Finally feeling the heat, Chargers' head coach Norv Turner opened up the passing game and San Diego's offense opened up a can of wup-ass on woeful Jacksonville as a result. The 38-14 win over the Jaguars ended a six-game losing streak for San Diego and kept the Chargers alive in the wacky, wild AFC West.
Philip Rivers played much better with the extra time provided by a reworked offensive line which included Tackle Jared Gaither, dropped by Kansas City only just last week. Running back Ryan Mathews also found plenty of running room against Jacksonville and the Chargers' defense played just well enough to effectively shut down what was a very one-dimensional Jaguar offense.
Although the Chargers playoff chances remain slim to say the least, the win may have saved coach Turner's job in San Diego for at least one more week.
With the exception of what amounted to a down-right pathetic performance in the second quarter, the Chargers' defense played well enough to win during the other three. The Jaguars' game plan was to attack San Diego's run defense with a double helping of Maurice Jones-Drew (MJD).
Meanwhile, MJD did what special players on bad teams do by putting the team on his shoulders and carrying Jacksonville as far as he could. As bad as San Diego's defense looked in the second quarter, they played much better with a lead. Rivers and the offense put up two touchdowns within the final two minutes of the first
half, then scored on the opening drive of the second half to take a seventeen point lead and the rest was history. The Chargers effectively took MJD out of the game by going up by more than two scores which allowed the defense
to be more aggressive while, at the same time, forcing the Jaguars to throw the ball. A good mix of run and pass plays on offense helped San Diego sustain drives just long enough to give the defense a rest and burn a little time off the clock.
What the Chargers demonstrated tonight was how playing with a lead can make a bad defense look average and a an average defense look good.
Each of the Chargers five wins this season have come against teams that are unlikely to make the playoffs this year. Although some might point out that they did beat Denver earlier in the season, that win came prior to the Tim Tebow era.
In any case, squeaking out wins against Minnesota, Jacksonville, the pre-Tebow Broncos, and an injury riddled Kansas City Chiefs team isn't anything to brag about. The truth is that the Chargers haven't beaten anyone this year—at least not yet.
That said, although another late-season run seems unlikely at this stage running the table would put the Chargers in a position to win the division. An inconsistent AFC West has all four teams within two games of each other. Of course San Diego would not only have to win out but would need some help in the form of losses by the Broncos and the Raiders in order to have a chance.
The Chargers and the Raiders will face off in week 17 with what very well could still turn out to be a game for all the marbles. That is, of course, assuming that Denver stumbles down the stretch and that Kansas City doesn't run the table either. Still, the Chargers are a combined 17-2 in December over the last four seasons and have made a habit of surprising everyone by getting hot at just the right time.
Possible? You bet.
In a bizarre twist of events that brought veteran offensive tackle Jared Gaither to San Diego, the Chargers' much maligned right tackle, Jeromey Clary, went back to where he belongs, as the offensive line's weakest link.
The return of guard Luis Vasquez and back up Tyrone Green certainly helped but it was the play of Gaither that made the difference, allowing the Chargers' passing game to take flight against the Jaguars.
After getting cut from Kansas City following last Sunday's game, allegedly for committing a false start penalty, Gaither came into to Chargers camp on Wednesday and started the entire game at left tackle against Jacksonville on Monday night. By all accounts, Gaither played a better game in his first outing for San Diego than starting All-Pro Marcus McNeill has all year.
The extra half a second Gaither's presence afforded Rivers allowed him the time to set his feet in the pocket and throw the football the way we all know he can. With Vasquez and Green now back, Chargers fans can at least look forward to much better play from the offensive line that they've seen in weeks, perhaps even all season.
And oh what a difference an extra half a second can make for an NFL quarterback. Rivers had one of, if not his best game of the year, with 300 yards through the air, three touchdowns, and no interception.
The extra time allowed Rivers to spread the ball around. Gates had a solid game with six catches for 70-yards and nailed Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd on multiple deep routes down field. Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews also found plenty of running room which set up the play action pass for Rivers.
Rivers' performance answered his critics, who were already questioning whether or not he could still run a vertical passing game at the same level he has in years past.
Second year running back Ryan Mathews had another stellar outing against Jacksonville and now has over 800-yards on the season with 4 touchdowns on only 165 carries. Mathews is on pace to be the first back to break 1000-yards, for the Chargers, since LT and could approach 2000 all-purpose yards before season's end.
On a team like Jacksonville, with a rookie quarterback and no real threat at wide receiver a player like Mathew's would almost certainly get another 5-15 touches per game. At 25-30 carries a game, Mathew's gaudy five yards per carry average, would put him squarely among the elite running backs in the league with 125-yards—plus a game.