Denis Poroy, Associated Press
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe tries to keep the ball inbounds after a reception near the end zone against the San Diego Chargers in the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011, in San Diego. Bowe scored a touchdown on the following play.
SAN DIEGO — As much as it hurt, the Kansas City Chiefs tried to stay positive after their third straight loss.
Yes, it was much closer than the first two. The Chiefs actually had a chance for an upset or at least forcing overtime, but Eric Weddle intercepted Matt Cassel with 55 seconds to play and the San Diego Chargers held on for a 20-17 win on Sunday.
"Obviously this one hurts more than I would say the other two do just because I thought our team battled out there," Cassel said. "It was a great division game.
"We did a lot of things good all day and as a quarterback, it's disappointing because you get the opportunity to be in that position you always want to be in, with the two-minute drill and moving the team down."
The defending AFC West champion Chiefs got the ball back at their 33 with 1:26 left after Philip Rivers was stuffed on fourth-and-1 at the Chiefs 34. Out of timeouts and hoping for a huge upset, Cassel threw for 24 yards to Leonard Pope to get into Chargers territory. On the next play, Cassel, under pressure and backpedaling, threw the ball right to the blitzing Weddle, who signed a $40 million contract in the offseason.
Ryan Mathews scored twice, and the uninspiring Chargers overcame two more interceptions by Rivers to improve to 2-1 for just the second time in Norv Turner's five seasons as coach. The Chiefs dropped to 0-3.
The Chiefs had been outscored a combined 89-10 in their first two games and were without stars Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki, out with season-ending knee injuries.
Coach Todd Haley said he felt his team showed some grit and will be able to carry it forward.
Still, he said, "this was a disappointing loss. All week we knew we had to play significantly better. And in a couple of key areas we did a bunch of that. And that's why you saw the game close there at the end with a possession and a chance to either tie or win the game. That was our goal as a team, to take a step. I thought we did that."
The Chargers let the Chiefs hang around almost until the end.
The Chiefs didn't get a first down until their opening drive of the second half, which Cassel capped with a 4-yard TD pass to Dwayne Bowe to pull to 10-7.
The Chargers responded with an 80-yard drive capped by Mathews' run to the right side for a 10-point lead.
After the teams traded field goals, the Chiefs pulled to 20-17 when Cassel found Pope on a 1-yard scoring pass with 4:58 to play.
The Chiefs were out of timeouts, and all the Chargers had to do was run out the clock. They went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Kansas City 34, and Rivers was stopped to give the Chiefs a final chance.
Mathews ran 21 times for 98 yards. Rivers was 24 of 38 for 266, his lowest total of the season. Cassel was 17 of 24 for 176 yards, two touchdowns and the one interception.
Rivers has thrown two interceptions in each of the first three games. Kendrick Lewis picked off Rivers and returned it 50 yards. The Chiefs got 15 more yards for unsportsmanlike conduct after a referee ran into a Chargers player on the sideline who was too close to the field. The Chiefs got to the San Diego 11 before a holding penalty pushed them back, and Ryan Succop was wide right on a 38-yard field goal attempt.
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Brandon Flowers had the other interception for Kansas City, along with a 43-yard return. He hurt his right knee on the play.
Rivers also fumbled on San Diego's second drive, but center Nick Hardwick recovered. Two plays later, Mathews scored on a 2-yard run.
Nick Novak kicked field goals of 35 and 41 yards for the Chargers. Succop kicked a 33-yarder for the Chiefs.
The Chargers were without tight end Antonio Gates (foot), strong safety Bob Sanders (knee) and rookie defensive end Corey Liuget (ankle).