In the last few minutes of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 30-27 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, the 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-balanced throw forced by defensive tackle Chris Jones.
The well-known players closed it out, but career-best performances from less-familiar players got 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, each player had to do more than they’ve had at any point in their young careers — and succeeded.
“We have a lot of new faces, and to see them excel in moments like these is special,” Mahomes reflected to reporters in his post-game press conference. “Obviously, we’ve done it in this organization for awhile now, so to have those new guys come right in and make plays is special.”
Mahomes relied on Kelce to lead the team in receiving, but the two receivers behind him in the box score were Watson and Moore. Watson had 67 yards on three catches, while Moore caught five passes to earn 63 yards. Mahomes was efficient in targeting them, averaging 13 yards per target when he threw to either.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid was confident his quarterback could overcome missing wide receivers Juju Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman for this game.
“Pat doesn’t worry about all that; he just goes in and plays,” Reid shared with reporters in his post-game press conference. “These guys, they all practice — (wide receiver coach) Joe [Bleymaier] rotates all of them. (Tight ends coach) Tom Melvin does the same, so whoever goes in, goes in and plays; that’s how we roll. As far as practicing that, we spent so much time on that during camp working on it, and for it to pay off is a good thing.”
It was specifically Moore that impressed Mahomes; Moore set career highs in targets (6), receptions (5), yards (63), and offensive snaps (27).
“When guys go down — obviously we didn’t have Juju or Mecole and [Kadarius Toney] went down — Skyy stepped up and made a lot of plays happen,” Mahomes pointed out. “He stepped right into that same role. Credit to (Chiefs general manager) [Brett] Veach, he brings a lot of good players in here, so I can go out there and go through my reads, and guys get open.”
Moore was a second-round pick this past draft, being selected specifically for his skills as a wide receiver. His first year in the NFL hasn’t given him the biggest opportunity to show those skills off so far, but when the Chiefs needed them the most, they used them.
“It’s great,” Reid said of Moore’s game. “He had the punt returns that were a bit of a mess — but he had never done that. The guys kept encouraging him through this… the players stuck by him, they could see how talented he was, and nobody looked at him crosseyed.”
Moore made many crucial catches for Mahomes, and Watson made multiple as well. In the third quarter, Mahomes overcame a third and 17 by finding Watson deep for a 25-yard gain.
Reid was impressed by the receiving group’s ability to perform with their natural instincts and go make plays.
“Sometimes there isn’t a lot of thinking involved; you just go play,” Reid asserted. “That’s what I saw, I saw guys say ‘I have to be there… I know I have to get there, and I’ll fight like crazy to make sure I’m there.’ There’s a time when you just have to get down to that part of it, and I feel like the guys did that.”
Another first-year Chiefs player that could be described as “fighting like crazy” is running back Isiah Pacheco, who set a career-high in rushing yards (107) for the second-consecutive week.
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 doing his job,” Reid explained. “Pacheco is one of those guys. He and his crew — they study it, they see what fits into what we do, and they’re willing to pull the trigger at the right time… it’s an art; it’s not an easy thing to do. You can overdraft 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 earned his way into the starting lineup by continually improving over the year. Reid explained what he has seen from the rookie runner — and that includes the sack he allowed against the Chargers.
“His growth in the pass protection part of it — even though he had a tough one today — we were confident in that,” Reid said. “His patience, I thought was good — and we’ve been working on that. I thought he did a nice job with that. [It’s] not necessarily speed to the hole, but speed through the hole. You can see him let the offensive linemen get it set up and work to the linebacker-level guys — then go, and hit it as opposed to being indecisive.”
The improvement of Pacheco has non-coincidentally improved the run game, suddenly making things look much smoother for the offense.
He will continue making his mark, but even if players like Moore and Watson settle back into reserve roles, they still stepped up in a victory that nearly clinched the AFC West. As both Mahomes and Reid mention, Veach deserves a lot of credit for supplementing his star players with quality depth — especially with rookies that have a bright future too.