In the closing minutes of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 30-27 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, common names sealed the deal. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes found tight end Travis Kelce for the game-winning touchdown, cemented when linebacker Nick Bolton intercepted an off-balance throw forced by defensive tackle Chris Jones.
Famous players shut down, but career-best performances from less familiar players carried the Chiefs to that point. Whether it was running back Isiah Pacheco, wide receivers Skyy Moore and Justin Watson, or even rookie safety Bryan Cook, every player had to do more than he ever had at any point in his young career and did it.
“We have a lot of new faces and to see them excel in moments like these is special,” Mahomes reflected to reporters at the post-match press conference. “Obviously, we’ve been doing this at this organization for a while now, so having those new kids come right in and make plays is special.”
Mahomes relied on Kelce to lead the team in receptions, but the two receivers behind him in box scoring were Watson and Moore. Watson had 67 yards on three catches, while Moore caught five passes to gain 63 yards. Mahomes was efficient in targeting them, averaging 13 yards per target when he threw to both.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid was confident his quarterback could outlast missing wide receivers Juju Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman for this game.
“Pat doesn’t care about any of this; he comes in and plays,” Reid shared with reporters in his post-game press conference. “These guys, they all practice – (wide receiver coach) Joe [Bleymaier] rotate them all. (Tight ends coach) Tom Melvin does the same, so whoever comes in, comes in and plays; that’s how we roll. As for the practice, we’ve spent so much time in the field working on it, and that it’s paid off is a good thing.
It was specifically Moore who impressed Mahomes; Moore set career highs in goals (6), receptions (5), rushing yards (63) and offensive snaps (27).
“When the boys go down, we obviously didn’t have Juju or Mecole e [Kadarius Toney] it went down – Skyy stepped up and made a lot of plays happen,” Mahomes pointed out. [Brett] Veach, he brings a lot of good players in here, so I can go out there and review my readings, and guys open up.
Moore was a second-round pick this past draft, having been selected specifically for his wide receiver abilities. His first year in the NFL didn’t give him the greatest opportunity to showcase those skills yet, but when the Chiefs needed them the most, they used them.
“It’s great,” Reid said of Moore’s game. “He had punt returns that were a bit of a disaster, but he had never done that. The boys kept encouraging him in this… the players stuck by him, they could see how talented he was and nobody looked at him cross-eyed.”
Moore made many crucial catches for Mahomes, and Watson made many as well. In the third quarter, Mahomes ran through a third-and-17 to find Watson deep for a 25-yard gain.
Reid was impressed with the receiving group’s ability to perform with their natural instincts and go on shows.
“Sometimes there isn’t much to think about; go play,” Reid said. “This is what I’ve seen, I’ve seen guys say ‘I have to be there… I know I have to get there, and I’m going to fight like crazy to make sure I’m there.’ There’s a point where you just have to get to that part, and I feel like the guys have.
Another Chiefs first-year player who could be described as “fighting like crazy” is running back Isiah Pacheco, who set a career-high in rushing yards (107) for the second week in a row.
Pacheco averaged over seven yards per carry during his 15 rushing attempts, further proving the genius of the team’s scouting staff this summer.
“You saw tonight, Brett Veach, how good he is at his job,” Reid explained. “Pacheco is one of those guys. Him and his crew: they study it, they see what fits what we do, and they’re willing to pull the trigger at the right moment…it’s an art; it’s not an easy thing to do. You can short out guys, but at the same time you’re talking about guys that you want to come in and play, at least within a year or two.
Pacheco worked his way up the starting lineup by continuously improving throughout the year. Reid explained what he saw from the rookie runner, and that includes the sack he gave against the Chargers.
“His growth in pass protection is part of that – even though he had a tough one today – we were confident about that,” Reid said. “His patience, I thought was good, and we worked on it. I thought she did a good job with that. [It’s] not necessarily velocity towards the hole, but velocity through the hole. You can see him letting offensive linemen fix him and work with guys at linebacker level, so go and hit him instead of being indecisive.
Pacheco’s improvement has not coincidentally improved the running game, suddenly making things much more fluid for the offense.
He will continue to make his mark, but even if players like Moore and Watson returned to reserve roles, they would still have strengthened in a win that nearly clinched the AFC West. As both Mahomes and Reid mention, Veach deserves a lot of credit for complementing his star players with quality depth, especially with rookies who also have bright futures.