Broncos vs. Chargers: San Diego Is No Longer AFC West Favorite After Collapse

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystOctober 16, 2012

October 15, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) hangs his head on the sidelines after throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium. The Broncos won 35-24. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE
Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

The San Diego Chargers should be 5-1 and atop the standings in the entire AFC. Instead, they are 3-3 and tied for first place in the AFC West.

The Chargers collapsed late in the game against the New Orleans Saints last week, and they collapsed again on Monday night against the Denver Broncos, this time in historic fashion and in prime time.

The Chargers lost a 10-point lead in New Orleans last week and a 24-point lead at home to the rival Broncos in what turned out to be a 35-24 loss. In the last two weeks, the Chargers have been outscored 52-7 in the second half.

The collapse against the Broncos is just further indication that the Chargers aren’t ready to be a playoff team again. It takes an entire team to collapse as badly as the Chargers did on Monday night, and the coaching, offense and defense are all to blame.

Philip Rivers had six turnovers on Monday night, a feat not even Matt Cassel has replicated despite his team not leading for a single second of any game. Rivers’ team led by 24 yet head coach Norv Turner kept dialing up more passes, and Rivers kept throwing them to defenders.

Rivers wasn’t getting much protection, but turning the ball over when you are leading by more than two scores is just a recipe for disaster when the opposing quarterback is Peyton Manning. The Chargers could probably have endured one turnover, but six turnovers were just too much.

Two of Rivers’ passes were intercepted by Chris Harris; one of them was returned 46 yards for a touchdown that basically sealed the victory for Denver. Rivers was also intercepted by Tony Carter and Jim Leonhard, and he fumbled twice thanks to Elvis Dumervil. Carter returned one of the fumbles for a touchdown as well.

The offense was directly responsible for two of Denver’s touchdowns and partially responsible for a third because the Broncos started a drive at midfield. The defense was responsible for letting Manning score three touchdowns in the second half.

Manning only had one incomplete pass in the second half, and he spread the ball around to several different receivers. Manning is good, but the Broncos were behind four scores, were forced to pass and the Chargers couldn’t even slow him down.

The 24 points scored by the Chargers in the first half was fool’s gold. The offense only had one touchdown drive that went the length of the field, and it was extended by a defensive holding penalty.

San Diego’s offense was surprisingly inept for most of the game. The Chargers started one drive in the first half at Denver’s 17 and failed to get the ball in the end zone.

The lone bright spot for the Chargers was the play of Antonio Gates on offense. Gates caught six passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns, his first two scores of the season.

Unfortunately for San Diego, Gates can’t be the entirety of San Diego’s offense. Malcom Floyd, Robert Meachem and Ryan Mathews need to contribute more than they did against the Broncos.

The running game was particularly lacking, considering it was a great opportunity to run the ball with a big lead. Mathews finished with 22 rushes for 74 yards. Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle didn’t help much, contributing five carries for 16 yards combined.

The Chargers have three wins against teams with a combined record of 4-13 and three losses against teams with a combined record of 10-7. The Chargers have faced only one team with a winning record.

Lucky for the Chargers, they face three more teams with a losing record after the bye week before squaring off with the Broncos again in Denver in Week 11.