Sproles: It's Better To Know Him and Not Need Him Than Vice-Versa
For years, the late George "King" Stahlman Jr. was a legendary local icon as a bail bondsman. His advertising slogan was an unforgettable reminder that you better know whom to call if you ever found yourself in trouble and unexpectedly scheduled for an overnight stay in 'County'.
In a manner that only Mr. Stahlman could have appreciated, Darren Sproles bailed the Chargers out from their troubles and possible defeat against the Raiders in Oakland Monday night. His 5-yard touchdown run with 18 seconds left in the game allowed the Chargers to escape Oakland with a 24-20 win.
Sproles made huge returns in the first half to keep the Bolts in the game. He had kickoff returns of 66 and 59 yards in the first half. In addition to his game-winning touchdown run, Sproles had another 5-yard run and caught two passes. He finished with 246 total yards for the game.
The cliche that you have to play 60 minutes of football to win in the NFL was seldom more true in other games than it was in this one. It became clear from the outset that this game was not going to be a replay of past blowout wins against the Raiders.
Oakland established the run early as their offensive line consistently dominated the trenches and pushed the Charger defensive line back. The holes opened by Oakland's blocking allowed Darren McFadden and Michael Bush to become a one-two punch carrying the ball.
Luckily for the Bolts, Quentin Jammer intercepted a pass from JaMarcus Russell to Louis Murphy, killing the momentum of the Raiders' opening drive.
The Chargers soon found out that the reprieve that Jammer's pick provided would be short-lived. The Raiders defensive line, led by new acquisition Richard Seymour, would be just as dominant as their offensive counterparts were earlier.
As a result, the Bolts' opening drive stalled, putting their defense back on the field sooner than they would have preferred.
The Raiders continued to push the ball down the field as they had earlier, minus the interception. Bush eventually scored on a 4-yard run to put Oakland on the board first, 7-0.
Although the Chargers were unable to get their running game going, They were able to tie the game at seven in the second quarter on a 1 yard run by LaDainian Tomlinson. Both teams were tied 10-10 at halftime.
San Diego finally took the lead in the game when Vincent Jackson caught a touchdown pass from Philip Rivers. Jackson came back to the ball and pulled it in to make an impressive catch. The Chargers led 17-13, but it was far from over.
Russell threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Murphy on a blown coverage by the Charger secondary. It was deflating emotionally to see Murphy all alone while Antonio Cromartie and Clinton Hart did their best imitation of Life Cereal's Mikey ad with Murphy: "I don't want to cover him, you cover him..."
Ultimately it was the talent of the Chargers that prevailed as Rivers provided a textbook example of how to run a two-minute drive when the Chargers took over with 2:34 left. In addition to the catches and runs by Sproles, Rivers also hit Legedu Naanee on two passes, including a shoestring grab where Naanee never broke stride.
If there were any doubts about whether Rivers deserved the huge new contract he signed recently, there should not be any now. It takes a lot of poise to pull off a drive like that when the fans at the Coliseum tasted blood.
While it was nice to win a difficult game like that, there's plenty of reason for concern. Oakland's ability to dominate the line of scrimmage like they did tonight does not bode well for San Diego when it comes time for them to play teams like the Ravens, Steelers and Giants.
The line that struggled as a healthy unit earlier in the game suffered injuries. Nick Hardwick had to leave the field on a cart after suffering an apparent knee injury. Louis Vasquez left the game and did not return after he was injured.
Assuming that the so-called skill players continue to perform at a high level, the Chargers' success this season is going to come down to how well they perform in the trenches.
Unfortunately, tonight's game was not a good start towards that goal. The defensive line failed to stop the run, and there was only one sack.
Shawne Merriman does not look to be at full speed after rehab from his knee injury.
To the Chargers' credit, they avoid talk about Super Bowl predictions, but need to do more to get deep into the playoffs.
Getting Hardwick back as soon as possible and playing with the fire and passion like the Raiders did tonight would be a good start.
It would also help to avoid breakdowns on assignments and reality show stars named after adult beverages.
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