They are L.A.’s “other” team, the city’s basically unwanted No. 2 franchise behind the Rams. They have the “other” quarterback from the 2004 class headlined by two-time Super Bowl winners Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.
But Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers just might be Super Bowl-bound this season.
That is a possibility at least worth contemplating after they won in dramatic fashion Thursday night in Kansas City, overcoming three separate 14-point deficits and finally beating the Chiefs, 29-28, on a touchdown and a two-point conversion with four seconds remaining.
Coach Anthony Lynn made the daring call to go for the win rather than kick the extra point and head to overtime. And Rivers made it work with a two-point pass to wide-open receiver Mike Williams, who also had three touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing) on the night.
“We just kept playing,” Rivers told Fox after the game. “This place is unbelievable to play in — hard, tough. ... What a call by Coach Lynn to go for two. He said, ‘The heck with it. Let’s just win it now.’ ”
The Chargers clinched a playoff berth and upped their record to 11-3, tying them with the Chiefs both atop the AFC West and for the AFC’s best record. The Chiefs beat the Chargers in the season opener and still hold the tie-breaker advantage by virtue of a superior division record. They can capture the division title and secure the AFC’s top playoff seed by winning their final two regular season games.
But if they slip up, the Chargers are right on their heels. The Chiefs have a difficult road game at Seattle in Week 16 before closing at home against the Oakland Raiders. The Chargers host the Baltimore Ravens and then play at Denver.
“The Chiefs could still win out and win the division,” Rivers said. “But at least we gave ourselves a chance and we know we’re gonna be in the tournament. Hopefully we get to play them again. We’re a long way from that. But this is an unbelievable football team.”
It was Rivers’s 11th career victory via a comeback from 14 points down or greater, the most such triumphs of any active quarterback. He perhaps is shoving his way into the league MVP conversation alongside fellow quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs and Drew Brees of the Saints.
Rivers has had a tremendous career. But he hasn’t had the Super Bowl glory that his 2004 draft-mates, Manning and Roethlisberger, have experienced.
“This guy has had every bit the career they’ve had,” Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman said during the Fox broadcast Thursday. “That’s the only thing he’s lacking. Maybe this is his year.”
Perhaps it is. The Chargers are a balanced team, ranked in the league’s top 10 in both total offense and total defense. But they were shorthanded Thursday night. Running back Melvin Gordon missed another game because of his knee injury. Wide receiver Keenan Allen exited with a hip injury. Rivers threw two interceptions and the Chiefs, trying to beat the Chargers for a 10th straight time, had leads of 14-0, 21-7 and 28-14.
“I had two terrible turnovers in the first half,” Rivers said. “I thought they were gonna cost us. In every other category, we held our own. ... We kept that dangerous [Chiefs] offense off the field some. We ran the ball well without our two starting running backs. But we just turned the ball over. ... We overcame it as a team. It was a heck of a team win.”
The Chargers just kept hanging in there. Rivers kept finding Williams, a second-year wide receiver and former top-10 pick considered a disappointment to this point, for touchdowns. A touchdown run by tailback Justin Jackson cut the Chiefs’ lead to 28-21 with less than four minutes remaining. The Chargers got the ball back with a little more than 2-1/2 minutes to play. Rivers made a gorgeous throw to wideout Travis Benjamin for 26 yards and a first down on fourth and seven.
The final moments had the seemingly requisite officiating controversy. The officials missed what seemed to be a penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Rivers after his knee was already down. They made a debatable pass interference call against the Chiefs to give the Chargers a first down at the 1-yard line with eight seconds to go. Rivers found Williams for another touchdown, with the Chiefs’ Orlando Scandrick pleading for a push-off penalty on Williams that wasn’t called and the replay review determining that Williams didn’t lose control of the football while going out of bounds.
Lynn didn’t hesitate to order the two-point try.
“We didn’t come here to tie,” he said at his postgame news conference. “We came here to win. So to me, it was a no-brainer.”
The Kansas City defense botched the two-point play and left Williams uncovered. So now the jockeying for AFC supremacy that had included the Chiefs, New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers also very much includes the Chargers. And if there is a misstep by the Chiefs, the AFC title game could end up being played in cozy StubHub Center, the Chargers’ humble temporary home in L.A. until the football palace they’ll share with the Rams is completed.
“This just means we’re in the tournament,” Rivers said. “We know we have a long way to go. But it is nice to be in it. It’s been a while.”