We now know where the Chiefs are headed, and when, for their NFL playoff opener. They’ll play the Colts at Indianapolis on Saturday at 3:35 p.m. in the wild-card round.
This, after the Chiefs lost 27-24 at San Diego on Sunday in a game that meant everything to the Chargers and absolutely nothing to the Chiefs, at least on paper.
Before stepping onto the field at Qualcomm Stadium, the Chargers got the combination of results they needed — losses by the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens that opened the door for San Diego to qualify as the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs.
All the Chargers needed to do was beat a watered-down Chiefs team that was assured of the No. 5 spot in the AFC playoffs and was resting most of its key players.
It wasn’t easy. Nick Novak made a 36-yard field goal with 5:30 left in overtime that gave San Diego the win.
The Chiefs, 11-5, had a chance to win the game in regulation, but kicker Ryan Succop missed a 41-yard field goal attempt with 4 seconds remaining.
San Diego, 9-7, will face Cincinnati next weekend.
After Novak’s field goal, the Chiefs moved into San Diego territory but were unable to score in their overtime possession.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, running back Jamaal Charles, the leading rusher in the AFC; inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, the club’s leading tackler; outside linebacker Tamba Hali, the club’s co-leader in sacks; and Pro Bowl offensive tackle Branden Albert and Pro Bowl nose tackle Dontari Poe did not dress.
And at least 12 other starters did not start, including Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry and Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Flowers.
That’s not to say the collection of backups and rookies didn’t throw a scare into the Chargers, who beat the Chiefs 41-38 in Kansas City on Nov. 24.
The Chargers, down 24-14 after Succop made a 46-yard field goal midway through the third quarter, staged their comeback in the fourth quarter.
Rivers threw his third touchdown pass of the game, a 6-yarder to Eddie Royal, making it 24-21 with 11:45 left in the game. The Chargers tied it on Novak’s 22-yard field goal with 3:21 left in regulation. A key play in that drive was Chiefs cornerback Dunta Robinson’s failed gamble for an interception that turned into a 38-yard reception by Keenan Allen.
The Chiefs led 21-14 at halftime, following the formula that worked during their 9-0 start. Rookie Knile Davis impersonated Charles, rushing for 79 yards and two touchdowns; backup quarterback Chase Daniel, after nearly throwing an interception on his first pass, took care of the ball, completing 10 of 14 passes for 102 yards and running for another 43 yards; and the defense came up with a takeaway that set up a score.
After Daniel’s initial pass went in and out of the hands of linebacker Donald Butler, who had clear sailing for a touchdown, Daniel connected with A.J. Jenkins for a 48-yard gain to the San Diego 17, setting up Davis’ 17-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead.
Chiefs fans better appreciate the fact that their team fattened up on a weak schedule in 2013.
The Chargers answered with a 22-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to tight end Ladarius Green, tying the score with 10:37 left to play in the first quarter. The Chargers forced the Chiefs to punt, but on the ensuing possession, Ron Parker picked off Rivers for his second interception of the season, setting up a 2-yard touchdown pass from Daniel to Dexter McCluster and a 14-7 lead.
San Diego tied it 14-14 on Rivers’ 4-yard pass to tight end Antonio Gates on the first play of the second quarter.
The Chiefs regained the lead when Davis plowed through the right side of the line for a 2-yard touchdown in the final minute of the first half, which ended with the Fan Appreciation Day crowd booing the Chargers into the locker room.