Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers' Passing Game Sharp in Loss to Atlanta Falcons

William RisserCorrespondent IAugust 30, 2009

ATLANTA - AUGUST 29:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers argues an intentional grounding call during the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on August 29, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  The Falcons beat the Chargers 27-24.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

It was deja-vu all over again, as they say. The San Diego Chargers found themselves in a similar position: defending a fourth-and-goal up by more than a field goal in the closing seconds of the game. 

So when the Falcons scored the game winning touchdown on a five yard pass with nine seconds to play, you couldn't help but think about how Week One ended last season.

Losing in the final seconds to the Carolina Panthers on opening day got the Chargers' season off to a heartbreaking start. Just the kind of start they're hoping to avoid this year. 

The 27-24, loss to the Falcons Saturday night underscored how crucial every play is, even if it's just the preseason. The second half collapse overshadowed an otherwise stellar performance that saw the Chargers take a 21-13, lead into the half.  

The offense was without Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson but didn't miss a beat while the defense held it's own despite not creating any turnovers or getting any, and I mean any, pressure on Atlanta passers. 

Having to be relatively pleased, Coach Turner pull most of the starters by halftime giving some other players a gook look. And with no injuries of note, the game has to be seen as a success. 

Having Dan Fouts in the booth for first of five nationally televised Chargers games was a nice touch. He had some sweet Chargers trivia  questions that Gumbel, whichever one it was, had no clue on. 

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Here's how I saw the Chargers grading out by position tonight: 

Quarterbacks: A

Another ridiculous performance showcasing the riches the Bolts have at the position. In the first half the Chargers were seven-for-eight on third down conversions and I'm not talking third and short situations. 

These were third and 13, third and 24, third and 17 conversions on the same drive. Too many get out of jail free cards if you ask me. There are only so many times you can pull the rabbit out of the hat. Let's just hope they don't think it's always going to be this easy.

That said, There aren't a lot of down and distances this offense can't convert, they're that good. Rivers and Billy Volek both averaged over 11 yards per attempt, a huge number, in another example of the down the field mentality. The two QBs also spread the ball around, connecting with nine different receivers in the first half. 

Receivers: A

Was there a catch they didn't make? Vincent Jackson's 32-yard, one-handed, pirouette-catch down the left sideline was masterful. He's going to have a big year. 

Malcom Floyd had a very strong game catching everything thrown his way. Got slammed, but that's going to happen the way he plays. 

Buster Davis also made some nice catches in what is looking like the deepest receiving corps the Chargers have had in years. 

Running Backs: B+

A very productive night for this group, who combined for 118 yards rushing on 30 carries, a touchdown and no fumbles. It was also screen pass madness out there with backs catching 11 balls for 149 yards and a touchdown.

Have the Falcons ever seen a screen pass? It didn't look like it. 

Darren Sproles makes people miss like few others running it or catching it. I do worry about him getting overworked, but there's no doubt he's the best change of pace back in the NFL

Michael Bennett is underrated big time. Still has the speed too, taking a screen pass 48 yards to the house. It was clear in last season's playoffs that Bennett was valuable, but I don't think a whole lot of people saw him being this good.

Rookie Gartrell Johnson ran hard, hitting the hole with conviction. He took some shots and delivered some as well. Caught the ball well and broke off a 48 yard run late. If Johnson looks this good next week it could be interesting at the back-up running back position.

And it may be Jacob Hester who is the odd man out. He looked slow and tentative running the ball against Atlanta's second team. He wasn't exactly blowing people up at fullback either. 

Offensive Line: C+

After the sack-fest debacle last the line's pass protection improved greatly. The only sack which came off a corner blitz which the Chargers had trouble with throughout the night.

Anyone think the Ravens, Dolphins, or Steelers might call a corner blitz? This unit better be ready for it all once the season starts. They are going to see some crazy defenses coming at them from all angles. 

The holes opened in the running game were gaping compared to first two games. Backs were able to get to second level of the defense due to good point of attack blocks.

Third-round pick Luis Vasquez, who struggled mightily last week, looked much improved. Had a nice block on Sproles' TD run and really got out in front of the screen plays well. If Kynan Forney's neck sprain doesn't improve he may be losing the starting right guard spot. 

Alas there were just too many penalties called on everyone along the line. Of the eight penalties for 70 yards, almost all were on linemen. While it seldom made a difference, due to the offense's ability to rip off big play after big play, it was plain sloppy.

Defensive Line: C

Ok, they get a mulligan. Luis Castillo was the only regular to start the game with Ryon Bingham, Jacques Cesaire, Vaughn Martin, and Jamal Williams not playing. Young players like Andre Coleman and Ngembi Owagbuo filled in respectably but were not a force in the run or pass game. 

Linebackers: B-

No pass rush from Shawne Merriman or Shaun Phillips. None. This is becoming a trend that could be a problem. No pressure, no mistakes, and thus, no turnovers. This defense is at its best when the linebackers are forcing offenses into things it doesn't want to do. That's not happening.

San Diego may have to get a lot more creative with blitzes and stunts or be prepared to win some shootouts. Matt Ryan, with the threat of Michael Turner toyed with the defense at times. And when the blitz was on, it was disguised poorly and picked up easily. 

The timing will come, hopefully, and when it does this unit has a chance to be something special.

First-round pick Larry English finally saw his first action and looked fast, nearly getting to the quarterback a couple times. English was the only Charger able to repeatedly bring pressure. He rushed from two and three point stances showing off his versatility. I'm looking forward to seeing more. 

Kevin Burnett had six tackles and exhibited more splendid physical play. It's over for the starting spot. Tim Dobbins will be a very good back up that will make some plays but Burnett is on another level.

Secondary: B-

The battle at strong safety continues. Clinton Hart got the start and played adequately. Steve Gregory is back from a stomach virus and made a nice tackle on Michael Turner but dropped a sure interception on a night when the Chargers forced no turnovers. Not good.

USC rookie safety Kevin Ellison didn't stand out as much as last game and looked a little lost in the second half when the Falcons were throwing at will. 

Quentin Jammer is looking as good as I've seen him. None of the big pass interference calls that have plagued him. Now if he can just hold onto those interceptions.

Antonio Cromartie didn't have much to do but didn't make any mistakes. Antoine Cason tackled pretty well and I was impressed with rookie Brandon Hughes' physicality.

Special Teams: B

With Cletis Gordon being released last week for badly missing a special teams tackle the message was sent loud and clear: This is no joke here people.

It worked, the Bolts coverage teams were focused and didn't give up a return longer than 27 yards.

He'll do in a pinch I suppose, but Buster Davis is not much of a return man. 

The mercurial Nate Kaeding had a miss from 49 and a make from 37. I'm not sure how confident I'd be in his kicking with the game on the line. 

Charly Martin, mania? Sorry folks, he muffed his only chance at a kick return. Maybe next time. 

Odd Bits and More

The Falcons covered the spread of 2.5 in the nick of time. Is preseason NFL gambling as rampant as during the regular season?

The Chargers' 50th Anniversary season DVD: History of the San Diego Chargers isn't supposed to be premier until Sept. 9. but I've already got it so look for a review this week.

Does anyone know if next weekend's final preseason game at Qualcomm is going to be blacked out? If so, it's going to have a lot of people worried about Week Two when the Ravens come to San Diego. It's going to be must see.

It's currently 3:40 in the morning and no delivery places, that I know of, open in San Diego. Where's all the late night eats in this town?

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