the field on its next drive. The last of those passes, a 4-yard delivery to Antonio Gates in single coverage on the first play of the second quarter, capped the 10-play, 80-yard trek and drew the Chargers back even at 14-14.
The Chiefs regained the upper hand via an 11-play, 86-yard jaunt that was highlighted by Daniel's 29-yard third-down scramble across midfield. Davis delivered an 18-yard run later on, then walked in for a 2-yard score that put Kansas City up 21-14 at the break.
Kansas City's defense forced the Chargers to go three-and-out on their first two possessions of the third quarter, with McCluster taking the second punt 32 yards to position Succop for a 46-yard field goal that extended the margin to 10 points midway through the period.
Pro Bowl nose tackle Dontari Poe, linebacker Derrick Johnson and offensive tackle Branden Albert were also among Kansas City's inactives, while wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (concussion) and outside linebacker Tamba Hali (knee) were held out with injuries ... The Chargers overcame a fourth-quarter deficit for the fourth time this season, including a 41-38 Week 12 road decision over the Chiefs in which Rivers threw a go-ahead TD pass to Seyi Ajirotutu with 24 seconds left ... Allen finished with 89 yards on five catches ... Daniel compiled 59 yards on seven rushes ... San Diego improved to 6-0 this season when Mathews has 20 or more rush attempts.
12/29 22:44:49 ET