Kareem Hunt cradled the ball in his right arm and pressed the line of scrimmage, waiting, waiting, waiting … until he saw the crevice he needed.
The Los Angeles Chargers –– Hunt’s latest victim –– were about to learn that that’s all the space the Chiefs’ rookie running back, a burgeoning star and the NFL’s leading rusher, needs to do some serious damage.
As soon as Hunt spotted the opening, he rocketed off his right foot and –– whooosh –– took off, untouched, toward the end zone. Sixty-nine yards later, Hunt had not only racked up a 50-plus-yard touchdown for the third straight game –– the first NFL player to ever do that to open his career –– he’d also landed a brutal kill shot to the Chargers in the Chiefs’ 24-10 win Sunday at the StubHub Center.
“I knew I was gone,” said Hunt, who finished with 172 yards in 17 carries. “I saw it the whole time.”
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Funny thing was, Hunt would soon realize he actually didn’t make the best possible choice by scoring on the play. Had he simply gotten the first down but fallen short of the end zone, it would have allowed the Chiefs to run out the clock and avoid the desperate march the Chargers were able to mount on their ensuing drive. The Chiefs staff gently reminded him of this after the play, though it was hard to be upset.
“I don’t want to ruin a good thing and he was sky-high,” coach Andy Reid said with a chuckle. “When you have green grass in front of you and how hard it is to get in that end zone, it’s hard to turn it off.”
It’s little wonder Reid was so forgiving. The score –– which gave the Chiefs, who improved to 3-0, a 14-point lead with 2 minutes left –– sucked the life out of the resilient Chargers, who battled back from an early 14-point deficit thanks to a nasty pass-rush that made life difficult for Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, who was sacked five times.
Fortunately for the Chiefs, their defense was on point, too. While the pass rush wasn’t as strong as Los Angeles’ –– they only recorded two sacks –– they did have a field day jumping passes thrown by Los Angeles quarterback Philip Rivers, who was picked off three times on the day and only completed 20 of his 40 pass attempts.
The Chiefs’ defense started the pick-party early, too. On just the third play from scrimmage, cornerback Terrance Mitchell intercepted a Rivers pass to set up the Chiefs’ first score, a gorgeous 30-yard pass from Smith to receiver Tyreek Hill that put them ahead 7-0.
Undeterred by that slow start, Rivers –– a gunslinger to his core –– kept chucking. His third-and-8 pass to Antonio Gates was swiped by cornerback Marcus Peters, who was clearly motivated by Chargers receiver Keenan Allen’s yapping and returned it 38 yards.
That set up the Chiefs’ next score, a 9-yard touchdown pass from Smith to receiver Albert Wilson –– via the shovel pass, which has seemingly become one of Reid’s new favorite plays –– that put the Chiefs ahead 14-0 midway through the first.
By that point, the 25,000-seat StubHub Center was rocking with a pro-Chiefs vibe. But the Chargers battled back, with Rivers connecting on a 44-yard jump ball to 5-foot-10 receiver Travis Benjamin, a third-down gamble that led to their first score, an 11-yard run by running back Melvin Gordon III.
Rivers’ gunslinger ways may have saved the Chargers on that drive, but they’d soon come back to bite Los Angeles. After a Chiefs punt, he gunned another throw that was picked off by Mitchell, giving the fourth-year pro the first multi-interception game of his career.
This led to a Chiefs field goal, one that was assisted by a roughing-the-kicker penalty that negated a 51-yard miss. The Chargers closed the gap with a field goal before halftime, slicing the Chiefs’ lead to 17-10 to bring a fun first half to a close.
The pace of the game slowed down from that point, as both defenses seemed to settle into a groove. While the Chargers harrassed Smith — who still finished 16 of 21 for 155 yards and two touchdowns –– and the Chiefs defense failed to match that kind of rush (only one sack), they did consistently made enough plays to get off the field on third down. This short-circuited several promising drives by Los Angeles, including two in Chiefs territory, just beyond midfield.
The game continued that way until late in the fourth quarter, when the Chargers’ potentially game-tying drive was snuffed out by a ferocious third-down sack by Justin Houston.
This gave the ball back to the largely-dormant Chiefs’ offense, which finally came to life thanks to Hunt, the hard-charging, speedy rookie who became just the ninth player since 1950 to record 100-plus scrimmage yards in each of his first three NFL games.
And though Hunt had some regrets about his fourth-quarter touchdown –– he wished he’d gone down –– it still effectively put away the Chargers, who lost for the seventh straight time to the Chiefs (0-3) and will now have to wait until Dec. 16 for their next crack at snapping the Chiefs’ streak.
“When I got to 5-yard line, it hit me –– I was like ‘Ah, I should have went down,’ ” Hunt said. “I was like ‘Oh well.’ ”