Bitter rivals took the field at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City for a special Monday Night Football showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers.
A rather strangely-paced game, the two teams went into halftime separated by just one point, with the Chiefs taking a 10-9 lead thanks to some self-inflicted wounds by the Chargers.
In the second half, the Chiefs scored a touchdown on their opening drive, the Chargers went three-and-out, and the Chiefs scored another touchdown. Plenty more happened, but that was all they needed to head back to America with a 24-17 victory and a half-game lead over the Oakland Raiders in the AFC West.
These were the biggest winners and losers from Monday Night Football in Week 11 between the Chiefs and Chargers in Mexico City.
Winner: Travis Kelce came through in the clutch
Neither offense was able to do much through the air Monday night. Chiefs superstar receiver Tyreek Hill left the game in the first quarter, grabbing at his hamstring before he limped off the field. Without him, Kansas City’s passing game suffered on a night when Patrick Mahomes didn’t have his best stuff.
When the Chiefs needed a big play, though, it was tight end Travis Kelce who came up big more than a few times.
Ever the reliable weapon, Kelce led all Chiefs pass catchers with seven receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown, and his score ended up being the game-winner.
Loser: Philip Rivers is washed
Playing behind an offensive line that’s been ravaged by injuries, Philip Rivers is still trying to do things he used to be able to pull off. Only nowadays his arm isn’t quite what it once was, and he’s a step slower. Yet he continues to try fitting balls into tight windows. It’s not working.
Already with 10 interceptions on the season coming into the game, Rivers added four more to his total (and seven in his past two games).
He was baited into a poor decision by Tyrann Mathieu on his first.
After that, he was picked by defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi on a play he’s lucky to have survived. Then, in the fourth quarter, he underthrew a pass deep downfield and was picked off by Rashad Fenton. And finally, after almost pulling his team back with a brilliant last-minute drive, Rivers did this.
All told, Rivers passed for 353 yards on 28-of-52 attempts and was a liability, rather than a positive force for his team.
Winner: Austin Ekeler was on fire
As usual, Austin Ekeler delivered highlights when he was actually featured like the star that he has become. The pass-catching specialist has taken a back seat to Melvin Gordon in recent weeks but on Monday got a lot of work in Los Angeles’ offense.
In the first half alone, Ekeler racked up 120 yards on 10 touches, wowing us with his incredible open-field abilities.
Unfortunately, Ekeler didn’t touch the ball again until just over eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. On pace for a monster game, he ended up finishing with just 12 yards in the second half and 132 in the game.
Loser: Chiefs OC Shane Steichen lost his way
Coming into Monday night’s game, new offensive coordinator Shane Steichen had been doing a pretty solid job getting things back on track after Ken Whisenhunt was fired earlier this season. The Chargers won two in a row and nearly overcame a brutal game by Rivers last weekend against Oakland, thanks in large part to Melvin Gordon and a resurgent run game.
On Monday night, going against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, Steichen dialed up a really great run game early. Then, he unfathomably abandoned it.
Rivers, who as we already covered had a really difficult time most of the night as Los Angeles’ porous offensive line gave way to pressure, threw the ball 52 times. Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler combined for just 19 carries, averaging a hearty 4.9 yards per tote.
The Chargers did not attack Kansas City’s weakness, and it cost them dearly. The worst part is, the run game was abandoned when the game was still a one-score affair.
Winner: Chiefs defensive line got after it
Frank Clark, Derrick Nnadi and Mike Pennel each made huge plays up front for Kansas City on defense.
Clark took full advantage of a struggling Chargers offensive line and was in the backfield much of the night. He finished with five tackles, one sack and three quarterback hits. Nnadi was in the right place at the right time and hauled in one of Rivers’ interceptions. Pennell penetrated inside and wrecked a few key plays inside while tallying a sack of his own.
All told, the Chiefs had a very nice game rushing the passer, logging just two sacks and seven quarterback hits but keeping Rivers on the run all night long.
Loser: The field was terrible
Coming into this Monday Night Football matchup, one of the biggest questions we had was whether the new natural-grass turf at Estadio Azteca would hold up to the rigors of an NFL game.
If did not. In fact, from very early on it was readily apparent this field was a mess. Stadium workers attempted to fill all the divots that were chunked up during the first half at halftime.
But that wasn’t remotely close to being a fix to what was a loose turf that had huge chunks coming up on almost every single play.
The NFL cannot put its players in danger like this. That field was not safe.