Chargers Close the Gap

The Chiefs had a chance to eliminate the Chargers in the AFC West race, only they never really had a chance. San Diego jumped in front on its opening possession and never looked back in a 31-0 rout.

It was a game the Chargers had to have; boy, did they ever play like it.

Playing without star pass catchers Antonio Gates (foot), Patrick Crayton (wrist) and Legedu Naanee (hamstring), the Chargers leaned on their running game and defense. The formula worked better than they could have even imagined.

Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews carried 16 times apiece for 66 and 65 yards, respectively. Darren Sproles also added six carries for 53 yards as the Chargers rolled up 207 net rushing yards. Tolbert and Mathews both found the end zone, with Tolbert's score giving him 10 on the season.

RB Ryan Mathews
Stephen Dunn/Getty
The real story was San Diego's defense. The Bolts held the Chiefs to just 67 total net yards. Kansas City, playing without starting quarterback Matt Cassel (appendectomy), went 0-for-11 on third down and averaged less than 1 yard per pass play as no Chiefs player finished with more than 15 receiving yards.

San Diego's pass rush gets much of the credit. The Chargers finished with four sacks with Larry English leading the way with 1.5 (he split his first sack with Ogemdi Nwagbuo). Luis Castillo and Antwan Barnes also got in on the action.

With the defense in complete control, Philip Rivers picked his spots in authoring an efficient performance. He completed 18-of-24 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown. He turned the ball over twice, but one of those was an interception that only happened because Vincent Jackson fell down on his route.

Rivers spread the ball around with Malcom Floyd, Sproles and Kelley Washington each finishing with at least 50 receiving yards. Jackson chipped in with his first two receptions of the 2010 campaign, becoming the 17th players to catch a pass from Rivers this season. Floyd stole the spotlight, though, catching two TDs, including a spectacular one-armed grab at the end of the first half to bust the game open.

The win moves the Chargers within one game of the Chiefs in the AFC West. Both teams are 2-3 in the division; they both wrap up divisional play in Week 17 with the Chargers going to Denver and the Chiefs hosting the Raiders. The next tiebreaker, common opponents, has yet to be determined but figures to favor the Chargers.

Lightning Quicks

--The Chargers more than doubled the Chiefs in time of possession, 40:10 to 19:50. San Diego had more than six times as many total net yards, 426 to 67.

--Jackson saw his first meaningful playing time. He finished with two catches for 29 yards and picked up 14 rushing yards on a reverse.

--Randy McMichael started in place of Gates and caught two balls for 26 yards. Both of his receptions resulted in first downs.

--Dante Hughes continues to play the nickel in place of Donald Strickland, who has been nagged by a hip injury. Hughes tied for the team lead with four tackles.

--Nate Kaeding was true on his only field goal attempt, connecting from 48 yards. He also had a rare touchback, just his second of the season.

Who will win the AFC West, the Chargers or Chiefs? Discuss in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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