Player of the game: Quarterback Alex Smith completed 34 of 48 passes for 363 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He finally led the Chiefs on a late-game comeback, which has been one of his biggest issues during his career.
Reason to hope: The Chiefs beat a much-improved (and finally healthy) San Diego team despite playing an atrocious first half. They showed a lot of character and grit, and the players didn’t seem overly pleased with themselves afterward, which speaks to the standards they hold themselves to and is a positive sign going forward.
Reason to mope: They looked terrible in the first half. The couldn’t run the ball, they couldn’t throw the ball, the Chargers’ defense seemed a step ahead and the Chiefs’ defense looked clueless as San Diego jumped out to a 21-3 halftime advantage. A half of football like that will get you beaten against a better team.
Looking ahead: The Chiefs, 1-0, will head to Houston, 1-0, for the third time in 12 months. The Texans are coming off a 23-14 win over Chicago. They should be inspired to beat the Chiefs after they were embarrassed at home by Kansas City in a 30-0 wild-card loss in January.
Rushing offense: B
Spencer Ware carried most of the load, rushing 11 times for 70 yards and a touchdown. Charcandrick West only recorded three carries for minus-1 yard. The Chiefs rushed 19 times for 83 yards, a respectable 4.4-yard average, after a middling first half.
Passing offense: B
Smith was absolutely dealing in the second half, when he completed all sorts of difficult passes — ones that required touch, arm strength or both — and made the kind of plays he’s been criticized for not delivering in the past. He was sacked three times and threw an interception, which hurts the overall grade here, but no one will remember that. Ware continued his preseason knack for catching passes, as he caught seven passes for 129 yards, including a 45-yarder.
Rushing defense: D
Look, the defense stepped up when it mattered, limiting the Chargers to only 34 yards in their last 11 carries. But it shows how terrible they were early on that the Chargers still finished with 155 yards in 32 carries for a 4.8-yard average. The Chiefs also surrendered two touchdowns on the ground to a running back (Melvin Gordon) who didn’t score all last season. The Chiefs need to get better here, and quick.
Passing defense: C
Quarterback Philip Rivers completed 18 of his first 22 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. After that, the Chiefs’ improvement against the run helped them corral Rivers on second and third downs, as he completed just seven of his final 14 passes for 81 yards. The Chiefs sacked and pressured Rivers just three times, which was good enough this week but won’t be against a better team.
Special teams: A
Kicker Cairo Santos made both of his field-goal attempts, while punter Dustin Colquitt dropped one of five punts inside the 20. Punt returner Tyreek Hill had a few nice returns, including a 14-yarder, while Knile Davis wasn’t afforded the opportunity to return a kick. The Chiefs’ coverage units did a nice job, however, so it’s hard to take much away here.
No one wants to be too picky after the greatest comeback by margin in team history, but this grade was well on its way to being an F after a first-half in which the Chiefs — a superior team on paper — were outcoached and outperformed. The Chiefs made the necessary adjustments on defense to pull out a win, though. They were more gap-sound and prepared for the Chargers’ assortment of draw plays later in the game, while an offense that looked stuck in the mud suddenly moved into high gear in the second half. Andy Reid’s third-quarter decision to go for it on fourth down trailing by 21 also paid off, and there were no clock-management issues.