Sun Dec 29 5:16pm ET
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) intercepts a pass intended for Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams (81), as cornerback Rashad Fenton (27) watches, during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (11) makes a touchdown catch in front of Los Angeles Chargers safety Rayshawn Jenkins (23) during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass in front of Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram III (54) during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) makes a touchdown catch against Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller (29) during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones (95) and Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) argue during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Mecole Hardman returned a kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown, Damien Williams took a handoff 84 yards for another score, and the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Los Angeles Chargers 31-21 on Sunday to leapfrog New England for the No. 2 seed in the AFC and a first-round playoff bye.
The Chiefs (12-4) long ago clinched their fourth straight AFC West title, but they needed a win and an unlikely Dolphins victory over the Patriots to get a week off. And just as Williams punched into the end zone in the closing minutes for his second touchdown of the game, the Dolphins were scoring the go-ahead TD with 24 seconds left for their 27-24 upset in Foxborough.
Now, the Patriots will have to play next weekend while the Chiefs set their sights on the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Chargers (5-11) made it stressful for Kansas City in the fourth quarter, though, driving for a touchdown that got them within 24-21 with 5:23 to go. But the Chiefs answered with an eight-play, 77-yard scoring drive that allowed them to wrap up their sixth straight win overall and 11th victory in 12 meetings with their longtime division rival.
Patrick Mahomes threw for 174 yards and a touchdown, and Williams finished with 124 yards rushing on just 12 carries, while the Chiefs defense continued an impressive stretch of late-season dominance.
They held Philip Rivers to 281 yards passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions in what could be the veteran quarterback's final game for the Chargers. His contract is up after this season, and while Rivers has said he would like to play next year, nobody is quite sure whether that will happen in Los Angeles.
The interceptions by Tryann Mathieu in the end zone and Daniel Sorensen to essentially end the game gave the Chargers quarterback 18 picks for the season. It also drove Rivers' total turnover count to 24.
The Chiefs offense has long been the headliner, but it has been their revamped defense under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo that has carried them on their current win streak. They had not allowed a touchdown the past two games, and Kansas City stretched that to 10 consecutive quarters when it forced a punt on the Chargers' initial possession.
The streak finally ended when Rivers found Keenan Allen in the end zone early in the second quarter - a drive that proved doubly costly for the Chiefs. Safety Juan Thornhill (knee) and cornerback Bashaud Breeland (illness) left the game.
The Chiefs regained the lead late in the half. Mahomes zipped a 30-yard strike to Hardman that set up a 24-yard touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson, giving them a 10-7 advantage heading into the locker room.
The back and forth continued in the second half. And it happened in a flash.
Mahomes threw just his fifth interception of the season, and second in two games against Los Angeles, and the Chargers punched into the end zone three plays later for a 14-10 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Hardman showed why he was voted a Pro Bowl return specialist, taking it back 104 yards for a touchdown that restored the Chiefs' lead.
The Chiefs scored almost as quickly when they got the ball back.
After forcing a punt, Williams took the first-down handoff and skirted to his left. Three defenders converged on him but none of them wrapped him up. The oft-injured running back made a nifty pirouette, found the open field and sprinted the rest of the way for the 84-yard touchdown.
At that point, eyes shifted to cell phones and scoreboards for the outcome in Foxborough.
They remained there as the Chiefs put away another win over the Chargers, and the Dolphins wrapped up an improbable victory over Tom Brady and Co. to shakeup the playoff pecking order.
Terrell Suggs had his first sack with the Chiefs late in the third quarter. It not only forced the Chargers to punt in a close game but moved the longtime Ravens pass rusher past Demarcus Ware for eighth on the NFL career list with 139.
Chargers: Defensive back Desmond King left in the first half with an ankle injury.
Chiefs: Thornhill's injury looked particularly bad - he needed the help of two trainers to limp off the field, never putting any weight on his knee. The Chiefs already were missing cornerback Morris Claiborne to a shoulder injury, so losing Thornhill and Breeland left Kansas City depleted in the secondary.
Chargers get ready for the beach.
Chiefs get ready for the playoffs.
Interview with a Champ
Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff's recent inconsistent play has left his status as the starting quarterback for the 2021 season in the air and may lead the team to bring in someone who can push him, according to comments made by the NFL Network's Steve Wyche. 'The people I've spoken to said basically at this moment the relationship with Goff and (head coach Sean) McVay: not great. They need marriage counseling is what one person said to me. I think this is something that they're going to be able to work through, but there's got to be some healing and that's not just with Jared Goff's injured thumb,' Wyche said.
Fantasy Spin: Goff was very good in McVay's first two seasons (2017 and 2018), but it would seem that once opponents figured out how to slow down Todd Gurley late during the second half of the 2018 campaign, Goff started to get exposed. It's also possible that the defections of Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks have given defenses less to worry about vertically or that he is feeling the pressure of playing under his four-year, $134 million contract that he signed in September of 2019. Whatever the reason(s), fantasy owners should expect him to compete for his job in camp this summer.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Deone Bucannon, DB Javon Hagan and OG Ted Larsen were restored to the practice squad Monday, Jan. 18.
Green Bay Packers DT Brian Price and DB KeiVarae Russell were restored to the practice squad Monday, Jan. 18.
Los Angeles Rams cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant, Chicago Bears safeties coach Sean Desai and Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris are most likely candidates to replace Brandon Staley as the Rams' defensive coordinator, according to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic. Rodrigue is reporting a decision to fill the vacancy could happen as soon as Tuesday, Jan. 19.
New England Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore has forced 37 incompletions since 2018 - tied for the second-highest total in the league - according to Pro Football Focus.
New York Giants CB James Bradberry has forced a league-high 42 incompletions since 2018, according to Pro Football Focus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis has forced 37 incompletions since 2018 - tied for the second-highest total in the league - according to Pro Football Focus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Vita Vea (ankle) will return to practice this week, and the team hopes he will be available for the NFC Championship game.
Dallas Cowboys DE Tyrone Crawford (foot) underwent surgery last week and showed his right foot in a cast after the surgery.
Denver Broncos impending free-agent S Justin Simmons is a player that head coach Vic Fangio wants to return next season.
The Baltimore Ravens will release veteran running back Mark Ingram II on Tuesday, according to league sources. The move will save the Ravens $5 million against the 2021 salary cap and will allow Ingram to get an early jump on free agency. Ingram was a healthy scratch in five of the team's final six games to close out the season, but he insists that he's healthy and has plenty to offer a team in 2021. The 31-year-old was a first-round pick out of Alabama back in 2011, but he's unlikely to be anything more than a backup if he lands with another team on the open market this offseason. J.K. Dobbins took over as Baltimore's lead back in the second half of the 2020 season, and Gus Edwards should continue spelling him next season. Ingram, a three-time Pro Bowler, had 72 carries for 299 yards (4.2 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns in 11 games (nine starts) in his second year in Baltimore.
Baltimore Ravens RB Mark Ingram has been informed that he will be released Tuesday, Jan. 19, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: Ingram may not be able to find a starting job this offseason but can be part of a running back committee for a team. Fantasy players can monitor the situation because Ingram can have fantasy value depending on his situation.
Free-agent CB Davontae Harris (Ravens) may re-sign with the Baltimore Ravens this offseason.
The Baltimore Ravens waived quarterback Robert Griffin III, defensive back Davontae Harris, wide receiver De'Anthony Harris and defensive back Tramon Williams on Monday. Griffin played in four games in his third season with the Ravens and made a start in place of Lamar Jackson after he contracted COVID-19 in the Week 12 loss to the Steelers. RG3 went just 7-for-12 for 33 yards and an interception in that start, also running the ball seven times for an additional 20 yards. The No. 2 overall pick might've played in his last NFL game, but he could also return to the Ravens if he goes unclaimed on waiver. The 30-year-old started just two games in three years for Baltimore and declined after he was named a Pro Bowler in his rookie season with Washington.
Seattle Seahawks practice squad LB Ray-Ray Armstrong, OG Alex Boone, RB Alex Collins, RB Bo Scarbrough and TE Stephen Sullivan had their contracts expire Monday, Jan. 18.
Chicago Bears practice squad LB Devante Bond, QB Tyler Bray, OG Eric Kush, CB Sojourn Shelton, LB Manti Te'o and RB Spencer Ware had their contracts expire Monday, Jan. 18.
Pittsburgh Steelers CB Joe Haden was activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 on Monday, Jan. 18.
Baltimore Ravens QB Robert Griffin III, DB Davontae Harris, WR De'Anthony Thomas and CB Tramon Williams were waived Monday, Jan. 18.
Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said that the team will be careful with rookie running back A.J. Dillon (undisclosed), but he is hopeful that Dillon can play on Sunday against the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship game. Dillon left the fourth quarter of the win over the Rams in the Divisional Round on Saturday with an undisclosed injury. The 22-year-old ran the ball six times for 27 yards in the win over the Rams. Keep a close eye on his practice status throughout the week. If he's inactive against Tampa Bay, Jamaal Williams would be a much more attractive DFS sleeper behind Aaron Jones. Dillon dealt with injury and was on the COVID-19 list in his rookie season, but he could have a substantial role in Green Bay's backfield in 2021 if Jones leaves in free agency.
Former Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney is meeting with members of the Washington Football Team brass on Monday, including head coach Ron Rivera, according to sources. Hurney has become the top candidate to be Washington's next general manager, a hire that could become official this week. Hurney spent several years working with Rivera in Carolina, so they have plenty of familiarity. The 65-year-old was the Panthers general manager from 2002 to 2012 and again from 2017 to 2020. Rivera was the head coach of Carolina from 2011 to 2019. Martin Mayhew and Ryan Cowden have also been linked to the GM opening in Washington.