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NFL

The Chargers Are Typecast

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 20: Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs scores a touchdown during the fourth quarter in the game against the Los Angles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs are an indisputably accomplished football team; you can’t even get Stephen A. Smith to contrive an argument with the other voice in Stephen A. Smith’s head about that one. But Sunday night’s 30-27 last-minute drive ‘n’ score victory over the Los Angeles Chargers did not reinforce that postulate, not in the slightest. It only served to further note the fact that the Chiefs have the kind of ridiculous advantage no other team in sports can truly replicate. Namely, their division.

On a night when the Chargers were as erratically good as their uniforms will allow, they managed to stay close to the Chiefs throughout and even take a late lead that if they weren’t the Chargers would have been sufficient. But no. Of course no. These may be the Chiefs but more to the point these are the Chargers. They left 106 seconds and a loaded revolver on the table, and the obvious happened. It even happened with 31 more seconds still on the clock, and the Chiefs could have taken the ensuing hypothetical onside kick and scored again if they felt the need to cover. It always happens. These are the Chargers. They play to type.

If this seems like we are not properly crediting Mahomes and the Chiefs for being the Chiefs, well, so it goes in the AFC West. Kansas City is 23-5 against the Gormless Three in the Mahomes Era, starting with his debut game in 2017; he beat the Broncos, as you might have surmised.

By comparison to the divisional dregs, the Chargers are merely the dream date who sets the tablecloth on fire during the Bananas Foster. The Broncos lost in overtime yesterday because Nathaniel Hackett is the dunce cap that keeps on dunceing even when he isn’t calling the plays, and because they patiently waited their turn to get the seeds and stems of Russell Wilson. If they could score 18 points a game, they’d be 9-1; instead, they are 3-7. And the team the Broncos lost to in overtime was the Raiders, the masters of the blown 17-point lead, the persistently stupefied Josh McDaniels, and a lost century (the 21st) to show for all their semi-listless work. They have a brand-new stadium they can’t sell out, they throw worse money after bad in pursuit of players who don’t look upon them with derision while cashing their checks, and copyright lawyers for tire fires to leap to their feet and salivate over billable hours when the obvious comparisons are made.

There are other lopsided divisions in the NFL this year, as always. The AFC South is sub-horrible after Tennessee, and the NFC North has made the very average Vikings seem like the Titans. But the Chargers are the team that always promises much and delivers … well, this. They always look sharp and sprightly and finish like bank robbers who put their shoes on the wrong feet and left them untied for the getaway.

Some people would say this is what they get for abandoning San Diego for the perpetual lie that is Los Angeles, and some people would be right. We prefer to think that they deserve none of this because in leaving San Diego to glom onto the Rams, they also screwed the rest of the NFL, which is always an absolute defense against even the most egregious crimes. But San Diego’s loss is also Los Angeles’s loss, and with the Rams now fully toileted not 10 months after winning a Super Bowl, L.A. has reverted to the football wasteland it has been for most of the last three decades. For that, the Chargers should be lauded.

But not this. They are in the early stages of turning Justin Herbert’s career into Mike Trout’s, because as ever, they are always there until you need them. Chargers fans know this in two cities, and last night’s game was not just another hat tip to Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, but an homage to all the victims of Chargerphilia over the years. They marched boldly to the lead inside the game’s final two minutes, and were doomed at that very moment. They are a Russian novel in the original Cyrillic: hard to parse, and clinically depressing if you make the effort.