The Kansas City Chiefs didn't look much like AFC West contenders during the first half of their game last weekend.
However, following the largest comeback in franchise history, the Chiefs have a chance to make some early noise in the division this Sunday in a matchup with the current leaders, the San Diego Chargers.
Kansas City seemed on its way to an 0-3 start after falling behind 24-6 last weekend to a New Orleans Saints club that was searching for its first win of 2012.
Running back Jamaal Charles, though, sparked an 18-point rally with a franchise-record 91-yard touchdown run with 5:18 to go in the third and Kansas City rattled off another 11 points in the fourth to force overtime. Ryan Succop hit his fifth field goal of the game to force the extra frame and then drilled a 31-yarder in overtime for a 27-24 victory that finished off the comeback.
"They showed a lot of character and fortitude by being down by 18 and then coming back and going into overtime, then being able to win the game," said Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel. "Certain guys stepped up and made plays that helped us win."
The Chiefs picked up their first victory of the season, doing so on the road following a season-opening home loss to the Atlanta Falcons and a road defeat at the Buffalo Bills by a combined 34 points.
Kansas City joins the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos as 1-2 clubs in the AFC West and looking up at 2-1 San Diego. The Chargers are aiming for their second divisional win of the season, having knocked off the Raiders on the road in Week 1, while the Chiefs look to move into a tie for first place in their first clash of 2012 with a divisional foe.
"We needed to find a way to get a win and we got it. And now we're playing for first place. That's how much fun this league is and with the division games, obviously they're so important. If you win those you're probably going to make the playoffs," noted Chiefs tackle Eric Winston.
The Chargers will look to hold off the Chiefs on Sunday coming off their first loss of 2012.
San Diego notched a convincing 38-10 win over the visiting Tennessee Titans on Sept. 16, but were dominated this past weekend in a 27-3 loss at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons.
The Chargers turned the ball over four times, including a big fumble by running back Ryan Mathews in his season debut, and trailed 20-0 at halftime. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan diced San Diego's secondary for three touchdown passes.
"We had stretches in the game where we were on the same page (Sunday) and there were parts that looked like we're a good football team but there weren't enough parts," said San Diego head coach Norv Turner. "That's something that will be ongoing with us. We're going to work as hard as we can to get it fixed and get it right."
Turner's club figures to face a tight battle on Sunday as 46 of the all-time meetings between the Chargers and Chiefs have been decided by seven points or less. Both teams picked up a home victory in the 2011 series by three points, with Kansas City winning in overtime.
"Every time we play the Chargers we know that it's going to be a big physical game and you have to come with you're A-game," said Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel "They know us, we know them and we know their personnel. The schemes are similar, so it's one of those things that just comes down to one or two plays here or there. It's usually the team that makes the fewest mistakes that wins the ball game."
San Diego has won seven of the last nine meetings overall.
WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL
Turnovers plagued the Chargers in their loss against the Falcons. Quarterback Philip Rivers was picked off twice while being held under 200 yards passing, while Mathews and tight end Dante Rosario lost fumbles.
"The number one issue we have which is an occurring issue, we've got to take care of the ball," said Turner. "If we turn the football over we're not going to beat a team like Atlanta. That's got to be our primary objective and goal going into our next game."
The spotlight will be on Mathews, who was playing in his first game after sitting out the first two with a broken collarbone suffered in the first preseason game. He was heavily involved in the loss to Atlanta, running 10 times for 44 yards and leading the team with eight targets and five receptions.
His fumble, however, came at the Falcons 3-yard line while down 6-0 and Atlanta scored on the resulting drive.
Rivers will also look to take better care of the ball as he makes his 100th straight start. He needs just 27 passing yards to become the 63rd quarterback in NFL history, and third with the Chargers, go reach 25,000 in a career.
There has been some talk about the protection of Rivers, though he credited Atlanta's stunts and blitzes being difficult to pick up at times.
"But from a standpoint of why we turn the ball over, why we didn't score touchdowns, the protection was not the deciding factor. It was the two fumbles and two errors in throws. Anytime you lose, the reason is usually because you turned the ball over," he added.
Still, San Diego re-signed guard Reggie Wells on Tuesday for depth and tackle Jared Gaither returned to practice on Wednesday for the first time since July 27th because of back spasms. He could make his season debut in this game.
Wide receiver Malcom Floyd, who leads the Chargers with 13 receptions and 227 yards, will play in his first game since signing a three-year extension on Wednesday. He is the only other receiver this year to catch a TD pass from Rivers other than Rosario, who has three.
Floyd has a touchdown catch in four of San Diego's last six games, while tight end Antonio Gates has 12 career scoring grabs versus the Chiefs. Gates became the fifth tight end in league history to reach 600 career receptions last weekend.
Keeping teams off the scoreboard has not been easy for the Chiefs, who are yielding 33 points per game (28th in the league) and an average of 6.2 yards per play.
One strength is the outside linebacking tandem of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Houston matched a career high with three sacks last weekend, giving him 9 1/2 in his last eight games, and added four QB pressures and two passes defensed.
Hali hasn't gotten to the quarterback yet this season, but has 26 1/5 sacks over the previous two campaigns.
Linebacker Derrick Johnson also had a sack versus the Saints and added a team- leading nine tackles, while safety Eric Berry and cornerback Brandon Flowers will be tasked with slowing down the pass game.
Kansas City did limit New Orleans to just 70 yards of net offense in the second half last weekend.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
Charles put behind him all hesitation associated with coming back from a torn ACL in his left knee, an injury that kept him out of all but two games last year, versus the Saints. Sparked by his long touchdown run, Charles ran for 233 yards, his second career game with at least 230 on the ground behind only his club-record 259-yard performance. Only Hall of Famer Jim Brown has more such games with three.
Charles' effort elevated the Chiefs to the top running game in the league with 191.7 yards per game. Shaun Draughn and Peyton Hillis have also helped pad that number, but Charles again looks like one of the AFC's top backs after his latest performance.
"I think he's gained confidence in his knee as the season has gone on. Anytime you come off of major injury, you always wonder if it's going to be the same, how it's going to respond to taking hits and the work load. I think he gained a lot of confidence in his ability this past game with what he was able to do," said Crennel.
Charles helped Kansas City rack up 510 yards of offense versus the Saints, the club's highest performance since 524 yards gained on Jan. 3, 2010 versus the Denver Broncos. That contest featured Charles' 259-yard outing.
Succop set a club record by going 6-for-6 on his field goal attempts, taking some pressure off of Cassel.
Cassel would have probably liked to finish off more of those drives in the end zone after going 26-of-44 passing for 248 yards. He was sacked three times and picked off once without a scoring throw.
Eight targets found there way to Charles, who made six catches for 55 yards, and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe saw 16 passes fired his way. He caught seven of those for 79 yards, but he figures to be the focus of the coverage each week until the likes of Steve Breaston and Jon Baldwin step up on a consistent basis.
Kansas City will be without its starting center after placing Rodney Hudson on injured reserve because of a broken bone in his leg.
The Chargers appear to be equipped to stop Charles as they rank fourth in the NFL with just 67.3 yards allowed per game on the ground. In fact, the fourth- quarter touchdown the unit allowed to Atlanta's Michael Turner on Sunday was the first rushing score it had given up all season.
San Diego features some talented tacklers in linebackers Donald Butler and Takeo Spikes, as well as safety Atari Bigby. That trio combined for 40 tackles against Atlanta, led by Bigby's 15.
Linebacker Shaun Phillips has 6 1/2 career sacks against the Chiefs, while safety Eric Weddle has nabbed three interceptions in his last two against them.
The Chiefs and Chargers look like teams heading in opposite directions after their respective Week 3 results, but momentum is only as good as your last drive.
San Diego certainly has the defense to take away Kansas City's top weapon and will surely put it on Cassel to beat them.
Meanwhile, Turner and Rivers can talk all they want about cutting down on the mistakes, but it must be executed on the field. That should be easier to do this weekend against a Chiefs team that hasn't been able to force many turnovers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 23, Chiefs 16