Main menu


Little-known Chiefs rookie beats Chargers big

Everyone found the Amazon Prime Video stream to watch Justin Herbert vs. Patrick Mahomes on Thursday night. Instead, Jalen Watson became the star of the show.

Jalen who? Watson was selected in the seventh round of this year’s draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. With first-round pick Trent McDuffie sidelined by injury, he played a big role in Thursday night’s game.

Watson made a decisive play in a game full of big names.

In the fourth quarter of the tie game, Watson picked up Justin Herbert’s pass near the goal line and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown. It changed the whole game as the Chiefs won his 27-24 and loomed large all season in the AFC West Race.

[Watch Thursday Night Football on Prime Video: Sign up for a 30-day free trial]

Before it held up as the game’s biggest play, and one of the season’s most important, Chargers tight end Gerard Everett was asking after catching a pass inside the 5-yard line. The Chargers wanted to keep playing fast without a huddle, so they didn’t leave Everett out of the game. That allowed Watson to dive inside Everett on Herbert’s pass and turn the big division game around.

Given Watson’s tenacity, it may not be all that surprising that he made the biggest play in the game.

Jalen Watson had a long road to the NFL

Watson’s road to the NFL was never a straight line.

He attended Ventura College, a junior college in California. According to the Kansas City Star, he wanted to go to USC in 2019, but there were no scholarship offers and he hadn’t played football in a year. That year he worked at Wendy’s, where his mother was the manager.

“I love her to death, but it was terrible,” Watson said.

He ended up in Washington State where he played two seasons. He fell all the way to the 243rd pick in the draft. He found a gem late on as the Chiefs impressed the team all summer and made his roster up the depth chart.

According to Starr, Watson said after Thursday night’s game, “I’m a very resilient person. I’ve always worked for what I have.” And I think that gave me an edge on the football field as well.

“So I’m just trying to maintain that edge, showing hunger on the football field, showing anger, and trying to hit my opponent with it.”

The injury made him start the big game on Thursday night. He then made a monumental play.

“It’s a moment. I’ll never forget it,” he said after the game.

Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Jalen Watson will run an interception back for a touchdown in Thursday’s win over the Chargers in Kansas City, Missouri. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Not a high score start

Thursday night’s game was expected to be a high-scoring game between two of the NFL’s most exciting quarterbacks, but both offenses struggled to score in the first half. With the Chargers leading 10-0, the Chiefs answered with a nice sidearm touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to Jerrick McKinnon. Both offenses were fairly efficient, but they didn’t make many big plays. Both defenses were focused on not being beaten by the opposing team’s strong quarterbacks, and had pretty much everything in front of them.

The Chargers got off to a quick start in the third quarter. They finished 4th and 1st with a strong run from Austin Ekeler. Herbert then floated one to Mike Williams for a stunning one-handed touchdown catch, which gave the Chargers his 17-for-7 lead.

Mahomes soon returned. Mahomes stepped into his pocket and hit Justin Watson with a flick of the wrist — Mekor Hardman was in the game because he came out to check out a heel injury before the play — Deep downfield for a 41-yard touchdown. Even Mahomes’ old teammate Tyreek Hill was impressed.

It set up a tense finish between division rivals in what should have been a tight AFC West race all season.

Fourth Quarter Momentum Shift

The fourth quarter began with the Chiefs deciding whether to score the fourth goal from the 1-yard line. The Chiefs settled for a 19-yard field goal. It was a safe play but ended in a draw 17-17.

It went well. The Chargers ran right downfield and got into the 5-yard line on Everett’s catch. Everett was exhausted and wanted out of the game, but the Chargers were in rush mode and he didn’t come out. Everett faded a bit on the short route, before Watson dove inside him to catch an interception and return it 99 yards for the score. It was a non-obvious type of mistake, ignoring Everett trying to get out of the game, that could decide a very important game.

The Chargers then went three-and-out, and it was clear all the momentum they had built over three quarters was gone.

Herbert had another chance, but had some terrifying moments after the hit. He got up and came back after one playoff but was hit again on the next attempt, getting up with a frown on his face and grabbing his flank. Herbert’s two passes after coming back were incomplete and the Chargers punt with four minutes remaining. Then Clyde Edwards-Helaire scored his 52-yard run and the game was nearly over. The Chiefs fielded and he scored a goal to give him a 10-point lead.

The Chargers scored on a fourth down pass from Herbert to Josh Palmer with 1:11 remaining, but the Chiefs recovered an onside kick to close out the win.

The Chiefs were challenged by the Chargers and could be pushed by them in the AFC West races all season long. But Watson’s Pick 6 caught the attention. Chiefs fans will remember his name from Thursday night onwards.