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Rookie CB Jaylen Watson turns tide as Chiefs rally past Chargers

Chargers Chiefs Football
Chargers Chiefs Football
Posted at 10:48 AM, Sep 16, 2022

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On a night of stars at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, it was an unheralded rookie who stole the spotlight.

With cornerback Trent McDuffie, the Kansas City Chiefs’ first-round pick in April, landing injured reserve this week, rookie seventh-round pick Jaylen Watson got his first career start in a critical home opener Thursday against the Los Angeles Chargers.

A moment Watson would never forget became a moment Chiefs Kingdom would never forget early in the fourth quarter when he picked off Justin Herbert at the goal line and sprinted 99 yards to the opposite end zone.

“The ball just ended up in my chest and I took it home,” Watson said. “It was a surreal feeling. I’m grateful and blessed to be in this position. I didn’t even know what to do when I got in the end zone. That’s why everyone was just standing there, but it’s a moment I’ll never forget.”

It came during a run of 20 unanswered points for the Chiefs, who claimed the AFC West showdown 27-24 and already are the lone unbeaten team in the division.

“That’s a 14-point swing,” safety Justin Reid said. “That is the play of the game right there. Fourteen-point swing — gave us the lead for the first time in the game and we ran away with it.”

Los Angeles had the upper hand against a surprisingly sluggish Kansas City offense before Watson’s pick-six put the Chiefs in front for the first time with 10:29 remaining.

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes had rallied Kansas City twice from double-digit holes with his typical flair, but the Chiefs had settled for a game-tying 19-yard field goal from Matt Ammendola on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Herbert and the Chargers were threatening to retake the lead, but Watson had other plans — and his first career interception in his first career start turned into the fourth-longest interception return in team history.

The Chiefs limped through the first quarter with only 18 yards on 10 plays.

Meanwhile, the Chargers were humming, building a 10-0 lead one play into the second quarter.

After a Chiefs punt to open the game, the Chargers marched down the field before the drive stalled in the red zone.

Los Angeles settled for a 31-yard Dustin Hopkins field goal and an early 3-0 lead.

Herbert hit fullback Zander Horvath for a 1-yard touchdown to open the second quarter.

That’s when Mahomes turned on the magic — at least for one first-half drive.

It started with a 30-yard completion to Mecole Hardman Jr. and ended with a sidearm dart between two defenders for a 9-yard touchdown to Jerick McKinnon for Kansas City’s only points in the first half.

Mahomes scrambled away from pressure, broke a tackle, manipulated the defense with a couple pump fakes then dropped his arm angle to slide a pass through two oncoming defenders — the sort of fantastically wild play he's made too commonplace since taking the NFL by storm.

“When I was scrambling to the right, I was about to throw it and it closed,” Mahomes said. “Then, I put my head down and I was getting ready to run. I broke the tackle from (Chargers linebacker Drue) Tranquill and just out of the corner of my eye I saw red just pop across the field. I was just trying to find a way to get it to Jerick. All the guys are great on that scramble drill. We work on it.”

Los Angeles led 10-7 at the half and marched 75 yards with the opening kickoff before Herbert extended the lead with a 15-yard strike to Mike Williams for a double-digit lead.

Williams had eight catches for 113 yards at that point, but he didn't make another reception in the game.

“He made a lot of plays today, credit to him, but as the game went on we just wanted to take that away and try to make somebody else get the ball,” Justin Reid said.

The Chiefs caught a break when an Asante Samuel Jr. interception was overturned on review on the next drive.

"We saw movement of the ball after it hit the ground, and then the ground ended up helping him resecure it," NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating Walt Anderson said via pool report.

Six plays after the review, Mahomes answered with a majestic wrist flick for a 41-yard touchdown to Justin Watson, who got behind cornerback JC Jackson for the touchdown.

“Whenever you get that second opportunity ... you have to capitalize on it,” said Mahomes, who finished 24 of 35 for 235 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Jackson, a prize offseason free-agent acquisition from New England, had been questionable for the game after foot surgery last month.

After the Ammendola field goal and Watson's pick-six, the teams traded punts before a career-long 52-yard run by Clyde Edwards-Helaire set up a 31-yard Ammendola field goal to ice the game.

The Chargers tacked on a cosmetic touchdown with 1:11 to go when Herbert hit Josh Palmer for a 7-yard score, but Noah Gray recovered the ensuing onside kick.

From there, Mahomes and the Chiefs never gave the ball back.

Despite being outgained 401-319 and allowing Herbert to throw for 334 yards and three touchdowns, the Chiefs pulled out the win.

“The best thing that we did today, man, we stuck together as a team,” Justin Reid said. “Nobody got on each other’s tail. We stayed together. We kept playing the next play. When crunch time came, players made big plays.”

Defensive tackle Chris Jones finished with two sacks, while linebackers Willie Gay Jr. (11) and Nick Bolton (10) combined for 21 tackles to lead the defense.