Chargers vs. 49ers: Full Report Card Grades for San Diego
The gritty performance was highlighted by a 21-point comeback in the second half as the Chargers were forced to overcome some early adversity on the road. Keenan Allen and Ryan Mathews sat out with injuries, which left San Diego short-handed to start the game, but additional injuries during the contest made the come-from-behind finish an even greater accomplishment.
The win keeps San Diego in the hunt for a wild-card berth in the AFC at 9-6 with next week's regular-season finale in Kansas City still looming.
Here are the grades.
Philip Rivers didn't hide from the fact that his three interceptions nearly cost his team the game. He told CBS sideline reporter Jenny Dell, "Shoot, I was the main reason we were in this big hole, but it was awesome to fight back and win."
And fight he did with three touchdown passes in the second half, including the 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive he led in the final three-and-a-half minutes to knot the game at 35-35 in the fourth quarter. Rivers converted not one but two fourth downs on the pivotal drive, hitting Eddie Royal and Dontrelle Inman for 17-yard gains.
Rivers finished the night 33-of-54 for 356 yards and four touchdowns.
The effort from undrafted rookie Branden Oliver has been a treat to watch this season. Against the 49ers, he totaled just 53 yards on 13 attempts, but with each carry, his determination to fight for more yardage was something to be admired from the first-year back.
Veteran Ronnie Brown had a catch of nine yards followed by an 11-yard pickup on the ground during San Diego's game-tying touchdown drive in the fourth quarter and collected 22 yards rushing in overtime to move the Bolts into field-goal range.
The rushing attack finished with 98 yards on 24 attempts.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
Keenan Allen's absence due to injury forced several members of the receiving corps to step their game up in prime time.
Eddie Royal led the team in receiving with 10 catches for 94 yards and a touchdown while contributing a pair of fourth-down pickups in the second half with catches of 20 and 17 yards. Dontrelle Inman replaced an ineffective Seyi Ajirotutu coming out of halftime and finished with seven catches for 79 yards in his debut. The former CFL standout converted a 4th-and-10 with his 17-yard grab in the fourth quarter.
Malcom Floyd caught the game-tying score with 29 seconds left, bringing his total to 50 yards on four receptions. Antonio Gates hauled in touchdowns No. 11 and 12 on the season, one short of his career high.
Receivers had 19 of the team's 28 first downs.
The Chargers lost rookie center Chris Watt to an ankle injury in the first quarter and right guard Johnnie Troutman to a knee injury in the third quarter. Trevor Robinson stepped in for Watt, and undrafted rookie Jeremiah Sirles saw his first action in place of Troutman.
Despite injuries to two starters, the offensive line surrendered only two sacks, both of which came on the final drive in regulation. Dan Skuta's strip-sack nearly put an end to the game, but Chad Rinehart managed to recover for San Diego.
Rivers credited his O-line for the protection late in the game and took the blame for the second sack.
Defensive linemen made two of the biggest plays on Saturday.
Corey Liuget recovered a Bruce Miller fumble in the first quarter and pounced on another loose ball in the third quarter for a touchdown. His second fumble recovery came in the end zone with help from Ricardo Mathews, who slapped the ball free from Colin Kaepernick's grasp.
Sean Lissemore came up with the other huge takeaway, running down Quinton Patton's fumble from his defensive tackle spot in overtime.
San Francisco outmuscled the D-line at the line of scrimmage during Frank Gore's 128 rushing yards in the first half, but San Diego redeemed itself with turnovers and an improved effort to slow Gore down thereafter.
Missed tackles at the first and second levels were big problems early as the 49ers used their power run game to belittle the Chargers front seven. Even the team's best tacklers struggled to wrap up Gore in the first half as Melvin Ingram demonstrated on the 52-yard TD run by the 31-year-old back.
Ingram and rookie Jeremiah Attaochu had severe mental lapses just before halftime on the drive that produced Bruce Ellington's rushing touchdown. Ingram negated a third-down stop with a late hit on Kaepernick out of bounds, and Attaochu lined up in the neutral zone on another third-down stand a couple of plays later.
San Diego came out with a better second-half effort spearheaded by Manti Te'o, who finished with a game-high 11 tackles and a sack. Dwight Freeney had his legs taken out on an illegal chop block by Gore but responded with a half-sack of Kaepernick on the ensuing play to help force a turnover.
Long touchdown runs by Gore and Kaepernick went right by Eric Weddle, but the defensive captain delivered greatness in overtime with his game-changing tackle on Patton. Weddle capped the night with a 10-tackle effort.
Marcus Gilchrist also notched a forced fumble for San Diego.
Corner Shareece Wright left the game early with a concussion, opening the door for second-year man Steve Williams, who knocked down two passes.
San Francisco did limited damage in the passing game, totaling 114 yards on 15 passes by Kaepernick.
On a negative note, the Chargers continued to struggle with their kick coverage. Perrish Cox brought one back 57 yards and almost went all the way had it not been for the tackle by Williams.
Phil Dawson's field-goal try of 60 yards in the fourth quarter fell well short of the uprights, begging the question as to why Iron Bowl hero Chris Davis was not on the field to attempt a return. Mike McCoy whiffed on the rare opportunity for a kick-six.
The defensive effort in the second half was much better by John Pagano's defense, though Kaepernick gashed the unit for 151 rushing yards. The plan to keep San Francisco's quarterback contained in the pocket failed as he was given numerous alleys to escape through.
Frank Reich strayed from the excess of draw plays he typically likes to run, and the decision to pound it inside made for more positive gains. Even with the lead growing to two and sometimes even three scores, Reich didn't give up on the use of his backs and ran more pass plays when the situation called for it.
Early on, it seemed like things were taking a turn for the worse, but the coaching staff kept the ship afloat and pulled it together.
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Saturday's win would have been that much sweeter if the Chargers had taken care of business last week with Denver, as now they'll have to wait and see what happens in the AFC North on Sunday. If Baltimore loses to Houston, the Chargers are right back in the sixth seed because of a tiebreaker.