Kansas City, MO - Rookie Dexter McCluster returned a punt 94 yards for a touchdown and Kansas City used a last-minute defensive stand to thwart a San Diego drive and hold on for a season-opening 21-14 win at a renovated Arrowhead Stadium.
Jamaal Charles broke off a 56-yard touchdown run for the Chiefs (1-0), who snapped a five-game skid against the Chargers.
In soggy conditions, Philip Rivers led San Diego (0-1) from its own 33 to the Kansas City four in final minutes. He converted a 4th-and-3 with a 12-yard pass to Legedu Naanee.
Rivers then threw incomplete to the left side of the field, and on 2nd-and- goal Darren Sproles was bottled up for a two-yard loss. Rivers tried to hit Malcolm Floyd on third down in the back of the end zone, but lobbed the ball too far and out of bounds. On fourth down, Rivers bought time but again fired to the back of the end zone for Floyd, who seemed to slip trying to cut back to the ball as it fell incomplete with 33 seconds remaining.
The last-minute stand was uplifting for the Chiefs in the first game for new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. The former head coach of the Cleveland Browns took over the reins of a Kansas City defense that finished 30th in the league in yards allowed last year.
Matt Cassel connected on 10-of-22 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown for the Chiefs, who are also under the guidance of former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis as their new offensive coordinator.
Despite the new coaches, the Chiefs, coming off a 4-12 campaign, compiled just 197 total yards to 389 for the four-time defending AFC West champions in the rainy conditions.
Rivers ended 22-of-39 for 298 yards with a pair of TDs for the Chargers, who started life without LaDainian Tomlinson, the leading rusher in team history. A major part of the team's identity over the past decade, Tomlinson bolted for the New York Jets in the offseason.
Rookie Ryan Mathews, a first-round draft pick, led the way with 75 yards on 19 carries. Naanee had five catches for 110 yards for San Diego, which was 13-3 a season ago.
The Chargers had to look for other offensive weapons in the season opener, especially in the absence of Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who is in a contract dispute with the club.
Tight end Antonio Gates did just that in the first quarter, catching a three- yard TD catch for a 7-0 San Diego lead inside two minutes remaining.
The Chiefs needed just three plays on the ensuing possession to tie the game with Charles busting off left guard and rumbling 56 yards to the end zone.
Mathews put the ball on the ground after a 15-yard run and the Chiefs used the turnover to their advantage midway through the second. Brandon Carr returned the ball 23 yards to the 12, and it took just three plays for KC to move in front as Cassel found rookie tight end Tony Moeaki for a two-yard TD grab inside six minutes left until halftime.
With just under two minutes to go, Mike Scifres out-punted his coverage, booming the ball 60 yards. McCluster, a second-round draft pick this year out of Ole Miss, veered left and made a tackler miss before going the distance for the longest punt return in Chiefs history.
The Chargers were held without a first down on their last seven possessions of the half. The punted on their first two touches of the third quarter, but Rivers' 59-yard TD pass to Naanee on a busted coverage capped a 91-yard march and had the visitors within seven points with 2:23 left in the third.
Rivers guided his team to the KC 32 midway through the fourth, but a 4th-and-9 pass intended for Naanee fell incomplete. The Chiefs then punted to give the Chargers one final chance.
A $375 million renovation project to the stadium was completed earlier this year...This was Kansas City's first win in the series since September 30, 2007...Charles finished with 11 carries for 92 yards...Gates had five catches for 76 yards...Before Monday, the Chargers had scored at least 20 points in 21 straight games...This was KC's first Monday night win since 2004...Thomas Jones, who played last year for the Jets, rushed 11 times for 39 yards for Kansas City.