KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Philip Rivers called it the kind of game that could save the Chargers' season. Seyi Ajirotutu called its defining play the greatest catch of his career.
The once-embattled quarterback marched San Diego downfield against Kansas City on Sunday, then found his unheralded wide receiver on a 26-yard scoring strike with 24 seconds left, giving San Diego a 41-38 victory.
"It's one of those you'll never forget, that's for sure," said Rivers, who threw for 392 yards and three touchdowns against a defense that had been among the NFL's best.
The touchdown to Ajirotutu, on his only catch of the game and his third this season, answered one Alex Smith threw to Dwayne Bowe with 1:22 left. But there was one more lead change coming — the seventh of the second half.
"Philip said, 'Fly on the boundary,' " Ajirotutu said, "so I knew that's a little code word that he usually says that the ball's coming to you."
San Diego ended a three-game losing streak and joined a six-way logjam at 5-6 for the final AFC playoff spot.
Smith threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns for the Chiefs, who lost their second straight after a 9-0 start. They also lost top pass rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston to injuries, the week before a rematch with the Broncos.
Hali has a sprained right ankle and Houston a sprained left elbow, and Chiefs coach Andy Reid said both are due for MRI exams today.
"I'm not making excuses," Reid said. "The next guy has to come in and we expect them to step up and make plays."
San Diego gained 491 yards against a defense that had allowed more than 17 points just once: last week's 27-17 defeat in Denver.
Danny Woodhead had touchdowns rushing and receiving as he picked up the slack for Chargers running back Ryan Mathews, who left with a hamstring injury. Ladarius Green had a 60-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
Of course, Rivers made the entire offense sing.
"I'll tell you right now, we've got a great quarterback," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said.
The game turned into a back-and-forth nail-biter in the second half.
Kansas City took the lead at 28-24 on Smith's short pass to Anthony Fasano, but after the teams traded chip-shot field goals, the Chargers took it back. Rivers hit Green on a quick slant, and the tight end ran for his first career touchdown and a 34-31 lead with 7:50 left.
"That's what the game's all about," McCoy said. "When the game's on the line, who's going to come up and make the big play? Who's going to make the big stop?"