SAN DIEGO — Kansas City kicker Nick Lowery had just delivered what he called the most important field goal of his seven-year career, and the first person he thanked was Chiefs wide receiver Henry Marshall.
"My feeling was thank God Henry Marshall made that big catch," said Lowery, who kicked a 37-yard field goal to give Kansas City a 24-23 victory over the Chargers and spoil the debut of San Diego Coach Al Saunders.
Down 23-21 with 57 seconds remaining, Kansas City drove from its 31 to the San Diego 19 in five plays, with Marshall gaining 13 yards on Bill Kenney's fourth completion of the drive.
"There's a big difference between a 37-yard field goal and a 50-yard field goal," Lowery said. "This is the most important one I've made because this is the first time I think we have a team that can make the playoffs."
Kenney, who led the Chiefs to 24 second-half points, said the team was determined to make a comeback after being shut out in the first two quarters.
"In the second half, we made a concerted effort. This was our season. If we had fallen down, I don't know what would have happened," Kenney said.
Saunders, who took over the San Diego coaching job after Don Coryell's resignation Wednesday, was without his top two quarterbacks because of injuries. Third-stringer Tom Flick made his first NFL start and he was intercepted four times.
"We did not have Dan Fouts, we did not have Mark Herrmann. Tom Flick is a fine quarterback, but he has had a limited amount of opportunities to work," Saunders said. "Tom has not really worked with the offense since training camp. It's hard to get it in one week with all of the distractions."
A last-ditch effort by the Chargers to make Saunders a winner in his first game ended with Flick throwing his fourth interception of the game on the final play.
With the victory, Kansas City improved its record to 6-3, the team's best start in four seasons under John Mackovic. The Chargers fell to 1-8.
The Chargers, who led 16-0 at halftime, had regained the lead 23-21 on a one-yard bootleg run by Flick with 1:02 remaining.
Flick, a fourth-year pro, ran into the end zone untouched one play after completing a 17-yard pass to Wes Chandler to the Kansas City one-yard line.
The Chiefs had rallied from a 16-point deficit to take a 21-16 lead with 1:46 remaining on a one-yard touchdown run by Mike Pruitt.
Kansas City had pulled within two points on Kenney's second touchdown pass of the second half, a five-yarder to Emile Harry, with 7:43 to play.
Pruitt's touchdown came three plays after a 47-yard pass from Kenney to Harry that put the ball at the San Diego six as the Chiefs completed a seven-play, 67-yard drive.
Kansas City scored its first points of the game late in the third period on a one-yard pass from Kenney to running back Jeff Smith. The Chiefs began the 10-play drive at the San Diego 30 after Chiefs' cornerback Albert Lewis intercepted a Flick pass.
Lewis intercepted Flick a second time on San Diego's ensuing possession, but the Chiefs' drive stalled at Chargers six. A delay of game penalty pushed the ball back to the 11 before Jeff Walker blocked Lowery's 29-yard field goal attempt.
The kick, with 13:19 minutes remaining, was Lowery's first miss inside the 30-yard in his seven-year career.
The Chargers, scoring all their points off Kansas City turnovers, had opened a 16-0 halftime lead.
Kenney completed 21 of 32 passes for 287 yards, despite being harried all day by San Diego defenders who recorded seven sacks totaling 54 yards.
Flick completed only 4 of 17 passes for 42 yards with 1 touchdown. It was the second-lowest number of completions by a San Diego team in its 26-year history.
With their passing attack largely ineffective, the Chargers turned to the running game with Gary Anderson recording the first 100-yard game of the year for the team, gaining 100 yards in 25 carries.