For the first time in four years, the football gods smiled down on the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers entered Sunday as a long shot to snag the sixth seed in the playoffs. They Chargers need a win and a lot of help from other teams. The Ravens needed to lose at Cincinnati and the Jets had to win in Miami to open the door for the Chargers to get into the playoffs with a win over visiting Kansas City.
Things did not start well. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton threw an interception on the first play and it led to three Ravens points. On the Bengals second possession Dalton threw another interception, which led to another Ravens field goal. On the Bengals third possession, Dalton threw a perfect deep ball to AJ Green to put the Bengals ahead 7-6. From there the Bengals never looked back, leaving the punchless Ravens scratching their heads and out of the playoffs after paying quarterback Joe Flacco mega millions to make sure that exact thing does not happen.
In Miami, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill began the game by leading a touchdown drive. From there, the Jets defense took over, intercepting Tannehill three times and pressuring him many more. Dolphins receivers dropped balls, Tannehill overthrew wide open targets and only completed 20 of his 40 attempts. The Jets won easily. Both games were played in the early time slot so the Chargers knew their fate before they took the field. The right teams lost. The door was open.
All they had to do was beat Kansas City.
In another example of Chargers kismet, Chiefs coach Andy Reid decided to rest his starters. No Jamaal Charles, the man who is second in the league in rushing. No Alex Smith. No Dwayne Bowe, out with a concussion. No Tamba Hali. The Chargers were essentially facing the Chiefs second and third teams. Easy breezy right?
Kansas City took the first drive straight down the field and running back Knile Davis ran 17 yards up the middle almost untouched for the first score of the game. The Chargers answered with a touchdown of their own. Chiefs quarterback Chase Daniel threw a touchdown. Rivers answered with a second touchdown of his own. At any time the Chargers defense would start rag dolling these second teamers and cruise into the playoffs. Any time now…
Knile Davis rushed for his second touchdown just before the half and the Chargers found themselves behind 21-14 at halftime in a game that should have been cake. They entered the tunnel to a chorus of boos from the home crowd. They all knew the Chiefs were playing backups and found it embarrassing the Chargers were having such a difficult time dispatching them.
The home crowd neglected to acknowledge three things. It’s still a huge rivalry game against a division opponent. Any game against a division rival is going to be more hard fought than a game against an out of conference opponent. Secondly, they may be backups but they could have an advantage because they’re fresher. They haven’t been taking the week in week out beating the starters are. This was their chance to shine and prove themselves worthy of keeping their jobs as the inevitable roster turnover begins after the Super Bowl. Thirdly, these are the Chargers. We love them to death but they don’t give us easy games. Unless they’re playing Jacksonville or against Eli Manning that is. If you’re a Chargers fan, heart palpitations and anxiety attacks are listed in the program. This game was no exception.
The Chiefs kicked a field goal to go up 24-14 after three quarters. As things looked darkest as minutes ticked away in the fourth quarter, the defense stiffened and the offense scored. Rivers hit Royal for a touchdown. Ryan Mathews picked up chunks of yardage. The defense registered two sacks, they started getting tackles for loss by sniffing out screen passes. Novak hit a field goal with with 3:21 to go to tie the game. The Chargers scored 10 unanswered in the fourth quarter. The Chiefs took the ball and drove down the field. The defense, for all their effort, couldn’t get Daniel off the field. Daniel completed passes of 14, 11 and 24 yards to three different receivers, crossing into San Diego territory and more importantly, field goal territory.
The Chiefs rushed the ball for small amounts of yardage, milking the clock under ten seconds. The Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop ran onto the field. The stadium sat in stunned silence. The Chargers have suffered this kind of fate over and over the last four years, losing in excruciating fashion. The snap was clean, the hold was clean. Succop boomed the ball toward the goalposts.
The football gods smiled.
The kick sailed wide right. The Chargers special teams ran off the field in jubilation. Overtime.
The Chargers won the overtime coin flip and took the ball. After failing to complete on third and two, the Chargers lined up to punt. Then the gutsiest call of the day was made. Direct snap to Weddle. Weddle took the ball and followed the surging offensive line up the middle for the first down, shocking everyone in attendance and the Chiefs themselves. From the Chargers own 28-yard line, it was the last thing you’d expect. Brilliant. Offensive Coordinator Whisenhunt called his best clock killing drive of the season. Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead combined for 9 of the 15 plays the Chargers ran. Mathews picked up big yards on the ground, Woodhead caught passes. Nine and a half minutes later, Novak nailed a 36-yarder to put the Chargers ahead for the first time in the game 27-24.
The Chiefs took the ball. McCluster had a big pass play over the middle for 28 yards but the Chargers defense finally held, and forced the Chiefs into a fourth down incompletion for the win. It was a grueling contest which should have been anything but if you ask anyone, including the wiseguys in Vegas who had the Chargers as 10 point favorites. The Chargers have made the playoffs.
I repeat. The Chargers have made the playoffs!
The football gods finally smiled upon the Chargers and apparently blinded the referees. Due to a new rule in the NFL pertaining to special teams on kicks, a team is prohibited from lining more than six players on any one side of the ball. The Chargers had lined seven men to the left side of the line. A flag should have been thrown and Succop given a rekick. The referees missed it. The Chargers win.
This is the kind of win that lays a new culture of winning. The new regime drafted expertly, signed the right free agents and put a team on the field that could compete with the best teams in the league. The competed and they won against some of the best teams in the league. Philip Rivers and Eric Weddle were both elected to the Pro Bowl. New GM Tom Telesco’s brilliant third round pick Keenan Allen should be the easy choice for offensive rookie of the year.
The new system brought over by new coach Mike McCoy and implemented by new Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has worked fabulously for the most part. Ryan Mathews completed his first 16 game season and posted a career high in yards. There is a lot to look forward to with Telesco in the war room and McCoy calling the shots.
Getting into the playoffs in the first year of the new regime is the best thing that could have happened. In doing so, they created separation from the Norv/AJ years, the last three in particular. We will now see the two regimes separately more so now than we did at the beginning of the season. The foundation is laid. All the Chargers have to do is win.
There will be playoff football for San Diego now, and for years to come.
The Greg One
Good morning, BoltFam! I hope all is well with you and your loved ones. The Chargers invite the AFC North division leading Cincinnati Bengals to Qualcomm stadium for what is another must-win game for San Diego. I thought it would be cool to get an inside scoop from a solid Bengals writer. It didn’t take long for me to decide on who to approach for this interview.
Jason Marcum is the Senior Editor for StripeHype.com. He is a solid writer that is very knowledgeable about the Bengals and all of the NFL. I’d like to thank Jason in advance for taking the time to do this interview. When I received his answers back to my questions, it turns out that he had some questions of his own regarding an interview for his site.
Without further ado, here is my Q & A session with Jason Marcum of StripeHype.com.
1. All over Social media I see NFL fans and Bengals fans alike tearing up Andy Dalton. Although I see some of what they’re talking about when I’ve watched some of his games, he seems to put up good numbers. What’s the deal with Dalton?
JM: He’s far too inconsistent for their liking. He plays like an elite quarterback in October and wins the AFC Offensive player of the month, then can’t get out of his own way in November, throwing 8 interceptions in the past three games. He just needs to be more consistent and not play so erratic. If he can help lead the Bengals to an AFC North title, the fans will lighten-up on him.
2. We here at BoltBlitz were big supporters of Gio Bernard coming out of college. Tell us about how he is used in the offense and what the Charger defense will have to do to contain him.
JM: He looks just like Maurice Jones-Drew did in his rookie year. He’s a jitterbug that uses his low center of gravity to make even the best tacklers miss in space, and his addition has helped the Bengals offense become much more efficient in 2012. His 464 yards on just 104 carries and 42 receptions for 345 yards has kept the offense moving, even when Dalton has played poorly. He’ll likely begin to get more touches going forward as the games become more important. He’s going to be a star soon enough.
3. When I was a staff writer for a different site prior to starting BoltBlitz.com, I wrote that the Chargers should take a flyer on Vontaze Burfict in the 5th round. He, obviously, went undrafted. Talk about his role on the team and his impact on the field.
JM: He’s been the best defensive player for the Bengals this year. He’s got a nose for the football that helps him disrupt or make plays as often as a Bengals linebacker has since Takeo Spikes was still wearing stripes. He needs to improve his coverage skills though, and I’m worried Chargers tight ends Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green will expose that weakness.
4. The Bengal defense was so solid and then you lost both Geno Atkins and Leon Hall. How has the defense been performing since, and which players have been inserted in their places?
JM: Brandon Thompson has filled-in very well for Atkins, and his run defense has been arguably just as good. His pass-rushing ability isn’t as good, but Atkins is one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles you’ll ever see.
As for Hall, it’s been more of a committee approach. Terence Newman and Adam Jones play most of the snaps at cornerback, while Brandon Ghee, Dre Kirkpatrick and Chris Crocker rotate into that nickelback spot.
It’s worth pointing out since Hall went down, the Bengals have faced the Jets, Dolphins, Ravens and Browns. Not exactly a murder’s row of passing attacks, and the loss of Hall could finally be exposed on Sunday against one of the NFL’s best passing offenses in San Diego.
5. Is there any way on God’s green Earth that the Chargers can stop A.J. Green? After a big game to start the season against Chicago, he had a run of average performances. He had more than his share of big games following that run too, but Cleveland managed to hold him to 7 yards receiving. What can teams do to limit Green?
JM: Yes. Just double-team him. He’ll get discouraged and not play as hard if he’s getting constantly double-teamed. It’s up to Dalton and the other receiver to force the Chargers out of those double-teams to free-up Green. Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu have to step-up and draw those Chargers DBs away from Green, or he’ll have another sub par performance.
6. Marvin Jones has had a solid year as an under-the-radar player. What kind of skill set does he bring to the table?
JM: He’s a good route-runner and can make some tough catches i traffic and around defenders. But he also is prone to dropping some easy passes that kills drives, and he’s still working to become a complete receiver. But he’s shown enough to make me believe he’ll eventually become a legitimate sidekick alongside Green.
7. Fill in the blank: For the Chargers to beat the Bengals they must_________________.
JM: Beat the blitz. The Bengals are going to bring the house against the Chargers banged-up offensive line. If Rivers can beat the blitz and hit the open man consistently, he’ll have a field day.
On defense, just pressure Dalton and keep Giovani Bernard contained. When the offense is reliant on Dalton’s arm, it struggles. They’re at their best when they’re ahead or within one score and can keep their run-pass ratio balanced.
8. I was an big fan of the Cincinnati 2012 draft class ( Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler, Devon Still, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Thompson, Orson Charles, Shaun Prater, Marvin Jones, George Iloka ). Who has already stood out from that class and which player has the most upside?
JM: Iloka has really stood out. He’s really stepped-up and become a solid starting safety in his second season, and to get that kind of player in the fifth round is a nice steal.
I think Thompson has the highest upside. He’s playing great right now and should continue to develop more going forward for the reason’s mentioned previously.
9. Final question…. Give everyone your prediction for tomorrow’s game and why the victor will get the win?
JM: I’ve gone back-and-forth on this more than any game this year other than the Bears game, and that was the first game. 13 weeks later, I’m not real sure what to make of this game, but that’s more because of recent injuries to key players for both teams. Vontaze Burfict sprained his ankle in practice Friday and may not play. King Dunlap is probably out for you guys, meaning it will be even easier to pressure Rivers on Sunday. In the end, at home and playing for their playoff lives, I think San Diego pulls this one out late by a 27-24 score.
Thanks again to Jason and be sure to check out StripeHype.com for his interview with me regarding the game.