KANSAS CITY -- If anybody should know how to stop Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, it should probably be the Los Angeles Chargers and the rest of the AFC West, who get two cracks at beating the Kansas City Chiefs every season.
The familiarity hasn’t seemed to help.
Mahomes threw for 424 yards and four touchdowns, Kelce caught 12 passes for 179 yards and a score Sunday and the Chiefs beat the Chargers 31-17 to seize command of a division they have won seven straight years. Mahomes also improved to 29-3 against teams from the AFC West, which Kansas City already leads by three games just seven weeks into the season.
“I think both Kelce and Pat, when they’re on the same page, that’s a challenge for any defense,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, whose team became the first Super Bowl champion to lose its season opener and then rip off six straight wins.
“I know they work on it. This isn’t, like, a secret,” Reid continued. “It’s quite a tribute for those two executing the way they do.”
Marquez Valdes-Scantling added three catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, and Rashee Rice and Isiah Pacheco also caught TD passes for the Chiefs (6-1), who have won four straight against the Chargers dating to their 2021 overtime thriller.
It wasn’t easy Sunday. The Chiefs were leading 24-17 midway through the fourth quarter when Mecole Hardman, who returned to Kansas City just this week in a trade with the New York Jets, brought back a punt 50 yards. That gave them a short field and, six plays later, Mahomes hit Pacheco out of the backfield for the touchdown that put the game away.
“We just didn’t get any rhythm in the second half,” said Chargers coach Brandon Staley, whose team was shut out over the final 30 minutes. “In the first half I thought we were aggressive. In the second half, we kept stalling out.”
The Chargers’ Justin Herbert, who was sacked five times by the league’s No. 2 scoring defense, had 259 yards passing with a touchdown and two picks. Joshua Palmer caught five passes for 133 yards and Joshua Kelley ran for 75 yards and a score.
“They’re a good defense,” Herbert said. “We did our best to move the ball. We just didn’t execute enough.”
The Chiefs had been relying all season on their defense to bail out an offense that had struggled to hit its stride.
Mahomes and Co. finally found it in the first half.
After an opening drive that netted a field goal, the reigning league MVP capped three of the next four with touchdown passes. The first was a 46-yard strike to Valdes-Scantling, the second to Rice, and the final one -- almost fittingly -- a flip from the 1-yard line to Kelce, who bulldozed through a group of defenders and into the end zone with 15 seconds left in the first half.
That prompted big cheers from the home crowd, including pop superstar Taylor Swift, who again watched from a luxury suite and celebrated with a personalized handshake with Brittany Mahomes, the quarterback’s wife.
Mahomes had 321 yards passing by that point, the fourth time in his career he had been past 300 before halftime. And Kelce had nine catches for 143 yards and a score, the second week in a row he’d been past 100 by the break.
“The main thing with Travis,” Mahomes explained, “is the way he’s able to recognize coverage and adjust on the fly. We always talk about it, but you can’t take it for granted. He can read the coverages, stop in the windows and be on the same page as me.”
Yet their big half only left the Chiefs leading 24-17, because the Chargers were getting some big plays of their own.
After they evened the score with a field goal of their own, Kelley got loose for a 49-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. And after Herbert connected with Palmer for 60 yards down the middle of the field, the Los Angeles quarterback found tight end Gerald Everett in the end zone for a touchdown.
Given all the first-half offense, the second half was mostly a dud. Both teams put together long drives in the third quarter, and both of them ended up with turnovers, leaving the Chiefs clinging to their 24-17 lead heading into the fourth.
That’s when they were able to put the game away.
Chiefs pass rusher Charles Omenihu, who was suspended six games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, made his debut in a big way. He had a sack in the first half and tipped a pass L’Jarius Sneed picked off in the second half.
Notes: Swift was seen wearing a friendship bracelet with “87” on it. Kelce’s failed attempt to give her a bracelet during her Eras Tour led to the tight end’s courtship of the pop star, beginning with an invitation to a game at Arrowhead Stadium. Swift took Kelce up on it and they have been seeing each other ever since. … Chargers RB Austin Ekeler limped off in the first half but returned to the game. Everett left in the second with a quad injury. … Chiefs LB Nick Bolton dislocated his wrist tackling Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen in the fourth quarter. … Next Sunday, the Chiefs visit Denver for another AFC West game and the Chargers host Chicago.