KANSAS CITY, Mo. —
Austin Ekeler acknowledged Tuesday that his shoulders still were hurting. His right gluteus maximus, as well.
But Ekeler and the Chargers are going to play Thursday anyway because, frankly, the NFL isn’t going to just sit there on both its maximus muscles when there’s money to be made.
Everyone understands that about this league, especially the players.
“I get it,” Ekeler said. “It’s just a money grab, right? It’s a business. It’s another opportunity for us to continue to increase our salary cap. So we’ll get out there and do it.”
Just four days after an emotional, draining game against Las Vegas, the Chargers will face Kansas City in a game that promises to be — yes, you guessed it — emotional and draining.
For a team rebuilt to make a push for the AFC West title, opening with two division opponents in such cramped fashion is quite a welcome to 2022.
“I can’t wait,” Ekeler said of his team’s annual return to Arrowhead Stadium. “I love playing in the noise out there. They’ve got a great culture around the Chiefs.”
Also, a great amount of success. Kansas City has won the AFC West six years running. The Chiefs no longer have wide receiver Tyreek Hill, but they still have quarterback Patrick Mahomes and coach Andy Reid.
The Chiefs opened the season by traveling to Arizona and scoring the most points of any team in Week 1 in a 44-21 victory.
The 23-point margin also was a league best and came as eight other games were decided by one score and Indianapolis and Houston ended in a tie.
Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill confessed he started watching tape of Kansas City last week, while his team was prepping to face the Raiders.
“It’s a tough deal because you don’t want to get too much crossover and kind of mix some things up,” Hill said. “You just try to write it down in your notebook and make sure that you can go back and register it for this week.”
Headlining this game will be Mahomes and Justin Herbert, and it’s easy to see why Prime Video wanted to feature this pairing to make its NFL television debut.
The two highlight-producing, bolt-slinging quarterbacks have met three times, with two of the games going to overtime and the other tied with less than a minute to go.
Herbert is 1-2 against Mahomes but 2-0 in Kansas City, Mahomes sitting out the Chargers’ 2020 visit because his team already had clinched its playoff position.
“These two guys being in the same division, both being young, it’s great for the game,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “Any time you have rivalries within a division, and then two quarterbacks like this, it’s really good for the game.”
Many of the Chargers defenders have faced Mahomes but not all of them. Lineman Morgan Fox will get his first glimpse.
Fox was a member of the Rams in 2018 when Mahomes and the Chiefs traveled to the Coliseum for a wild Monday night game that ended in a 54-51 Rams victory. Since he was hurt at the time, however, Fox was watching from home.
“Always excited to play against someone of that caliber, someone who’s that exciting,” Fox said. “He presents such a unique challenge with his arm and his ability to make plays off schedule. Should be fun.”
The Chargers are coming off a 24-19 victory over the Raiders, a win that featured Fox and his friends producing six sacks. Three came from Khalil Mack, who was making his debut with the team.
Mack has faced Mahomes once — on Dec. 22, 2019 — when Kansas City topped Chicago 26-3. Ten minutes into that game, Mack sacked Mahomes, the only time the two have met under such circumstances.
Despite his opening-statement performance for the Chargers on Sunday, Mack insisted he must improve.
“Not good,” he said when asked how he played. “Not good at all. Left a lot of stuff out there.”
Mack will have a chance to change his opinion of himself under the brightest regular-season lights the NFL offers, this being a setting in which the Chargers have produced stunning drama.
Their last four Thursday night games have been decided by — in chronological order — one, two, three and six points. Two in a row have gone to overtime, including that Chiefs visit to SoFi Stadium last December.
Along with all the other stakes, there’s also this: The Chargers are trying to start 2-0 for the first time since 2012.
“I feel like every game we’re in the spotlight, in the NFL,” Staley said. “You better feel that way when you’re in the NFL because you are only one of 32 teams playing.”