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Kansas City reigns over San Diego

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    Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles broke away for a 56-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
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    Chiefs rookie Dexter McCluster returned a punt 94 yards for a touchdown.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. » If the Chiefs keep this up, football will be fun again in Kansas City.

Desperate to proclaim an official end to one of the darkest periods in team history, the Chiefs hit San Diego with two long touchdown strikes and then stopped Philip Rivers in the shadow of the goal line four times in the final minute last night, preserving a 21-14 victory over the four-time AFC West champions.

"In rain and wind and really tough conditions, we were able to protect the football through the game," said second-year coach Todd Haley, whose Chiefs were routed by the Chargers twice last season. "I had that as No. 1 key for our offensive group. This is a big win for us. But it can’t be too big."

Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs had a 56-yard touchdown run after Rivers’ 3-yard TD pass to Antonio Gates put the Chargers on the board first. Then, rookie Dexter McCluster, a training camp sensation with quickness and flair, broke a team record by 1 yard with a 94-yard punt return TD for a 21-7 halftime lead.

"That’s the longest of my career at any level," said McCluster. "What better time than that — Monday Night Football in Arrowhead. You couldn’t ask for a better time."

Rivers, who has had some of his finest days during a five-game winning streak over Kansas City, victimized a young secondary for several long gains. Legedu Naanee was all alone when he hauled in a 59-yard scoring pass to make it a one-touchdown game with 2:23 left in the third quarter.

Rivers drove his team to a first and goal from the 4 in the final 2 minutes. His first pass was incomplete, then Darren Sproles lost 2 yards. Another pass sailed high. Then, with 39 seconds left, Rivers missed on fourth down and a rain-soaked crowd that hadn’t seen the Chiefs win on Monday night in 10 years erupted in cheers.

A pounding rain began falling in the second quarter, and it didn’t taper off until the start of the fourth.

"They made some big plays in all three phases," Chargers coach Norv Turner said. "They handled the environment in terms of the weather conditions. I thought they did a good job in handling that, particularly in the second quarter.

"The disappointment for me comes obviously from our (kick) coverage teams. We think that should be a strength for us and something we work hard at."

With the goal-line stand and the two long touchdowns, the Chiefs turned the game into the confidence-building coming-out party they had been hoping for since the schedule was announced in April. The Chiefs brought an end to a three-year period that saw them win a total of 10 games and go through a front-office housecleaning that brought in Haley and general manager Scott Pioli.

It was also a rousing official unveiling of what they are calling "the New Arrowhead," a $375 million makeover of the venerable stadium that seemed as loud as it had in the 1990s when Marty Schottenheimer’s teams were going to the playoffs year after year.

"The fans tonight, what a great energy out there," Haley said. "And this is how I visualize Arrowhead and it’s because of those people who were out there through some pretty difficult conditions. It didn’t look like too many were shying away from it."

Rivers was 22-for-39 for 298 yards and two touchdowns. Cassel, with a history of playing poorly against the Chargers, was 10-for-22 for 68 yards, including a 2-yard TD pass following a San Diego turnover.

 

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