The San Diego Chargers looked bad to start the game (really bad), but ended up making it a competitive game in the 27-17 loss at Oakland Sunday night.
The Chargers never looked comfortable in the first half and were trailing, 24-3, after three quarters, but a furious fourth-quarter comeback was thwarted thanks to penalties, missed opportunities and turnovers.
Not a whole lot went right for the Bolts, and the loss was a team effort with multiple units contributing to the negative plays.
Looking at the box score would give the impression that quarterback Philip Rivers had a heck of a game. Most quarterbacks would be happy throwing for 411 yards, completing 36 passes on 49 attempts (73.5 percent) and two touchdowns, not to mention move into a tie for most touchdown passes in team history.
But looking at a football player simply through a box score would be incorrect.
The veteran signal-caller had his worst game of the season, throwing three interceptions.
The Chargers offense looked off for most of the night, and while there is plenty of blame to go around as to why, it is hard to argue Rivers was not a factor in the offense sputtering.
The first interception was like a punt, and it looked like the receiver cut off the route leaving the safety all alone to snag it with ease.
The next pick was absolutely Rivers’ fault, underthrowing the receiver in the back of the end zone. If Rivers had thrown that on target, it would have been a touchdown and made it a one-score game (27-24). At worst, even if the receiver dropped the ball, San Diego could have kicked a field goal to still make it a one-score game (27-20).
The last pick was an overthrow to a receiver being closely defended. The safety easily came down with the ball.
When given time, Rivers looked very good. When Rivers was on, the Chargers put together long drives. But San Diego also had 37 yards of offense in the first quarter and had three drives in the game where the team failed to get a first down.
The good looked great, but the bad looked really bad.
At best, Rivers was trying too hard to make plays, which ended up creating plays for Oakland.
At worst, Rivers’ bad decisions and bad throws gave Oakland momentum, confidence and an early lead, but they erased a late-game comeback attempt.
Ryan Mathews left early with what was reported as a concussion. He had three carries for eight yards and was never targeted in the passing game.
Mathews’ absence hurt the running game and possibly could have been a reason the offense, in general, looked bad in the first half.
San Diego had 32 rushing yards in the first half.
Ronnie Brown stepped in, and even though he picked up a crucial 3rd-and-1 in the second quarter, he finished with a dismal 11 rushing yards on seven carries (1.6 yards per carry). Brown added three catches for 21 yards.
Fullback Le’Ron McClain had a good lead block on Brown’s leaping first-down run in the second quarter but was a non-factor for the game.
Danny Woodhead was the Chargers’ leading rusher with 13 yards on nine attempts. He was also the team’s leading receiver with nine catches. He finished with 58 receiving yards and one touchdown. He ran hard and made defenders miss tackles, but his fumble in the third quarter was hard to overcome.
The Chargers defense was playing well to start the second half, and it looked like San Diego’s offense was getting on track when the ball popped out of Woodhead’s hands and into Charles Woodson’s hands. The veteran defensive back returned it for his 13th career defensive touchdown, tying an NFL record for most defensive touchdowns in a career.
The running backs, as a unit, finished with 93 total yards on 31 touches. Woodhead was responsible for 71 of those yards on 18 touches.
Even though he did have the touchdown, Woodhead also had the fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
Vincent Brown and Keenan Allen built on solid performances against Dallas last week with even better outings against Oakland.
Brown had a game-high 117 receiving yards on eight catches, and Allen was right behind him with 115 receiving yards on six catches. Allen also had a touchdown and was open for a touchdown in the back of the end zone when Rivers underthrew him for his second interception of the night.
Brown had a superb stop-and-go double move to get wide open for an apparent touchdown, but a penalty on the offensive line negated the score. Two plays later, Allen caught a pass over the middle and slipped into the end zone. Allen also had a touchdown catch negated after further review showed his knee was out of bounds.
Eddie Royal caught three passes for 26 yards, but he was the intended target on Rivers’ first interception. Only the coaches and players know for sure if Rivers threw the wrong pass or Royal ran the wrong route, but the two, obviously, had different ideas of what the play was supposed to be.
Royal did make defenders miss tackles, and he did help with blocks on quick passes to the sidelines, but he only finished with three catches while being targeted eight times. Even though it happened in special teams and will be judged there, his fumbled punt return set up a Raiders’ field goal.
Gates dropped a potential touchdown in the first half. Analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts said in the telecast that it was Rivers’ fault because the ball was a little too ahead of the tight end. The ball hit Gates in the hands, so it has to be caught. Period.
The fact that San Diego failed to score on the next play, a 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line, is not Gates’ fault, but that drop could have made it 14-7 midway through the second quarter. Instead, the horrible first half continued with the muffed punt return, and the Bolts went into the locker room down, 17-0.
Gates also looked disinterested while blocking on running plays. On too many plays, he was merely trying to shed defenders off with a shoulder instead of actually trying to block and create holes or lanes for the running backs.
Ladarius Green was targeted once, in the end zone on a corner route, but Rivers overthrew the ball. Green did have a heads-up play when he returned the blocked field goal for a first down.
The box score shows Rivers was sacked twice and hit twice, but the O-line was suspect for large stretches of the game and also responsible for costly penalties.
There were times when the line provided fantastic protection (like on the first interception), but there were other times when both tackles were pushed into Rivers or a defender was at Rivers’ feet.
The O-line was horrible at run-blocking.
Oakland was able to dictate the line of scrimmage and deny the Chargers running backs any clear lanes to run through. San Diego averaged 1.7 yards per rush. That is an average that the O-line should be ashamed of.
The O-line also did a poor job at attacking the linebackers. Kevin Burnett (14) and Nick Roach (12) combined for 26 total tackles, and the Raiders defense registered four tackles for loss.
Johnnie Troutman and Mike Harris were flagged for false starts, rookie D.J. Fluker was penalized for a body slam and undrafted free agent Nick Becton was illegally in the backfield on Vincent Brown’s touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The defensive line had an up-and-down game.
There were times when Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes were able to push the offensive linemen backward. There were times when they were going backward.
Liuget had some quarterback hits, and he finished with four total tackles to lead the D-line.
Reyes had the opportunity to recover a fumble but failed to fall on the ball, and Oakland retained possession. He did not register a tackle.
Reserve Sean Lissemore made plays, registering the only sack among defensive linemen and also smacking the running back behind the line of scrimmage. Jarius Wynn was offsides early in the first quarter, but the penalty was declined.
Nose tackle Cam Thomas got off blocks and finished with three tackles.
The defensive line, as a whole, finished with 11 total tackles, one sack and one tackle for loss.
But there were numerous times when linebackers had difficulty making plays because defensive linemen were being pushed into them.
The Chargers could not create a consistent pass rush without blitzing, which meant the secondary had to be man-to-man coverage. When facing a mobile quarterback, who was able to scramble, the receivers eventually got open for first downs.
San Diego’s defensive line has been a major disappointment all season.
Dwight Freeney’s presence was sorely missed.
Donald Butler, Manti Te’o, Bront Bird, Reggie Walker and Andrew Gachkar had a tough time at inside linebacker because the D-line was being pushed into them, and offensive linemen were allowed to run unimpeded at them.
Jarret Johnson, Larry English and Thomas Keiser had the hard job of containing Terrelle Pryor.
In the end, neither inside nor outside linebackers performed brilliantly.
Johnson led the team with two sacks and looked like the best overall defensive player for San Diego.
Butler led the team with eight total tackles, but he failed to make a big impact. His biggest play may have been preventing Pryor from running for a first down on a boot to the right. Butler was helped in his pursuit by Pryor being tripped up by one of his linemen and may not have made it to the outside quickly enough to stop the mobile quarterback from getting a first down.
The defense has failed to create turnovers. The team has one interception and one fumble recovery on the year. While it is the responsibility of the entire defense to create turnovers, the linebackers should be leading the charge in attacking the ball.
The secondary is not getting a lot of help from the front seven in terms of putting pressure on quarterbacks, but the defensive backs are also not covering very well.
Derek Cox could not keep up with Rod Streater on the first touchdown, and Marcus Gilchrist was late in helping out over the top.
Richard Marshall had good coverage most of the night but lost Denarious Moore on the second touchdown. No matter how much he protests, Marshall was not pushed by Moore on that play.
In general, Terrelle Pryor was allowed to look like John Elway, able to scramble and either run or pass for a first down.
Pryor completed 18 of 23 pass attempts for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 31 yards.
Pryor started the game 10-of-10 for 115 yards and two scores.
There was a muffed punt.
There was a blocked field goal.
There was a 30-yard kickoff return allowed.
The special teams did not look good.
On the bright side, Mike Scifres had both of his punts downed inside the 20-yard line, and Keenan Allen had an explosive 21-yard punt return.
Eddie Royal’s muffed punt only resulted in an Oakland field goal, but there is no telling what could have happened without that turnover.
Ladarius Green recovering the blocked field goal for a first down was a fortuitous bounce and nothing that should be truly celebrated.
Going for a touchdown on 4th-and-an-inch is not a bad move when your team is down, 14-0. There are good ways to go for it, and there are bad ways to go for it.
Putting the team in a spread formation and handing the ball off to the smallest man on the field did not look like a good decision, and the Raiders were able to stuff the run and create a turnover on downs.
Judging by his conversion on the 3rd-and-1 earlier in the drive, Ronnie Brown might have been able to jump into the end zone from four yards out.
The defense looked totally confused to start the game. It did seem like the team in general was ready to play, but the defense seemed to be caught off-guard that Oakland had a mobile quarterback, despite facing him in the season finale last year.
The team made adjustments at the half, the offense was able to move the ball and the defense was able to create pressure and contain Pryor’s bootlegs.
The coaches should be given credit for having the team fight back in the fourth quarter, but they should also be criticized for the hole that was dug in the first three quarters.