SAN DIEGO — Three quarters of what has been a rare thing for the Chiefs — competitive football — were erased in a miserable fourth period for the team Thursday night.
The San Diego Chargers scored three touchdowns in the first 7 minutes of the final quarter, and that was more than enough to push them past the Chiefs 31-13. One of the touchdowns came when Matt Cassel was sacked and fumbled in the end zone, and another when his pass was intercepted by former Chiefs linebacker Demorrio Williams and returned 59 yards for a touchdown.
The Chiefs later turned the ball over for the third time in the period when Dexter McCluster fumbled a punt return.
“It got a little rough at the end,” McCluster said.
The Chiefs had trailed just 10-6 entering the final period.
The 1-7 Chiefs, who still haven’t led during a game this season, are off until their Nov. 12 game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh on “Monday Night Football.”
“We put ourselves in the position we’re in and the only way we’re going to get out of it is to fight our way out of it,” coach Romeo Crennel said. “We’re going to keep working and try to get it right.”
Crennel later said he wasn’t concerned for his job.
“I’m worried (only) about the next game,” he said.
Running back Jamaal Charles left the game in the fourth quarter because of a neck injury. Two other starters also left the game because of injuries. Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, playing his first game is more than a month, reinjured his calf and guard Jeff Allen has a possible concussion.
The game began just like the one between the teams in Kansas City a month ago, with the Chargers taking the opening kickoff and driving for a touchdown. The Chargers had third and 5 at their 25 but Seyi Ajirotutu beat Eric Berry in coverage and made a diving catch for a 28-yard gain.
Tight end Antonio Gates was the receiving star on the remainder of the drive, catching two passes for 35 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown from Philip Rivers to put the Chargers ahead 7-0.
The Chiefs then put together a 17-play drive highlighted by three Matt Cassel completions on third down and long. But the drive ended in a predictable way, with a turnover. Dwayne Bowe fumbled after catching a short pass and the Chargers recovered at their 22.
After San Diego’s Nick Novak kicked a 25-yard field goal to put the Chargers ahead 10-0 in the second quarter, the Chiefs put together another drive, this one to the San Diego 31. But on third down and one, Peyton Hillis was stuffed at the line of scrimmage and the Chiefs had to settle for a 49-yard field goal from Ryan Succop and a 10-3 deficit.
The Chargers threatened late in the half, moving to the Kansas City 1, where they had a third down with 21 seconds left. River faked a handoff but his intended receiver, Dante Rosario, was well-covered.
Eric Berry made an end zone interception to end the half and keep the score at 10-3.
The Chiefs had an opportunity to narrow that deficit in the third quarter after San Diego’s Eric Weddle fumbled a punt return and Cory Greenwood recovered for the Chiefs at the Chargers’ 24. But three plays gained just three yards and then Succop had his streak of 14 straight successful field goal attempts snapped when he was wide left on a 39-yard field goal attempt.
The Chiefs’ next possession started on their seven-yard line but runs of 10 and 15 yards by Jamaal Charles, 11 yards by Peyton Hillis and 14 yards by Matt Cassel helped put the Chiefs on the San Diego 28. From there, the drive again stalled and the Chiefs sent Succop on for a 41-yard field goal attempt.
He made this one and the Chiefs trailed 10-6.
The Chargers then stretched their advantage to 17-6 just 3 ½ minutes into the fourth quarter on a 13-yard pass from Rivers to Malcom Floyd, who beat Travis Daniels in coverage in the end zone.
If an 11-point lead wasn’t enough to seal the verdict for the Chargers, then soon added another score. Cassel was hit from his blindside in the end zone and fumbled. San Diego’s Shaun Phillips recovered in the end zone.
Then came the Williams touchdown. The turnovers were the 17th and 18th of the season for Cassel in seven games.
McCluster’s fumble gives the Chiefs a league-leading 30th turnover in eight games.