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    Chargers face Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, prepared for anything and everything
    • October 22, 2023

    Each and every NFL game is critical, as Chargers coach Brandon Staley explained patiently the other day. But some are more critical than others, and the Chargers’ game Sunday against the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs seems to fit into that category.

    Win and the Chargers (2-3) are back to the .500 mark, back to being the team many people believed they could be when the season began and expectations were heightened for the second time in Staley’s three seasons. Lose and the Chargers are, well, in big trouble after only six games.

    “I think, especially after a tough loss, you have to respond the right way,” Staley said, referring to the Chargers’ 20-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night. “I think the way that you do that is staying consistent in your approach and being committed to how you do things.”

    One thing the Chargers must do especially well Sunday against the Chiefs (5-1), aside from the usual blocking, tackling, throwing, running and catching, is finding a way to contain Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He is, after all, one of the league’s most inventive playmakers.

    “You definitely have to wrap him up,” Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. said. “He can throw it right handed, left handed, with a guy holding him. You just have to get him all the way to the ground. The play is never over with this team. We know that as a defense. We have to strain.”

    No question, Mahomes had the Chargers’ attention as they prepared to face their AFC West rivals.

    “I mean, he’s stamping himself as one of the greats to play this game,” Chargers edge rusher Khalil Mack said. “You see what he’s done in such a short amount of time. The respect level I have for him and what he’s been able to do for that team, yeah, we just know we’re going to have our hands full.

    “It’s going to be a big challenge.”

    What makes Mahomes so difficult to handle and so different from other QBs?

    “Just his ability to improvise outside the pocket,” Mack said. “He can make deep throws down the field. He can dunk the ball over his head. He can flip the ball behind his back. So, you’ve got all those different intangibles from the quarterback position. He’s out there playing free, almost like backyard football, so to speak. But he’s doing it at a high level every Sunday.”

    Last season, Mahomes led the NFL with 5,250 yards, directing the Chiefs to the Super Bowl championship. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was second with 4,739 yards, leading his team to a second-place finish in the AFC West behind the Chiefs and its first playoff appearance since the 2018 season.

    This season, Mahomes is eighth in the league with 1,593 yards in six games and Herbert is 14th with 1,333 yards in five games. Neither team’s offense is clicking as expected, but the Chargers’ has been especially lackluster in the past six quarters, including during Monday’s loss to Dallas.

    First, the Chargers were blanked in the second half of their 24-17 victory Oct. 1 over the Las Vegas Raiders. Herbert fractured the middle finger on his left (non-throwing) hand late in the third quarter, but he didn’t miss a snap. He also didn’t lead a scoring drive, either.

    Herbert completed 13 of 24 passes for 167 yards and one touchdown and one interception, his first of the season. Then, playing with his finger padded and protected by a glove against the Cowboys, Herbert connected on 22 of 37 passes for 227 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

    Like the Chargers’ defense, Herbert and their offense must be at their best Sunday against the Chiefs. Anything less than that will give Mahomes and his teammates an enormous advantage as they attempt to pin another disheartening loss on a team that can’t afford many more.

    Must-win game?

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    Of course it is. They all are, but this one really is a must-win.

    “There’s a sense of urgency regardless of the week,” Herbert said. “Whether it’s Week 1 or whether it’s Week 6 or 7, guys want to win. I think that’s the most important thing, but panicking isn’t going to help anyone. Whether it’s 0-5 or 2-3, panicking won’t help. We’re going to do everything that we can to win this game.”

    CHARGERS (2-3) at CHIEFS (5-1)

    When: 1:25 p.m. Sunday

    Where: Arrowhead Stadium

    TV/Radio: Ch. 2; 98.7 FM; 105.5 FM/94.3 FM (Spanish)

    ​ Orange County Register