Chargers vs. Chiefs: San Diego Wins Big, Claims 1st Place in AFC West

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystSeptember 30, 2012

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 30: Philip Rivers #17 and Jeromey Clary #66 of the San Diego Chargers celebrate after a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs during the game at Arrowhead Stadium on September 30, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Chargers won 37-20. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs were hoping to reset the standings in the AFC West with a victory, but the San Diego Chargers jumped on them early en route to a victory and sole possession of first place in the AFC West. With the 37-20 victory on the road, the Chargers improve to 3-1 on the season headed into a Week 5 game against the 0-4 New Orleans Saints.

San Diego’s defense forced four fumbles, recovered three of them and added three interceptions on the day. Philip Rivers and the offense converted the turnovers into points, and by the end of the first half, the score was 27-7. The Chargers would coast through the second half and add 10 more points before time expired.

Ryan Mathews didn’t start and didn’t get many carries until the Chargers had a comfortable lead in the second half. Although Mathews was likely benched for his fumbling issue, he still produced 61 yards on 14 carries with the Chargers running to keep the clock moving.

Jackie Battle started the game and produced 39 yards on 15 carries, and it’s reasonable to believe Mathews could regain his starting job in near future.

When San Diego’s defense plays like it did against the Chiefs, it makes Rivers’ job easier. Rivers only had to attempt 23 passes, and he completed 18 of them for 209 yards, two touchdowns and just one interception. Rivers spread the ball around, and six different receivers caught at least two passes.

The defense did allow Jamaal Charles to get loose for 115 total yards and two touchdowns, but it couldn’t erase his two fumbles or Matt Cassel’s three interceptions. Dwayne Bowe padded his stats late in the game and ended up with 108 yards and a touchdown as the Chargers defense relaxed the coverage.

The Chargers were actually outgained by the Chiefs by 60 yards, which demonstrates how important turnovers can be in a game. San Diego took advantage of sloppy play by Kansas City, but most of the fumbles were forced errors by the defense. Credit defensive coordinator John Pagano for getting his players to bounce back and get ready to play after they were handled by the Atlanta Falcons last week.

One concern for the Chargers has to be the performance of the offense on third down.

The Chargers converted just three times on third down in 12 attempts, and it could have been a bigger issue if the Chargers weren't playing with a short field for most of the day. If a better defense were to force the offense to sustain drives in order to put points on the board, the Chargers might have been in trouble. So far, only the Falcons have been able to slow down San Diego’s offense.

Sunday marked the return of left tackle Jared Gaither from a back injury. Gaither looked like a player who hadn't practiced much over the last few months but still provided a much-needed improvement at the position.

With a full week of practice, there's little reason to believe he won't improve going forward. San Diego is hoping Gaither will remain healthy enough to provide Rivers with protection on his blind side for the rest of the season.

Norv Turner and the Chargers have to feel good about sitting atop the AFC West after four games, but a game against the dangerous Saints in Week 5 could be a trap. It would be easy for the Chargers to overlook the 0-4 Saints with a divisional matchup with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Week 6.

The next two games should reveal if San Diego’s 3-1 record is a product of a weak schedule or if the Chargers should be AFC West favorites.