SAN DIEGO — The AFC West is proving harder for the San Diego Chargers than most people thought it would be.
A week after having to rally to win at lowly Oakland, the Chargers were exposed in a home loss to Kansas City.
Now they've got a short week to prepare to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver on Thursday night. They could be without their best cornerback, Brandon Flowers, who was knocked out of the KC loss with a concussion.
The Chargers won 27-20 at Denver on Dec. 12, part of a four-game winning streak that helped them snap a three-year playoff drought. When the Chargers returned to the Mile High City for the divisional playoffs, they lost 24-17 after letting the Broncos convert three third downs on Denver's final possession, including a 20-yard pass from Manning to Julius Thomas on third-and-17 from the Broncos' 20-yard line.
Hours after the Chargers lost to the Chiefs, Manning threw four touchdown passes in a 42-17 rout of San Francisco to break Brett Favre's NFL record for career scoring passes. Favre's record was 508; Manning has 510. Manning was 22-of-26 passing for 318 yards in just three quarters against the 49ers.
A week ago, the Chargers were tied with Dallas and Philadelphia for the NFL's best record. Now the Chargers (5-2) don't even have the best record in the division.
Alex Smith was on the field far more than Philip Rivers was on Sunday, the Chargers were brutal on third down on both sides of the ball and there were too many missed tackles and dropped passes.
"We have to do a better job, both coaching and playing," coach Mike McCoy said Monday.
The Chiefs beat the Chargers at their own game by controlling the ball for 39 minutes compared to 21 for the Chargers. San Diego had the ball only once in the third quarter, a three-and-out. That forced the Bolts away from their running game, and even the normally reliable Rivers came down to earth with an 83.4 passer rating. Rivers had set an NFL record with five straight games with a rating of 120 or better.
Jamaal Charles rushed for 95 yards on 22 carries, including a 16-yard touchdown run on which he left several Chargers grasping at air.
"No one's trying to miss a tackle," McCoy said. "I think when you have talented players in space, at times there's going to be a mismatch. We've just got to do a better job of it. We got exposed in certain plays there that made it look really bad. It's the basic fundamental of football. We've got to do a better job with it."
Smith scrambled six times for 29 yards.
"The reason we were missing tackles was them creating plays that put us in space and us not playing to our leverage," Jarret Johnson said. "You're not knowing where your help is and maybe you're overrunning it or just bad angles on your tackles. We have to be aware of where our help is. With these running backs, especially a running back like Jamaal Charles, it's going to be very tough to get him down in the open field by yourself. So you're going to have to play to your help."
"How do you fix that? It's a hard thing to explain. There's no doubt that we need to tackle better and we will. It's something we need to fix."
Flowers apparently sustained his concussion when he slammed into Charles at the end of the running back's 16-yard scoring run.
Flowers was examined on the sideline and then went back in for part of the next Chiefs offensive series before coming out for good.
"Just like any other time a player is taken out of the game, they're going to be evaluated and we're going to go through the normal protocol," McCoy said. "Any injury, it doesn't matter what that is, when the player comes to the sideline the medical profession makes the decision, our trainer, the other doctors that are there at the game, and they evaluate that. If they say the player can go back out there, the player goes back out. After further evaluation, he came out of the game."