For 35 minutes on Saturday night, the AFC West divisional game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers, looked like the matchup that it was originally hyped up to be. The score was 13-10 in favor of the Chargers, and both teams were playing turnover-free and mostly mistake-free football.
Fortunately for the Chiefs, the game of football lasts 60 minutes.
Over the next 25 minutes of game action, the Chiefs intercepted Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers three different times, and poked the ball out of running back Austin Ekeler‘s arms for a fourth turnover. With these added offensive opportunities, the Chiefs pulled away, and they rode running back Kareem Hunt to a resounding 30-13 win.
With the win over the Chargers on Saturday night, the Chiefs now stand one win away from claiming their second AFC West championship in as many years. The Chiefs will have opportunities to close out the division at home against the Miami Dolphins next week on Christmas Eve, and then the following week in Denver against the Broncos.
So what has been the key to the Chiefs’ turnaround after a losing streak that had caused them to lose six of their previous eight games before Saturday’s game?
Well, you can look no further than Hunt. Hunt, the electrifying rookie running back that took the NFL by storm over his first three weeks, has gotten back on track. After getting more than 20 carries just once over the team’s losing streak, he has received 20 or more carries in back-to-back weeks. Hunt has proven that the more the team gives him the ball, the better he becomes, as he tends to pick up big yardage as the game winds down and both teams begin to fatigue. On Saturday it was no different, as he picked up 115 of his 155 total rushing yards in the second half. Much has been made of Hunt’s resurgence from ineffectiveness, but one of the reasons he has been so effective is that the team’s offensive line has improved significantly over the last couple of weeks. While Hunt was getting hit before the line of scrimmage on most of his attempts over the team’s losing streak, on Saturday, he had room to operate and he took advantage of it.
On the defensive side of the ball, the secondary appears to be returning to form. Going into last week’s win over the Oakland Raiders, the Chiefs defense ranked in the bottom five in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game, and the secondary had not forced an interception since Week 8 against the Denver Broncos. Over the last two weeks, they have forced five interceptions, and have also recovered two fumbles. Cornerback Marcus Peters, who was suspended for last week’s game (and looked like he could be quitting on the season), picked Rivers off twice on Saturday, caused a fumble, and did not allow a reception in coverage. With the team still struggling to find an answer at the cornerback position opposite Peters, his performance this week does much to alleviate their concerns.
With the Chiefs’ win on Saturday, they are beginning to look like the team that won five straight games to start the season. The season has definitely been a tumultuous one for Chiefs fans, but with the team’s star core of Hunt, Peters, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce, linebackers Justin Houston and Dee Ford, and defensive end Chris Jones all playing major roles on Saturday, fans have to be optimistic with the season coming to a close.
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