The football stadium here is a dump, at least by NFL standards, and the city here is small, at least by NFL standards.
This is a cold business, so I guess those are the two most important things. The wealthy owner of this team can get a better deal somewhere else, and maybe that’s the only thing that matters. But if this really is the last NFL game here I’ll be sad ... and not just because this is by far my favorite work road trip every year.
It’s easy to dump on fans here. Attendance isn’t great, and fans of the visiting team almost always make up a significant chunk of the folks who show up. The easy thing here is to say people don’t care as much about the Chargers because there is so much else to do in San Diego, and there is some truth to that.
The beach. Surfing. Biking. Hiking. The beach. Also, there’s the beach.
But I’d also offer that the fans here have been treated pretty poorly. In a league engineered for parity, the Chargers have been to just one Super Bowl, and lost by 23 points. This is the seventh time in eight years they’ve missed the postseason. The one exception was a 9-7 team in 2013.
The stadium is outdated, a dual sport facility that no longer hosts baseball and no longer hosts football up to NFL standards. That’s not the fans’ fault, even if they’re the ones who suffer for it.
The stadium here is only five years older than Arrowhead Stadium, but the difference is stark in every possible way. The Chiefs haven’t had much postseason success, either. The fan base is stronger, obviously, and I don’t think the Chiefs will move in the foreseeable future, but there should be a part of all of us who follow sports in Kansas City that this type of thing can happen anywhere, and it sucks.
On to the game, a 37-27 Chiefs win over the Chargers:
▪ The Chiefs are your AFC West champions for the first time since 2010, thanks to Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Andy Reid, Dave Toub, Chris Jones, Marcus Peters, Eric Berry, Dee Ford, a 12-4 record, a sweep of the division, Derek Carr’s broken leg and a horrendous performance by the Raiders in Denver.
This means they’ll likely play the Steelers in the divisional round after a bye week. I do not think the seeding makes an enormous difference for the Chiefs either way. The week off will help, either for Justin Houston’s knee or Andy Reid’s game plan or both, but this team has proven over and over again that it is flawed enough to choke a home playoff game and strong enough to win out of the wild card round.
The Steelers may be the worst matchup in the field for the Chiefs, and if it’s not the Steelers it’s the Patriots, so either way the Chiefs will have to earn their way to Houston.
I think my game column is going to focus on this, actually, so I’m going to leave this point here for now.
▪ You guys. Tyreek Hill’s punt return was six levels of ridiculous. I don’t know if the TV angle caught this, but as the punt was in the air, Hill backed up enough that it appeared he was going to give up on the return. But he looked at the coverage, decided to catch it, and he was gone.
There was an element of the Chargers quitting on this play, and an element of the Chargers quitting on the game, but still an amazing show of speed. That makes 12 touchdowns for Hill this year, and I put this on twitter, but the complete list of Chiefs with more touchdowns in a season in the Super Bowl era:
Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson, Jamaal Charles, Marcus Allen and Dwayne Bowe.
Someone always makes a Bowe joke when I post that list, and I always remind them that he did that with Matt Cassel as his quarterback, which means he has an argument for the best season of them all.
▪ I think Vahe is going to have more on this, so I’ll make it quick, but Alex Smith’s legs are starting to come back. He had a season-high 46 yards and a touchdown rushing against the Broncos last week, and scored another touchdown against the Chargers, along with a few other nice scrambles.
This has been one of the subplots of the season, and single biggest difference — not the only difference, but the single biggest — between his performance this season and last. If this is back to the new normal, it changes a lot for what the Chiefs can do in the postseason.
The pick-six can’t happen, obviously, and this is the third time he’s thrown an interception near the goal line.
▪ The Chiefs continue to give it up on the ground. There were times the defensive line and linebackers were bullied, holes opening, and when that wasn’t happening some missed tackles were.
They weren’t a good run defense before, and then Derrick Johnson’s Achilles popped. Of all their flaws, this might be my biggest concern in the playoffs, particularly if they have to play Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers.
▪ Flip side of that is they did run the ball well, particularly impressive without Spencer Ware. Wasn’t even on gadget Tyreek Hill cheat code plays, either. Charcandrick West was solid, Smith added his, and Hill got a few carries.
▪ That Daniel Sorensen interception is the kind of play you tend to forget about, or let blend in, because it happened relatively early but it changed how the rest of the game played.
That was a funny play, too. Looked like Tamba Hali had a sack, but the turf gave out under his right foot as he came around the corner, giving Rivers enough time to make one of his go-for-it throws. Sorensen is a better player than he’s often given credit for, a lot of his value coming in versatility. He allows the Chiefs to play different ways, and avoid mismatches.
That could show up in a bigger way against a team like the Patriots.
▪ Travis Kelce missed the first quarter, standing on the sideline in full uniform. He played his normal amount (lots) the reset of the way. No word from the Chiefs yet, but this smells like a sort-of-suspension for some violation. I hope the violation was funny, at least. /shrugs shoulders/
▪ Marcus Peters made his first interception since the fifth game of the season, which is more a statement about how often quarterbacks have avoided throwing his direction than anything else. That was his 14th pick since entering the league last season, the most in the NFL over that time, and an opportunity to do this: