By Darren Feeney / KFMB Interactive
The San Diego Chargers and their quest for a fifth straight AFC West title got off to an unintended start Monday Night in Kansas City. Wet conditions, a tale of two halves, and a forthcoming Chiefs defense caused the Chargers to fall just short at Arrowhead Stadium.
After completing a fourth down conversion with 1:50 remaining in the game to put the Chargers on the six-yard line, the Chiefs held the Chargers out of the end zone on four straight downs with 39 seconds left to hang on for the 21-14 win.
The Chargers had won five straight over the Chiefs, including 37-7 and 43-14 routs last season.
The $375-million renovated Arrowhead Stadium called for a new and enthused fan base, and the 71,297 let their presence be known in Kansas City's first home Monday night game since Nov. 22, 2004.
San Diego jumped out to an early 7-0 lead near the end of the first quarter on a three-yard touchdown from Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates.
The Chiefs then scored 21 unanswered points, two touchdowns coming on big plays, to take a 21-7 lead.
Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles broke off for a game-tying 56-yard touchdown with 37 seconds left in the first quarter.
Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson stripped the ball from San Diego rookie running back Ryan Mathews in the second quarter, which led to a two-yard touchdown from Matt Cassel to an uncovered Tony Moeaki with 5:55 remaining in the half.
In an effort to get some momentum before halftime, the Chargers were forced to punt after failing to complete three quick passes, leaving the Chiefs with a chance to run their two-minute offense with 2:03 remaining in a half that could not end soon enough for the Chargers.
But a two-minute drill would not be necessary, as rookie Dexter McCluster electrified the rain-soaked crowd with a 94-yard punt return to give Kansas City a two-touchdown lead, breaking Dante Hall's previous team-record of 93 yards, set on Oct. 5, 2003.
Oddly enough, it was the Chiefs last season that gave up 16 plays of 40 yards or more. The Chargers gave up two plays of 50 yards or more in the first half.
A recharged and refocused San Diego unit showed up in the second half. Legedu Naanee caught a 59-yard touchdown pass from Rivers with 2:23 left in the third quarter to pull the Chargers within a touchdown, 21-14 entering the final quarter.
There was not a Chiefs defender within 15 yards of Naaneee, who finished with 5 catches for 110 yards. With Antonio Gates being triple covered, Naanee was able to run an unscathed post pattern up the middle.
Despite a valiant effort led by Rivers and company, the Chargers were unable to pull off the fourth quarter comeback. The game-ending goal line stand, two big plays by Charles and McCluster, and Matthews's fumble ended up being the deciding factors.
Excluding the turnover, Matthews, the Chargers' first-round pick this offseason, ran hard for 75 yards on 16 carries.
Rivers, noticeably frustrated the entire game, completed 200 of his 298 passing yards in the second half, connecting on 22 of 39 with two touchdowns.
The Kansas City passing attack was almost non-existent with Matt Cassell completing 10 of 22 for 68 yards and a touchdown.
The Chargers were playing without three key members of their team –offensive tackle Marcus McNeil, who is holding out; wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who is not only holding out but would have been serving the first of a four-game suspension; and outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, who is injured.
San Diego hosts the Jacksonville Jaguars at Qualcomm Stadium for their home opener next Sunday, September 19 at 1:15 p.m.