The Los Angeles Chargers secured their spot in the playoffs with a 29-28 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night.
Philip Rivers led the way for Los Angeles with 313 yards and two touchdowns, with Mike Williams hauling in seven catches for 76 yards and three total scores, highlighted by a last-second touchdown and game-winning two-point conversion.
Patrick Mahomes threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns in a losing effort, and Chiefs running back Damien Williams added 49 yards and two touchdowns.
Kansas City and Los Angeles are currently tied atop the AFC West at 11-3, with the Chiefs holding the tiebreaker thanks to a 4-1 record inside of the division. The Chargers are 3-2 in AFC West play.
Mike Williams' Red-Zone Presence Adds Dangerous Element to Chargers Offense
The Chargers took Williams with the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft because the 6'4", 220-pound wideout has game-changing size.
A back injury limited him to just 10 games as a rookie last season, but now that he is healthy, he is starting to show what kind of a weapon he can be.
There is no question that Pro Bowler Keenan Allen is Los Angeles' top wideout. While Allen has proven he can be a perennial 1,000-yard receiver, he can't be the team's only threat on the outside, and that's what makes Williams' emergence such a welcomed addition to the offense.
Williams may only have 37 catches on the season, but he is making the most of his opportunities. He has 592 yards, good for an average of 16.0 yards per reception, and a team-leading nine touchdowns.
His three-yard touchdown against the Chiefs Thursday proved what makes him such a red-zone threat:
There's not much else Kansas City defensive back Steven Nelson could have done to stop that. Williams' size and hands make him a tough matchup in the end zone, giving Rivers the ability to throw up jump balls with confidence.
He's not just a big receiver, either. This is also someone with 4.49-speed:
Then, with the game on the line, Rivers had plenty of trust in his young receiver:
And he's only scratching the surface.
Rivers and Allen have established a good connection through the years, and having a healthy Melvin Gordon would be huge for the sake of balance. With Williams becoming a serious red-zone threat, the Chargers offense becomes even more dangerous.
Fourth-Quarter Collapse Could Cost Patrick Mahomes MVP
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees appeared to be in the driver's seat for the 2018 NFL MVP award in recent weeks, with Mahomes seemingly having a chance to put the field firmly behind him with a signature performance against a rival.
Instead, a late collapse could prove costly, both for Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Early on, Mahomes looked well on his way to delivering in the spotlight as he got his team on the board early by never giving up on a play on the opening drive:
Some quarterbacks may have just thrown the ball away, but not Mahomes. The result? A wild touchdown that got Arrowhead Stadium rocking, getting Kansas City off to a fast start.
On the Chiefs' second touchdown, Mahomes once again used his legs to buy his team some time, this time allowing a screen to develop:
Brees has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL for a long time now, but Mahomes isn't of the same mold. His mobility is something that opposing defenses have to plan for on top of his arm.
As NFL on Fox tweeted out earlier this week, most of the statistical numbers favor the Chiefs star:
As things stand, though, New Orleans (11-2) does have a better winning percentage than Kansas City.
That's not even taking into account outside factors into the race. While the Saints defense ranks middle of the pack, the Chiefs defense entered Thursday night's showdown 30th in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed. That puts an even bigger onus on Mahomes to carry the load.
Further, Kansas City has had Los Angeles on its tail all season long—and now the Chargers have pulled even.
Mahomes and Brees have both had MVP-caliber seasons. As many accolades as Brees has piled up throughout his historic career, though, he does not have a league MVP award on his resume, making him a sentimental favorite. And Thursday's loss, which featured the Chiefs blowing a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead at home against a rival with a chance to clinch the division, could linger for Mahomes.
There's still a lot of football left to be played, with Mahomes still having two games and Brees with three. This race is far from over after Thursday night's collapse by the Chiefs.
Chiefs Loss Leaves AFC Wide Open
Kansas City had a chance to virtually lock up the AFC on Thursday night, but now, it's not even guaranteed to open the playoffs at home.
As a result, the AFC is completely up for grabs.
The winner of the AFC West is in a great position to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which is something that can't be undervalued given the current state of the league.
For the better part of the last two decades, the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC has gone through Foxborough, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots have made eight Super Bowl appearances since the 2001-02 season. During that span, Gillette Stadium has hosted the AFC Championship Game seven times, with the Patriots going 6-1 in such tilts.
The 2012-13 Baltimore Ravens are the only team to go into Foxborough and beat the Patriots on their home turf with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line during the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era.
Meanwhile, New England is just 2-3 in AFC Championship Games on the road with Brady under center, both victories coming at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field. The Patriots have not made it to the Super Bowl without hosting the conference title game since 2005.
Of note, Rivers is 0-2 against the Patriots in the playoffs in his career, including a loss at New England in the 2008 AFC Championship Game. Kansas City already suffered a 43-40 loss at Gillette Stadium back in October—and playing Brady in New England in January is an even tougher challenge. The Patriots have won their last eight home playoff games dating back to the 2013 AFC Championship Game.
On the other hand, they have lost their last three road playoff games, with their last win coming back in 2007. Of course, that doesn't tell the whole story given they are rarely the lower seed.
New England is not the only team Kansas City and Los Angeles have to worry about in the AFC, as the Houston Texans are among the teams looking to make some noise.
While the Chiefs missed out on a golden opportunity to have the AFC run through Arrowhead, the Chargers have now made the AFC playoff picture a must-watch down the stretch.
Los Angeles will be back in action Saturday, Dec. 22, when it hosts the Baltimore Ravens. Meanwhile, Kansas City will hit the road for a Dec. 23 showdown with the Seattle Seahawks.