The San Diego Chargers may have spent too much time focusing on Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles in practice last week. The two biggest offensive weapons not named Drew Brees were hardly a factor in a 31-24 loss.
The Chargers let a game they should have won slip away because of sloppy play on offense and defense. The pass defense was exposed, and the offensive line didn’t protect Philip Rivers so he could make big plays in the passing game.
On Brees’ record-setting night in which he passed Johnny Unitas for most consecutive games with a touchdown (48), he was able to blow through San Diego’s defense by throwing to his outside wide receivers Marques Colston and Devery Henderson. With Graham nursing an injury and Sproles rendered ineffective by his former team, Brees was forced to go outside.
It was a big passing night for Brees, who totaled 370 yards and four touchdowns. Henderson’s 40-yard touchdown catch helped Brees set the record, and Colston added three touchdowns while both receivers eclipsed 100 yards. Breakdowns in coverage by the Chargers enabled Saints receivers to run wild. It didn’t look like an improved Chargers defense on Sunday.
The Chargers offensive line also broke down in the second half and gave up five sacks, including the game-deciding strip with 14 seconds left in the game. The pressure on Rivers kept him from moving the ball effectively in the second half, and the Chargers scored just seven points.
Two plays were characteristic of the Chargers’ struggles on Sunday. The first was a roughing the passer penalty by Melvin Ingram that wiped out an interception that was returned 26 yards for a touchdown. The play without the penalty would have given the Chargers a 31-14 lead and effectively put the game on ice.
With 14 seconds left and Rivers driving to tie the game, Martez Wilson dipped around an obviously ailing Jared Gaither at left tackle to sack and strip Rivers. The play would seal the victory for the Saints. Gaither had no business being on the field if he was hurt. At the very least, the Chargers should have rolled additional protection to Gaither’s side knowing he was hobbled.
Gaither’s injury could be potentially significant if they have to start Michael Harris at left tackle again and further subject Rivers to the poor pass protection he received on Sunday night. Every concern about the Chargers manifested itself on Sunday night except one: Ryan Mathews.
Mathews lead the team in carries, with 12, and produced 80 yards and a touchdown. Mathews also added six receptions for 59 yards to lead the team in yards from scrimmage. Mathews again proved he’s a dynamic playmaker, and as long as the fumbling issues don’t pop back up, Mathews certainly looks like he can help the Chargers win games going forward.
The Chargers had a chance to take a commanding lead in the AFC West against a very beatable Saints team, and they squandered it with sloppy coaching and play. The Chargers play the Denver Broncos for first place next week, and Peyton Manning looks every bit as good as he was in 2010.