Smith, Chiefs knock off Chargers to win AFC West title, earn bye in upcoming NFL playoffs

The 2016-17 NFL playoff pairings have been set following the conclusion of regular season play.

Two wild card playoff games will be played on Saturday, Jan. 7, and two more on Sunday, Jan. 8, to kick off this year’s single-elimination playoffs.

The winners of this weekend’s games advance to the divisional playoffs the following weekend.

By virtue of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 37-27 victory against the host San Diego Chargers on Sunday, the Chiefs – led by quarterback Alex Smith, a San Diego County high school product who grew up in South County — received the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and will host a divisional round game on Jan. 15 (5:20 p.m. PT on NBC-TV).

“For us it was such a big swing from potentially playing on the road in the wild card to a bye and hosting a game,” said Smith, who grew up in Bonita and attended Bonita Vista Middle School before graduating from Helix High School. “There was no in between out there. It was a big swing.

“We took care of our end and obviously we got some help from Denver (in defeating the visiting Oakland Raiders to allow the Chiefs to win the division). It was pretty sweet seeing that score there at the end. We got our deal sealed up and let it sink in a bit.”

Kansas City, which finished 12-4 atop the AFC West standings, will host the highest-seeded advancing team from the wild card round. That could be the third-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers, fourth-seeded Houston Texans or fifth-seeded Oakland Raiders.

Sixth-seeded Miami (10-6) will play at Pittsburgh (11-5) in Sunday’s wild card round (10:05 a.m. PT on CBS-TV).

On the other side of the AFC playoff bracket, Houston (9-7) will host Oakland (12-4) in Saturday’s wild card game (1:35 p.m. PT on ESPN).

The top-seeded New England Patriots (14-2) will host the lowest-seeded advancing team from the wild card round in the divisional round. That could be Miami, Houston or Oakland.

The two NFC wild card matchups feature the third-seeded Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) hosting the sixth-seeded Detroit Lions (9-7) on Saturday (5:15 p.m. PT on NBC-TV) and the fourth-seeded Green Bay Packers (10-6) hosting the fifth-seeded New York Giants (11-5) on Sunday (1:40 p.m. PT on FOX-TV).

The Dallas Cowboys (13-3) are the top-seeded team in the NFC playoff bracket, followed by the second-seeded Atlanta Falcons (11-5).

The AFC champion will meet the NFC champion in Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5 in Houston.

The Cowboys could conceivably advance to the Super Bowl without leaving the state of Texas.

The Chiefs, under Smith’s leadership, have qualified for the NFL playoffs in three of the last four seasons.

Kansas City lost a 45-44 heartbreaker at Indianapolis in the wild card round to end the 2013-14 season. The Chiefs flattened the host Texans in last year’s wild card round before ending their season with a 27-20 loss to the Patriots in the divisional round.

Smith suggested having the home field advantage for the team’s opening playoff game – and a first-round bye – would be advantageous this year.

“To get healthy, have a bye and get a home game – it’s obviously a different road than we’ve traveled before,” he explained. “We still don’t know what’s ahead of us — who we will play from the wild card round — but we have a chance to get healthy and get a home game.”

Smith ran for one touchdown and passed for two more in helping guide his team past the Chargers in the teams’ final regular season game. He passed for 264 yards by completing 21 of 29 attempts and rushed six times for 21 yards.

Smith threw a pair of TD passes to Charcandrick West (five catches, 58 yards).

Smith was intercepted once in the game – and that was returned for a 90-yard touchdown by the Chargers Jahleel Addae to trim the KC lead to three points.

Smith said the turning point in the game for him was leading the Chiefs down the field on their next possession for a touchdown to put the visitors ahead 27-17 on the scoreboard.

“To be able to come back and drive down the field and score right after giving up that touchdown — the ball was tipped and (Addae) made a great play — was very satisfying,” he explained, smiling.

Smith enters the divisional playoffs having completed 328 of 489 passes this season (67.1 percent) for 3,502 yards with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s been sacked 28 times. He finished regular season play with a 91.2 quarterback rating.

The Chiefs finished 6-0 against AFC West teams this season, something that Smith and his teammates are obviously proud of. Loud cheers could be heard coming from the Kansas City locker room after the game.

“It was pretty awesome,” Smith explained. “To win the division was special as well. This was something this group hadn’t done.

“It was crazy to sweep the division. That’s not something you ever anticipate doing. It’s been tough the last few years. Obviously you had the world champs last year in it. It’s been a competitive division. For us, we take a lot of pride in finally getting over that hump this year.”

KC head coach Andy Reid was very positive about his team’s performance against the Chargers.

“It was a good win all the way around – I thought all three phases contributed,” Reid acknowledged in a post-game press conference.

Reid said he was pleasantly surprised – and inspired – by the large number of Chiefs fans who filled one half of Qualcomm Stadium.

“Phenomenal,” he said. “The sea of red was here, man, they were thick. When I walked out for the game at the beginning there I saw nothing but red, impressive. We appreciate that.

There will be a new Super Bowl champion in 2017 after both the defending champion Denver Broncos failed to make this year’s playoff field.

Smith passed for 244 yards and one touchdown while also running for a score in the Chiefs’ 33-10 defeat of Denver on Christmas night in a nationally televised game on NBC-TV’s “Sunday Night Football” that eliminated the Broncos from playoff contention.

Smith and the Chiefs, in fact, defeated Denver twice this season in nationally televised prime time games.

Should Kansas City draw Pittsburgh in the divisional round, it would be a rematch from a nationally televised game won 43-14 by the Steelers in their home stadium during Week 4. Smith said much has changed since that early season game.

“Every opportunity and challenge is different,” he explained. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves but I think this team understands how far we’ve come from that game. It was early on in the season. We’ve got a chance to learn form it, look at it. It’s a different scenario: we’ve got them potentially at our place. A lot has gone on since then.”

He continued: “The games we’ve played, not only this year but last year, all those battles help you as you go forward … Every Sunday is different. We enjoy that challenge.”

Kansas City and New England have not met this season.

Pittsburgh and New England enter the playoffs on seven-game winning streaks.

Reid said his team is not taking anything for granted.

“To get this (division title) is a tribute to the guys’ hard work and overcoming things,” Reid said. “They’ve learned from each one of the losses and really the wins, too, you never come out having played the perfect game by any means,” he said. “There’s always something to learn. There’s always more work to do.

“The Pittsburgh game, they got after us as well as anyone did. You take what you take from it and move on.

All the Chiefs players are expected to play in the upcoming divisional playoff game. Kansas City finished with an impressive season defensively as the team defeated six top tier quarterbacks: Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Oakland’s Derek Carr (twice), San Diego’s Philip Rivers (twice), Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck and Carolina’s Cam Newton.

The Chargers finished the season 5-11 at the bottom of the AFC West standings for the second consecutive year. The team ended the season on a five-game losing streak.

The Bolts took an early 3-0 lead in Sunday’s game on the strength of a 35-yard field goal by Josh Lambo. The Chiefs tied the game, 3-3, on a 35-yard field goal by Cairo Santos with 5:23 left in the opening quarter.

The Chargers scored the first touchdown of the game on a two-yard pass from Rivers to Antonio Gates five seconds into the second quarter.

Kansas City tied the game 10-10 on Smith’s five-yard scamper around left end two minutes later and moved ahead 17-10 after Smith hit West on a four-yard scoring pass to conclude a nine-play drive.

Santos kicked a 25-yard field goal with five seconds to play in the first half to give the visitors a 10-point lead at 20-10.

The Chargers made it a game on Addae’s interception return with 4:27 elapsed in the third quarter. Smith attempted a short pass to the right that was tipped and the ball veered away from the intended KC receiver to Addae, who broke the other way, weaving to his right for the 90-yard scoring play.

Chiefs 20, Chargers 17.

But the Chiefs pulled ahead 37-17 as Smith hit West on a two-yard touchdown pass with 3:53 left in the quarter and rookie speedster Tyreek Hill returned a punt 95 yards for a touchdown with 1:20 remaining in the quarter.

Hill accelerated down the sideline to score his 12th TD this season (six receiving, three kickoff, two on punt returns and one on a kickoff return). He’s a candidate for the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

Santos added three more points on a 37-yard field goal.

The Chargers closed out scoring in the game on a 29-yard field goal by Lambo and a 12-yard scoring pass from Rivers to rookie tight end Hunter Henry.

Santos finished the game with three field goals and four extra-point conversions for 13 kicking points.

Rivers passed for 269 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Gates (five catches, 55 yards) and Henry (four catches, 43 yards) each caught TD passes. Lambo kicked a pair of field goals while successfully tacking on three extra-point conversions.

Rivers finished the regular season with 4,386 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, 21 interceptions and a final 87.9 quarterback rating.

Many fans wonder if Sunday’s game will be the last played by the Chargers in San Diego. The Chargers have until Jan. 15 to exercise their option to move to Los Angeles.

Extra points

Denver finished in third place in the AFC West standings with a 9-7 record. The Broncos kicked off the season 4-0 but dropped seven of their 12 remaining games.

Oakland and Kansas City tied with 12-4 records but the Chiefs defeated the Raiders in both divisional meetings to win the tiebreaker for the division title.

Green Bay defeated host Detroit, 31-24, on Sunday night to win the NFC North championship and secure a home playoff game in the wild card round against the New York Giants.

Green Bay won its final six games to clinch a playoff berth. Aaron Rodgers threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns and a 126.0 quarterback rating in the regular season finale over the Lions. Rodgers finished regular season play with a NFL best 40 touchdowns to go with 4,428 passing yards, seven picks and a 104.2 QB rating.

Gates now has 111 career touchdowns. The total ties him with former Kansas City great Tony Gonzales for the most by a tight end in NFL history.

The Chargers fired head coach Mike McCoy after the game. McCoy led the Chargers on the sideline for four seasons. He finished 9-7 in each of his first two seasons before compiling a 4-12 record in a disastrous 2015 campaign and finishing six games under .500 this season.

McCoy led the Chargers to the playoffs in just one of his four seasons at the helm.

“Mike McCoy is a man of high character, and we thank him for his dedication to the Chargers,” Chargers President- Football Operations John Spanos explained. “The decision to dismiss Mike was made in the best interests of our franchise. Our team’s disappointing performance has not matched this team’s potential and has fallen short of the demanding standards that we seek to impose throughout our organization. Our comprehensive search for a new head coach begins immediately.”

“I want to thank Mike for his tireless work and commitment to this organization,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said. “He instilled a culture of work ethic and togetherness that we can build on for years to come.”

San Diego has struggled against its AFC West opponents, recording a 7-17 record over the last four seasons.

San Diego team awards

The Chargers voted on their team awards prior to the end of the regular season on Dec. 29.

Cornerback Casey Hayward was named MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.

Also honored were Melvin Gordon (Offensive Player of the Year), Darrell Stuckey (Defensive Player of the Year), Matt Slauson and Joey Bosa (co-Linemen of the Year) and Brandon Mebane (Most Inspirational Player).

Hayward is only the third defensive player in the last 15 years to be named team MVP, joining Jamal Williams in 2008 and Eric Weddle in 2012. Hayward is headed to his first career Pro Bowl as he leads the NFL in interceptions and passes defensed.

Hayward has a league-leading seven interceptions and also tallied 52 tackles and 23 passes defensed in 15 games.

It was a breakout season for the Chargers running back Gordon, who became one of the NFL’s top running backs. Gordon entered the final regular season game just three yards shy of 1,000 on the year after carrying the ball 245 times for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 41 passes for 419 yards and another pair of scores.

For the third time in four years, Stuckey, the Chargers’ special teams captain, took home the hardware. Despite commanding constant double and triple teams as one of the top gunners in the NFL, Stuckey’s seven special teams tackles rank third on the team.

In his first year as a true center, Slauson, an eight-year veteran, brought toughness to the Bolts’ offensive line in 2016 as he became the first center to win the award since Nick Hardwick. Slauson’s started every game this season as the Bolts have rushed for nearly 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns, while helping quarterback Philip Rivers pass for more than 4,100 yards and 31 scores.

The third overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Bosa leads all NFL rookies with 9.5 sacks. The defensive end also has 42 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 42 pressures and 12 QB hits. Three times this season, Bosa has recorded multiple sacks in a game.

Signed to a three-year contract in the opening hours of free agency, it didn’t take Mebane, a veteran nose tackle, long to emerge as the heart and soul of the Chargers defense. Voted a team captain in his first year in San Diego, Mebane appeared in 10 games before a biceps injury prematurely ended his campaign.

While he was a game-changer on the field, recording 35 tackles, 15 pressures, six QB hits, one sack and his first career interception, his leadership in the locker room proved invaluable.

Madison’s Jackson named Chargers High School Coach of the Year

The Chargers have nominated Madison High School head coach Rick Jackson for the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award. Representing the best at the high school level, Jackson was nominated for the national award, named for the winningest coach in NFL history, for his character and integrity, leadership and dedication to the community, commitment to player health and safety and on-field success.

Jackson led the Warhawks to an impressive 11-2 regular season record and the school’s second CIF state championship title in five years with a victory against the San Jose Valley Christian Warriors.

Prior to the state championship game, Jackson rallied his team to a dramatic 35-31 come-from-behind win in the San Diego Section Division I title game at Southwestern College against powerhouse St. Augustine High School after trailing 31-7 at halftime.  A week later, Jackson’s Warhawks staged yet another amazing comeback in the first round of the Division II-AA playoffs against Calabasas High School. Trailing 47-28 in the fourth quarter, the Warhawks rallied to win, 60-53, in overtime.

For his outstanding achievements, Jackson was named the 2016 Chargers Coach of the Year and received an additional $2,500 donation from the NFL team for his school’s athletic department.

Jackson is also the school’s athletic director and a Heads Up Football Master Trainer. He has lead multiple Player Safety Coach Clinics for San Diego County coaches, and was also instrumental in helping San Diego Unified School district become a Heads Up Football certified district.

“Coach Jackson is an outstanding leader, both on and off the field and we’re delighted to nominate him for this prestigious award”, said Chargers Director of Public Affairs & Corporate/Community Relations Kimberley Layton. “As a head coach, Rick has taught his players how to overcome huge adversity by never giving up.

“Off the field, his leadership within the local Heads Up Football program has made him a go-to trainer for the region, demonstrating his true care and concern for the well-being of not only his players but of all this county’s youth and high school football players.”

Jackson will be invited and recognized in special ways during the NFL’s weeklong celebration of football at the 2017 Pro Bowl in Orlando. He will also visit Pro Bowl practices, participate in the USA Football National Conference and attend the Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium.

Two finalists will each receive $15,000 from the NFL Foundation — $10,000 of which will go to their high school’s football program.

The Shula Award winner will be announced during the third quarter of the 2017 Pro Bowl, airing Jan. 29 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN, and will receive an additional $10,000 from the NFL Foundation — $5,000 of which will go to his high school’s football program.

The winner will be recognized at a press conference on Feb. 3 during Super Bowl week in Houston and walk the red carpet at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special airing nationally on FOX on Feb. 4, the night before Super Bowl LI.

The winner is selected by a panel of distinguished individuals that includes two-time Super Bowl champion (XLI, 50) and five-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning.


NFL playoffs

Wild card round

Saturday, Jan. 7

Houston 27, Oakland 14


Seattle 26, Detroit 6

Sunday, Jan. 8


 Pittsburgh 30, Miami 12


Green Bay 31, New York Giants 13

Divisional round

Saturday, Jan. 14

(3) Seattle (11-5-1) at (2) Atlanta (11-5), 1:35 p.m. PT FOX-TV
(4) Houston Texans (10-7) at (1) New England Patriots (14-2), 5:15 p.m. CBS-TV

Sunday, Jan. 15
(3) Pittsburgh (12-5) at (2) Kansas City (12-4), 5:20 p.m. NBC-TV
(4) Green Bay (11-6) at (1) Dallas (13-3), 1:40 p.m. FOX-TV