Alright, we're doing it a little different this week. I'm doing Bolts & Dolts without re-watching the game, because this is a team/game/post driven by emotion, and after re-watching I may come back and add or change something. S'alright? S'alright.
First, the game. This game ranks up there with the Giants game for me. It's an opponent of equal talent, and a lot of times in the past the Chargers have lost to teams that are just as good as them by not doing the little things. This season, through plenty of adversity (namely, injuries), the team has continued to do the little things that keep you in the game and give you a chance to win the game at the end. Because of that, today's first Bolt might be the most well-deserved one ever.
Norv Turner. There's this recurring conversation I seem to have with my friends and family every year about Norv Turner. In a nutshell, the conversation is "The team just doesn't seem ready to play at the beginning of the season or at the beginning of games. That's coaching." Sure, fine, although the team has been much better this season at starting off games strong.
However, that's negative thinking. Three straight division titles, nine straight wins and seventeen straight wins in December (not all of thus under Turner, but still). That's coaching too. Three straight seasons where the team has started slow and could've quit on him but never did, that takes coaching. No coach is unblemished, and with Norv the good certainly outweighs the bad. I'm not ready to declare Norv the greatest Chargers coach ever, but if you look at where he is now it's hard to argue that he's not on his way to getting there.
Philip Rivers - 24/38, 308 yds, 3 TDs, 2 INTs. Only Philip would be able to manage a 92.9 QB Rating in a game in which he was picked off twice. This is why he's the active leader in QB Rating. It wasn't the best game for him, but he sporadically had some perfect throws and (as usual) came alive to save the day in the fourth quarter. His MVP resume is getting stronger while Brett Favre's is getting weaker.
LaDainian Tomlinson - 117 all-purpose yds, 3.7 YPC. It was a very efficient day for LT. He was used in the passing game when the Bengals were focused too much on the receivers, and he looked strong in the running game (as did the offensive line) nearly all game. It wasn't dominating, but it was efficient. By the way, has LT ever smiled this much in one season? He looks like he's having a ball this year.
Vincent Jackson - 5 catches, 108 yds, 2 TDs. First it was VJ that was free because of Antonio Gates, then it was Gates that was open because of VJ. Now, and credit Norv Turner for this, the team has found a perfect balance of both. Defenses have to find a way to cover both guys on every play otherwise there's going to be a big play. Credit Vincent for fighting through the little bit of adversity he's faced this year and coming back alive right when the team needed him most.
Antonio Gates - 4 catches, 33 yds, TD. Simply put, the best receiving TE in football. He cannot be covered by a CB, LB or most NFL Safeties. Unless you have somebody like Troy Polamalu or Tyvon Branch, be prepared to double-team Gates on just about every play. Gates almost lost his Bolt when he dropped the ball into Keith Rivers hands, but that ball was thrown behind him.
Malcom Floyd - 4 catches, 63 yds. I originally had Floyd down in the "Almost Bolts" and then realized that he had a better game than Gates (or at least close to it). I love how Malcom has become Philip's new favorite 3rd down target, and I love how there's never any doubt that he caught the ball if he's gotten his hands on it.
Floyd is a free-agent after this season, and a few days ago somebody said they thought another team would spend too much money on him and he wouldn't be back next season. I hope, for the sake of Philip Rivers and Malcom Floyd, that's inaccurate. These guys have been together since the start of their careers, creating chemistry on the 2nd string team in practice, and bring out the best in each other.
Tim Dobbins - 11 tackles, 1 forced fumble. Yes, yes, that was me saying "Dobbins sucks" in the first half. The truth is, the Chargers played Dobbins a lot because he's great against the run. The Bengals did the right thing in calling pass plays that would force him into coverage, where he's not-so-good. His tackle numbers are half because he was very good against the run and half because he was tackling his receiver after giving the guy an easy catch. What earned him a Bolt was getting the closest thing to a turnover on the most important play of the game.
Eric Weddle - 8 tackles. Great to see Weddle hasn't lost anything in his two weeks off. He was still in the middle of every play, and providing great downfield coverage.
Kevin Ellison - 6 tackles, 1 sack. I love Ellison's size. When the Bengals put a TE/RB out wide, Ellison always lined up with him in man coverage. He has the speed to stay with them, and the strength to give them a big bump on the line. I haven't seen him playing a lot of zone coverage (that seems to be Oliver's specialty), but in man he's stellar. I think he's earned the starting SS spot for 2010.
Defensive Line. Okay, none of them were really demanding a double-team (which is why the pass-rush was non-existent) so they weren't a huge help in rushing the QB. However, they were stellar at stopping the run. Alfonso Boone, Travis Johnson and Vaughn Martin each had periods of the game where they dominated their section of the line. If you take away the two "cut-back" runs (27 yards for Larry Johnson, 26 yards for Chad Ochocinco), the rushing numbers look significantly better. Holding Cedric Benson to just 53 yards (and no TDs) is something to be congratulated for.
Nate Kaeding - 2/2 FGs, 3/3 XPs. Was there even any doubt? There wasn't for me. The second Malcom Floyd caught that ball and put the Chargers on the 35 yard line, I knew they had won the game. Just as Gates is the best receiving TE in football (and arguably the best overall), Kaeding is the most accurate kicker in football (and arguably the best overall). Lucky for the Chargers, both guys are having career years at the same time.
There were no offensive Dolts this week.
There were no defensive Dolts this week.]
Mike Scifres - The Bengals had time for one more drive to win or tie the game. Scifres punts, his gunners are blocked, and the ball still goes out of bounds on it's own at the Cincinnati 5 yard line. Any time you can force a team to go 95 yards to score the winning TD, you're making it very difficult for them. He would've been the hero of the game if the Bengals didn't go down the field and tie it.
Quentin Jammer - Jammer is one of the first plays that could've been a Bolt or a Dolt. His interception against Chad Ochocinco was beautiful, but overshadowed in my mind by the numerous times he was beaten on out routes. His goal-line play against the Bengals TE at the end of the game was a big reason why the Chargers won, but what will stick out to people is the easy interception that went through his hands on the previous play. It certainly wasn't Jammer's best game, but he responded well to being thrown at (which doesn't happen often).
Kris Wilson - Jeff will be able to better point this out in his post later this week, but I thought the team really came alive on Wilson's catch. For those that didn't see it, Kris has his helmet torn off and kept fighting for the extra yard. It got to the point where the defender literally pulled Wilson down by the back of his head (it looked like a for-sure neck injury), and Kris popped right back up with an angry stare. This all happened about a foot in front of the Chargers sideline, which went bananas after the play.
I like Wilson's toughness, blocking and soft hands. This is probably way too early, but I could see him replacing Brandon Manumaleuna next season as the team's backup TE/FB.
Kassim Osgood - Not just the best special team player in the league, but quite possibly the smartest. Nobody knows special teams better than him, and nobody works harder at it. I know it's not possible, but I really hope he's wearing a bolt on his helmet next season.
Steve Gregory - Just like Tim Dobbins, Gregory was targeted and thrown at all day. The Bengals were smart enough to not throw short-passes at his receivers, because that's Steve's specialty, and instead hit the receiver at the point where they've gotten past Gregory but before they've gotten to the safeties. It was a good gameplan that the Bolts are sure to see more of going forward. Unlike Dobbins, Gregory wasn't able to stand out with any big plays.
Pass Rush - I've been over this, but I'll go over it again. 2 sacks is not enough, but this is not the fault of Shawne Merriman, Shaun Phillips or Larry English. The defensive line needs to cause more of a disturbance for the QB when he's sliding up in the pocket. I think we may see more of Vaughn Martin in the next couple of weeks because, even though he's still not great or very consistent, there were times where he was pushing around offensive linemen like they were children. If he can force offenses to pay attention to him, you'll see the OLBs racking up the sacks in droves once again.