Has everyone calmed down from yesterday? Is everyone willing to admit that maybe that soft zone defense we saw in the fourth quarter, and on the Browns' first drive, was done as a way to manage the game instead of dominating it? That's what I believe anyways.
For anyone who thinks the Chargers "played down" to their opponents, there's this. The Chargers scored 27 unanswered points. That's more points than Cleveland scored all game. If you take the score of the 2nd and 3rd quarters, the score is 17-0 Chargers. If you take the score of the first 3 quarters, it's 27-7.
My philosophy is this. That first drive was a test. Kindof a "Let's see if they can throw on this" and they could. Then it was scrapped and the defense started stopping the Browns on every drive, and the offense started putting up points. With a 20 point lead heading into the fourth quarter, as many backups as possible came in and the message became "Avoid Injury". Coach Rivera figured that even if he played zone, avoiding giving up big plays and allowing short passes underneath, the Browns would take so much time that they'd never be able to catch up. And he was right.
Onto Bolts and Dolts.
Antonio Gates - 8 catches, 167 yds. Gatesy goes first, even before the QB, because that was the best game I've ever seen from him. Outside of the game where Kellen Winslow took over the world, I think that's the best game I've ever seen from a TE ever. Not only was he everywhere, catching everything and making the Browns look foolish, but he also bailed out Philip Rivers (who threw to him in double-coverage a couple of times) with some amazing catches that just shouldn't have happened.
Philip Rivers - 18/25, 373 yds, 2 TD. Finishing the game with a QB rating over 140 will get you a Bolt every time. This wasn't the easy game for him that everybody thought it would be either. Cleveland brought pressure, even sacking him once, and seemed to play very well on his star WRs. Finding the mismatches with Gates, Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert was the work of a smart, veteran QB.
LaDainian Tomlinson - 20 carries, 64 rush yds, 1 rush TD, 1 catch, 21 rec yds. Somebody said that LT didn't even get 3 yards per carry in this game, but they're mistaken. 3.2 yards per carry as a matter of fact. Here's what I saw from LT yesterday: smart, patient running mixed with good pass-blocking. That play at the end of the first half, where he could've went upfield but instead stepped out of bounds to stop the clock and give the offense another shot at the endzone, showed no ego and was a play that a younger RB probably doesn't make.
Anyways, all of those things above make LT an "Almost Bolt". Saluting Jim Brown, after the things Brown said about LT in his preseason interview with Adrian Peterson, makes him incredibly classy and gets him a Bolt. Also, standing on the sidelines next to Norv and talking about the offense helps his standing as well.
Legedu Naanee/Mike Tolbert. In my Larry English rant earlier this week, I was saying that playoff and Super Bowl teams need to get contributions from their rookies. Well, getting contributions from their young projects is just as good.
Naanee didn't get many chances to catch the ball in Cleveland, no chances at all actually. However, when his number was called to catch the ball and then throw a spiral downfield to a wide open Tomlinson he did so and made it look very easy. A key play, because you could argue that Nate Kaeding wouldn't have hit the end-of-the-half FG without it.
Mike Tolbert's play was great. His speed, with his body size, is just so unexpected. He was the check-down receiver and got the ball because Cleveland brought a bunch of blitzers. Luckily, he also had a bunch of blockers in front of him (including Vincent Jackson, who almost killed somebody on the play). That had nothing to do with the right playcall, and everything to do with the Chargers players making plays.
Shaun Phillips - 4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 defended pass. The boy from Philly has been playing out of his mind lately. This game was no exception. I love that his new move, when he gets to the QB, is to grab their throwing arm while hitting them. It's caused so many fumbles, and they're all game-changers. He probably has no chance of getting there, but Shaun deserves a Pro Bowl nod this season.
Nate Kaeding - 3/3 FGs, 3/3 XPs. The only kicker that's having a year as good or better than Nate's this season is David Akers in Philadelphia. Those should be your Pro Bowl starters, without any question. Nate has become automatic from about 48 yards and in this season.
There were no offensive Dolts this week.
There were no defensive Dolts this week.
Darren Sproles - Sproles played a very good game on offense, running the ball effectively and making the most of his screen passes. That would've been enough for a Bolt, but again we have the same issues as weeks past. I know Darren is a bright guy, but it seems like when the ball is in the air on kickoff or punts he becomes an idiot.
First, there was the kickoff return where he grabbed the ball and jumped out of bounds. I don't know why he felt the need to grab the ball and jump out of bounds, instead of simply letting the ball go out of bounds and taking the field at the 40, but he did. I guess you could argue he wanted to make sure the Browns didn't get to it, but it really didn't seem like any of them were near the ball to me. Just a dumb play.
Second, and stop me if this sounds familiar, another play where Sproles refuses to call fair-catch and gets absolutely hammered by Josh Cribbs the second he touches the ball. I'll give him credit, he seems to do a good job of holding onto the ball in this situation, but one of these days he's going to fumble it in a big spot or get injured that way. FAIR CATCH THE BALL. We would much rather have a safe catch than a 1 yard loss and a heart attack.
At this point, if Sproles was taken off returns for a while, I would be happy about it.
Vincent Jackson - Made a big catch with guys draped all over him. Made a big block to spring Tolbert's TD. The defense is sending more and more coverage at him, and it's just making him work harder. That's a great sign.