Each week, with the Power Play series, I'm supposed to point out the most powerful and important play of the game for the San Diego Chargers. Obviously, last night, that play was Philip Rivers' fumbling the snap away in the 4th Quarter. We'll get there, but first let's go back a few quarters.
There's five minutes left in the 2nd quarter and the Chargers are driving for points. They're in Kansas City territory and down by 7 points when Ryan Mathews fumbles the ball (his first lost fumble of the season). The Chiefs, never ones to capitalize on an opportunity, ran Thomas Jones twice before Matt Cassel threw a seemingly normal incomplete pass. Norv Turner thought he saw a fumble, challenged the ruling on the field and had it overturned. Chargers ball at almost the exact same spot where Mathews fumbled, the Chiefs' 22 yard line.
So the Mathews fumble becomes meaningless. There's no reason to bitch or complain about it, local sports radio people. When Mathews fumbled, the Chargers were on the 41 and the Chiefs got the ball on their own 25. Three plays later, San Diego had even better field position (with almost four minutes left) and an even better chance to tie.
What happened after that, right before halftime, tells the story of this game and this season for San Diego.Quarterbacks lose about a yard every time they take a knee. Not that the Chargers should've at this point, but if Rivers had kneeled three times Nick Novak would've had a 42 yard FG attempt ahead of him. Considering Novak made three FGs of 42+ yards in the first half, this seems like it has a good chance of being converted.
Instead, after a 5 yard Mathews run, the Chargers shot themselves in the foot with two 10-yard penalties and a 7-yard sack where Mathews ducked his head and missed his block against Derrick Johnson. In two plays, the Chargers lost 27 yards and were out of FG range.
Luckily, Rivers was able to find Vincent Jackson for a 10 yard gain. However, that 40-or-so-yard FG was now a 52 yarder. The longest FG Novak has made this season is 51 yards and this one was not going to break that trend. It sailed wide right for Novak's first missed FG of the year.
An opportunity squandered, not once but twice, by mental mistakes (fumble, penalties, missed block). That's been the bugaboo of this team. So let me ask you, if you were in a situation at the end of the game where you could have Rivers kneel until the clock is down to zero and have Novak kick a reasonable FG....would you do that? Of course you would! You wouldn't want your mental-mistake-prone team to have more chances to make more mental mistakes!
And yet, there were the San Diego Chargers. After Jacob Hester converted a 3rd & 1 into a first down with less than a minute remaining in the game, and the Chiefs without enough timeouts to stop the Bolts from burning the clock down to zero, the Chargers were running. Don't believe me? Look at the video.
The Chargers were on the Chiefs' 15 yard line when Rivers fumbled that snap. Norv Turner could've kneeled twice and given Novak a chance at a 32 yard FG try, and based off how he's performed this season it's silly to think he'd miss it. The game was wrapped up. Every single coach in the world, along with 98% of the people watching on their couches, knows that in that situation you kneel twice and call a timeout with 5 seconds left. Put the game in Novak's hands, or foot.
Rivers fumbling the snap is partially on him, but he shouldn't never been in a position where he was going to be asked to snap the ball, drop back, and then either pass it or hand it off. Also, it's not as if we had LaDainian Tomlinson (who never fumbled the football, it seemed) running out of the backfield. Why was Norv taking necessary risks? Did he need to make a statement and win by 7 instead of 3?
I've always told people that are on the "Fire Norv" bandwagon to give me reasons. I feel like I'm starting to walk towards the bandwagon, and it's because the reasons are piling on top of themselves. Turnovers are getting worse on both sides of the ball. Rivers is getting worse. And silly coaching mistakes like this, things that happen in high school football games but not at the professional level, are not helping his case.
The fumbled snap was the worst play of the game, but it was just another mistake by a mistake-prone team and it was partially caused by their coach putting them in a position to make another mistake when he didn't have to. This team and this coach have done it so often, though, that we've come to expect it.