Little-known Chiefs rookie makes the biggest play in a huge win over Chargers

·5-min read

Everyone found Amazon Prime Video's stream on Thursday night to watch Justin Herbert vs. Patrick Mahomes. Instead, Jaylen Watson ended up being the star of the show.

Jaylen who? Watson was a seventh-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in this year's draft. He stepped into a big role for Thursday night's game because first-round pick Trent McDuffie was out due to an injury.

In a game full of big-name players, Watson made the play that decided it.

In the fourth quarter of a tie game, Watson picked off a Justin Herbert pass near the goal line and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown. That changed the entire game, as the Chiefs went on to a 27-24 win in a game that will loom large all season in the AFC West race.

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Before the biggest play of the game — and what will hold up as one of the most important plays of the season — Chargers tight end Gerald Everett was asking out after catching a pass inside the 5-yard line. The Chargers wanted to keep playing fast without a huddle, so they didn't sub Everett out of the game. That allowed Watson to jump inside of Everett on Herbert's pass and turn around a massive divisional game.

Maybe it shouldn't have been too surprising Watson made the game's biggest play, given his story of perseverance.

Jaylen Watson had a long road to the NFL

Watson's path to the NFL was far from a straight line.

He started at a junior college, Ventura College in California. He wanted to go to USC in 2019 according to the Kansas City Star, but a scholarship offer fell through and he was out of football for a year. During that year, he worked at Wendy's, where his mom was a manager.

“I love her to death, but it was terrible,” Watson said, according to the Star. “You get no breaks from your mom."

He ended up at Washington State and played two seasons there. He fell all the way to the 243rd pick of the draft. The Chiefs found a gem that late, because he impressed the team through the summer, worked his way up the depth chart and made the roster.

“I’m just a very resilient person (who’s) always been working for what I have,” Watson said after Thursday night's game, according to the Star. “I was never given anything. And I think that gave me an edge on the football field as well.

“So I just try to carry that edge, show some hunger, show some anger on the football field, and let it out on the opponents.”

Due to injury, he found himself starting in a huge game on Thursday night. Then he made a monumental play.

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

Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Jaylen Watson runs an interception back for a touchdown in a win over the Chargers on Thursday in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Jaylen Watson runs an interception back for a touchdown in a win over the Chargers on Thursday in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Not a high-scoring start

Thursday night's game was expected to be a high-scoring one with two of the NFL's most exciting quarterbacks, but both offenses struggled to score in the first half. The Chargers took a 10-0 lead, and the Chiefs answered with a nice sidearm touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to Jerick McKinnon. Both offenses were fairly efficient, but there weren't many big plays. Both defenses were focused on not letting the other team's strong-armed quarterback beat them over the top, and they mostly kept everything in front of them.

The Chargers struck right away in the third quarter. They picked up a fourth-and-1 on a strong Austin Ekeler run. Then Herbert floated one up to Mike Williams, who made a phenomenal one-handed touchdown catch. That put the Chargers ahead 17-7.

Mahomes came right back. Mahomes stepped up in the pocket and with a flick of the wrist he hit Justin Watson — who was in the game because Mecole Hardman came out before the play to get a heel injury checked out — 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 be a tight AFC West race all season.

Momentum shifts in the fourth quarter

The fourth quarter started with the Chiefs deciding whether to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. The Chiefs settled for a 19-yard field goal. It was a safe play, but it did tie the game 17-17.

It turned out well. The Chargers drove right downfield and got inside the 5-yard line on a catch by Everett. Everett was exhausted and wanted out of the game, but the Chargers were in hurry-up mode and he didn't come out. Everett faded a bit on his short route, allowed Watson to jump inside of him and catch an interception that he returned 99 yards for a score. It was the type of non-obvious mistake, ignoring Everett trying to get out of the game, that can decide a very important game.

The Chargers went three-and-out after that, and it was clear all the momentum the Chargers built up over three-plus quarters was gone.

Herbert had another chance, though he went down for a few scary moments after a hit. He got up and came back in after one play off, but got hit again on his next attempt and was grimacing as he got up, clutching his side. Herbert's two passes after coming back were incomplete and the Chargers punted with four minutes left. Clyde Edwards-Helaire snapped off a 52-yard run after that and the game was all but over. The Chiefs got a field goal to take a 10-point lead.

The Chargers scored with 1:11 left on a fourth-down pass from Herbert to Josh Palmer, but the Chiefs recovered an onside kick to wrap up the win.

The Chiefs were challenged by the Chargers, and could be pushed by them in the AFC West race all season. But Watson's pick-six stole the show. Chiefs fans will remember his name after Thursday night.