The NFL made its return to Mexico City, and the Kansas City Chiefs made it work for them. But this time, it wasn’t quarterback Patrick Mahomes doing wondrous things. It was Kansas City’s defense bailing out Mahomes, for a change.

The Chiefs just held on to beat the Los Angeles Chargers, 24-17, Monday night at Estadio Azteca, enabling them to stay in first place in the AFC West. Mahomes had, by his lofty standards, an uninspiring game. But the Chiefs had four interceptions of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, with safety Daniel Sorensen grabbing the last of those in the game’s final seconds to thwart L.A.’s last-gasp drive.

“They played lights-out, really, all game long,” Mahomes, speaking of his team’s often-criticized defense, told ESPN after the game. “We put them in a lot of tough positions as an offense, and they pretty much just picked it up and saved us that game. I mean, it’s a team game and it’s good to see those guys win a game for us.”

The two teams played in the stadium at which safety concerns over the condition of the playing field led to last season’s Chiefs-Rams game being moved to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. That was perhaps the most memorable game of the 2018 regular season as the Rams outdueled the Chiefs, 54-51, in the first NFL game in which each team had 50 or more points.

This wasn’t a football show that glamorous. Mahomes usually makes the game look easy. But the league’s reigning MVP uncharacteristically struggled in his second game back in the lineup since missing two games with a dislocated right kneecap. His 182 passing yards were his career low in a game in which he finished. He threw a first-half interception, only his second of the season.

But he did throw a third-quarter touchdown pass to tight end Travis Kelce as part of a 19-for-32 passing performance. And he added a career-high 59 rushing yards.

“We missed on too many things,” Mahomes said. “There were too many missed assignments. Usually we can kind of get away with that and kind of fix it. But that’s a good defense and they weren’t letting us do it. We’ve got to be better. We have a bye week now. We go back to kind of reevaluate ourselves and try to be better when we come back.”

Kelce had seven catches for 92 yards, and the Chiefs got rushing touchdowns by LeSean McCoy and Darrel Williams. They managed to overcome losing speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill and starting running back Damien Williams to injuries. Hill left the field grabbing his right hamstring, and Williams exited with a rib injury. The Chiefs improved to 7-4, putting them a half-game ahead of the Oakland Raiders in the division race.

“It definitely hurts not having Tyreek,” Mahomes said. “But that just was me not executing at a high enough level. There were shots and there were times I could have went for it. I didn’t hit it whenever it was there. That goes back to me just not being right where I need to be at. That’s why it’s a team game and you’ve got guys on the defense that can help you win a game.”

The Chargers dropped to 4-7, and their frustrations continued after reaching the AFC playoffs last season. Rivers threw a touchdown pass but was far too careless with his throws, setting up a Chiefs’ touchdown with one of his interceptions. His final throw was grabbed by Sorensen in the end zone with 18 seconds remaining after the Chargers had managed to reach the Kansas City 14-yard line on a drive that began at their 9 with less than two minutes to play.

Rivers has thrown seven interceptions over a two-game span. His chances to reach his first career Super Bowl are dwindling and he perhaps is showing his age in a season in which one of his prominent 2004 NFL draft-mates, Eli Manning, was benched by the New York Giants and another, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, underwent season-ending elbow surgery.

Michael Badgley kicked three field goals for the Chargers but missed a first-half attempt. The Chargers dominated the opening half, amassing 312 yards of total offense to 109 for the Chiefs, but trailed by 10-9 at the break because of their gaffes. Those blunders continued all night.

Still, it was a competitive and captivating game on a night on which the NFL wanted to showcase what it hopes is its broadening international appeal. There appeared to be some issues with the playing surface, with players slipping at times and taking chunks out of the turf. But the problems were minor compared with last year’s complications that forced the change of venue.

The NFL’s return to Mexico came at a time when the league is putting a particular emphasis on international games. The NFL and NFL Players Association are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, and there are burgeoning hopes that the deal will be completed in the coming months with a 17-game regular season as part of the pact. If so, that possibly would leave each NFL team playing one international game per year in future seasons.

So clearly, the NFL hoped to be able to stage an entertaining and glitch-free game Monday night. And for the most part, it seemed to do so.

In-game updates

4th Quarter

Chiefs get third pick of Rivers: The Chiefs intercepted Philip Rivers for the third time on the night. Cornerback Rashad Fenton grabbed the deep pass on a third-and-10 play. Rivers has thrown six interceptions over the Chargers’ past two games. (Chiefs 24, Chargers 17 with 4:13 left in the 4th quarter)

3rd Quarter

Chargers reply with TD: The Chargers finally reached the end zone, responding to the Chiefs’ two touchdowns this quarter with one of their own. Philip Rivers threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Keenan Allen, then connected with tight end Hunter Henry on a two-point conversion throw. (Chiefs 24, Chargers 17 with 1:44 left in the 3rd quarter)

Mahomes-to-Kelce increases K.C. lead: The Chiefs have things going now. Patrick Mahomes threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to tight end Travis Kelce, who made an excellent catch along the sideline in the end zone and just managed to get both feet in bounds. That came after the Kansas City defense forced a three-and-out by the Chargers. (Chiefs 24, Chargers 9 with 4:56 left in the 3rd quarter)

Chiefs get second-chance TD: Kansas City finally got its offense revved up and added to its lead with a six-yard touchdown run by Darrel Williams. But it took yet another Chargers’ gaffe to make it happen. The drive was extended when a turnover — on a lost fumble by tight end Deon Yelder after a catch — was nullified by a hands-to-the-face penalty on L.A. defensive end Melvin Ingram. Patrick Mahomes had a 20-yard run and threw a dart of a pass to LeSean McCoy for a 16-yard gain. (Chiefs 17, Chargers 9 with 9:29 left in the 3rd quarter)


Halftime in Mexico City: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has struggled thus far in his second game back in the lineup since missing two games with a dislocated right kneecap. He threw an interception and completed only eight of 15 first-half passes for 63 yards against the Chargers. But the Chiefs lead, 10-9, because of Chargers’ mistakes. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw two interceptions and kicker Michael Badgley missed a field-goal attempt. That tilted the half in the Chiefs’ favor even while the Chargers dominated, amassing 312 yards of total offense to 109 for the Chiefs. The Chargers scored only on a trio of field goals by Badgley, including a 49-yarder as time expired in the half. One of Rivers’s interceptions, by Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, set up Kansas City’s touchdown, scored on a six-yard run by tailback LeSean McCoy. The Chiefs potentially lost one of their key offensive players when wide receiver Tyreek Hill limped off the field holding his right hamstring. There appeared to be some issues with the playing surface during the first half, with players slipping and taking chunks out of the turf. (Chiefs 10, Chargers 9 at halftime)

2nd Quarter

Chiefs get FG: Kansas City increased its lead with a 41-yard field goal by kicker Harrison Butker. The Chiefs finally got things moving on offense, just a little bit. Patrick Mahomes made a nice touch throw for a 31-yard completion to tight end Travis Kelce along the left sideline. It was Kelce’s first catch of the night. (Chiefs 10, Chargers 6 with 1:43 left in the 2nd quarter)

Another FG for L.A.: The Chargers continue to move the ball virtually at will but can’t get into the end zone. Kicker Michael Badgley’s 26-yard field goal got them to within a point. The Chargers have 248 yards of total offense to 62 for the Chiefs, yet trail. (Chiefs 7, Chargers 6 with 5:01 left in the 2nd quarter)

Chiefs get TD off Rivers pick: Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have done very little on offense thus far, but Kansas City has the lead after turning an interception of a Philip Rivers pass into a touchdown. Tailback LeSean McCoy scored on a six-yard run for the Chiefs on the play after safety Tyrann Mathieu stepped in front of a Rivers pass over the middle, made the interception and provided a 35-yard return. It was Rivers’s second interception of the night and fifth in the Chargers’ past two games. (Chiefs 7, Chargers 3 with 8:45 left in the second quarter)

Mahomes struggling: Patrick Mahomes has made the game look easy early in his NFL career, but he has struggled in the early going of this game. He has completed only three of nine passes for 24 yards so far, with an interception. He has a passer rating of 2.8. The Chiefs have a turnover and two punts in three possessions and are without speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who left the field holding his right hamstring. Tight end Travis Kelce doesn’t have a catch yet. (Chargers 3, Chiefs 0 with 11:33 left in the 2nd quarter)

Rivers commits turnover: The Chargers had another good drive going when Philip Rivers committed a costly turnover. Kansas City’s Frank Clark poked the football from Rivers’s hand as Rivers stood in the pocket readying to make a throw. The ball went straight to Chiefs defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi for what was ruled an interception. The Chargers had gotten a first down at the Kansas City 26-yard line on a 30-yard catch and run by wide receiver Keenan Allen on the opening play of the second quarter. L.A. is dominating the game so far but has only three points. (Chargers 3, Chiefs 0 with 13:29 left in the 2nd quarter)

1st Quarter

Mahomes throws pick: The bad start for the Chiefs continued as Patrick Mahomes threw a second-drive interception to Chargers safety Rayshawn Jenkins. Mahomes’s throw was aimed at wide receiver Demarcus Robinson. But Jenkins cut in front of Robinson and made a nice grab. It was only the second interception thrown this season by Mahomes, who has 18 touchdown passes. (Chargers 3, Chiefs 0 with 2:10 left in the 1st quarter)

Chargers miss FG: Chargers kicker Michael Badgley missed a field-goal attempt on the second drive of the night for L.A., sending the kick wide right from 40 yards. Badgley seemed to take a chunk out of the turf on the kick, raising the possibility that there are more issues with the field conditions. Earlier, tight end Hunter Henry slipped and fell on a catch on the Chargers’ opening play. (Chargers 3, Chiefs 0 with 4:37 left in the 1st quarter)

Hill limps off: Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill limped off the field, holding his right hamstring, after Kansas City’s opening drive. That makes for a bad start to the game for the Chiefs, who ended the possession by punting. Patrick Mahomes did show off how far he can launch the ball in the high altitude at Estadio Azteca. He threw a deep incompletion 63.5 yards in the air, according to the ESPN telecast, which also showed Mahomes throwing a pass 70 yards during pregame warm-ups. The game is being played more than 7,200 feet above sea level. (Chargers 3, Chiefs 0 with 7:38 left in the 1st quarter)

Chargers get FG: The Chargers had a good opening drive but had to settle for a field goal as kicker Michael Badgley connected from 27 yards. Philip Rivers was sharp from the outset, completing all four of his passes on the drive. (Chargers 3, Chiefs 0 with 9:31 left in the 1st quarter)

Read more on the NFL: