Sadly, this game was as easy to analyze as it was for the Falcons to move the ball all day. This was the team that Chargers fans feared would show up today. However, I’m not talking about the Falcons but the Bolts themselves.
It ended with two Philip Rivers interceptions and Michael Turner mimicking the touchdown celebration of the man he used to back up, LaDainian Tomlinson. But, it was a different game early and one that the Chargers once again took themselves out of.
Let’s look at the three plays that told the whole story of the game.
1. Ryan Mathews Has a Crucial Fumble…Again
Before the game, RB coach Ollie Wilson was trying to strip the ball from Mathews as he warmed up for his first action of the season. That’s how much of an issue his ball security is. But, the Falcons know “the book” on Mathews just as every other team does.
Down 6-0, Mathews started to heat up. The Chargers have gotten nothing from their running game, thus far. He barreled his way to a first down on the Charger first drive. With the Chargers looking at a 1st-and-goal, Mathews gained a few yards, but the ball was jarred loose. Just like their September game in Foxboro a year ago, the Bolts let the opposition off the hook.
2. Tony Gonzalez Kills the Chargers…Again
You could feel the air come out of the stadium after Mathews’ fumble. In fact, you could argue that the entire game turned right there. But Matt Ryan, who was rarely touched all day, needed to lead the Falcons 96 yards to make it official.
Actually, the Chargers sacked Ryan on third down, but a penalty on Atari Bigby nullified it. Like the aforementioned game against New England from a year ago, there appeared to be no pressure on the quarterback. When the Falcons finally got down near the Chargers’ goal line, Ryan found Gonzalez and Atlanta had a 13-0 lead.
3. Philip Rivers Makes a Poor Decision…Again
Rivers was frustrated, probably with his offensive line more than anyone. But on third down in his own end of the field, he forced a throw to Antonio Gates. It had to be reviewed, but Thomas DeCoud picked it off.
This was the Philip Rivers of a year ago. He wanted to jump start the offense but ended up making a foolish throw. Quarterbacks who wish to be “elite” have to throw the ball away in that spot. Strong performances only matter in the face of adversity. The Chargers will need Rivers to lead by example, even if Ryan Mathews continues to struggle protecting the ball.