CARSON, Calif. — For the first quarter and a half, the Kansas City Chiefs looked like maybe the best team in the NFL.
Alex Smith was crisp and accurate in throwing two touchdown passes. The Chiefs intercepted Philip Rivers three times, twice by Terrance Mitchell.
Then it turned into a defensive slog, before the Chiefs (3-0) came alive in the final minutes to put away a 24-10 victory against the Los Angeles Chargers (0-3).
Smith was excellent early, throwing two touchdown passes in the first 9 1/2 minutes against what used to be his hometown team.
Following a defensive struggle for most of the second half, the Chiefs had two high-impact plays in the closing minutes. First, Justin Houston broke through and sacked Rivers for an 11-yard loss. Then Hunt scored on a 69-yard run to seal the victory.
The Chiefs beat the Chargers for the seventh straight time and have won 12 straight AFC West games.
Afterward, they were self-critical.
“I feel like, man, we still haven’t put a great game together yet,” Houston said. “We left too many plays on the field. We not nowhere near where we need to be. I’m glad we’re winning. I hope the guys appreciate the win because it’s tough to come by, but to get where we going we’ve got to do better.”
The defending AFC West champion Chiefs want to go far deeper than last season, when they lost a home divisional round playoff game to Pittsburgh.
Some things to know from the Chiefs’ win against the Chargers at the 27,000-seat StubHub Center soccer stadium:
ALEX SMITH: “It was weird not playing the Chargers in San Diego,” said Smith, who played high school, college and NFL games at what used to be called Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. “I grew up with the San Diego Super Chargers, but it was cool to play here.”
He threw two touchdown passes in the first eight plays from scrimmage, a 30-yarder to Tyreek Hill and a 6-yard shovel pass to Albert Wilson for a 14-0 lead.
“There’s not too much good to talk about,” he said. “We didn’t make adjustments to what they were doing. But in the fourth quarter we came through, then the O-line made big plays. It seems like every game in this division comes down to the end. They’re all great rivalries.”
HUNT’S BIG RUN: Coach Andy Reid simply wanted the rookie to get a first down on first-and-10 from the 31. Instead, he took it to the house.
“He’s a young guy and it’s a tough thing to do. I told him we only need a first down but when you get out there and see the end zone in front of you it’s tough to stop,” Reid said. “He came over to me and said he should have gone down. I don’t want to ruin a good thing for him. He’s young.”
Hunt has six touchdowns, four rushing and two receiving, in his first three games, tied with Billy Sims (1980 Detroit Lions) and Dutch Sternaman (1920 Decatur Staleys) for the most touchdowns by a player in his first three games.
Said Hunt: “The offensive line did a really good job of shielding guys off and I was able to make one guy miss and I just went.”
RIVERS’ AIR WOES: It was the ninth time Rivers threw three interceptions. He led the NFL in pickoffs twice in the past three seasons, including last year when he had a career-high 21.
“It was a rough day,” Rivers said. “All three were throws, poor decisions. I just never got in any kind of groove the whole day. You hate to be the guy that let’s down the group. We Just have to get back up and get back to work.”
SAME BOLTS: A new locale hasn’t changed the Chargers’ fortunes. They’ve lost 26 of their past 35 games dating to the start of the 2015 season, and have lost 14 of their past 15 in the division.
“It wasn’t good enough,” said rookie head coach Anthony Lynn, who was hired the day after chairman Dean Spanos announced the team was leaving San Diego after 56 seasons. “You might say we’re the same ol’ Chargers, and right now we are. So we’ve got to go back to work, and we’ve got to get better.”
There were a few bright spots. Melvin Gordon scampered for an 11-yard TD run and Melvin Ingram had a career-high three sacks.
ANTHEM: With widespread rebuke around the league toward President Donald Trump for his obscene criticism of the kneeling by players during the national anthem in protest of social injustice, five Chargers either knelt or sat during the national anthem. Many of their teammates linked arms and stood, including team Spanos. About 10 Chiefs sat.