Reliving the worst night ever: Halloween 2011

Peter Aiken

For San Diego Chargers fans, Halloween was permanently ruined by the Kansas City Chiefs and some voodoo magic in 2011.

Often times, when we look back on painful memories, the context of the situation fades to the background. That being said, allow me to set the stage for you.

After five weeks, the 4-1 San Diego Chargers of 2011 entered their bye week with the highest of hopes. The only team they had lost to were the New England Patriots, who would go on to be AFC Champions that season. Finally, the Chargers seemed headed back to the playoffs.

Then it all came crashing down against the New York Jets. Kris Dielman almost died, Plaxico Burress looked like Calvin Johnson for a day, and a 21-10 lead at halftime for San Diego turned into a 27-21 Jets win.

At least they could get back on track the following week, going up against the 3-3 Kansas City Chiefs. Now, 3-3 seems like a fine record until you realize that the teams QBs that started against the Chiefs in their three wins were Kyle Boller (Raiders), Curtis Painter (Colts) and Donovan McNabb (Vikings).

Make no mistake about it, this was a bad Chiefs team. Todd Haley eventually got fired mid-way through the regular season, replaced by Romeo Crennel. Their starting QBs included Matt Cassel (9 games), Kyle Orton (3 games) and Tyler Palko (4 games). They had Cassel going against the Chargers on Monday Night Football, on Halloween night.

This should've been an easy game for the Chargers, the one that got them to 5-2 and righted the ship. Unfortunately, a trademark of Norv Turner's teams are slow starts on offense. This game was no different, and Kansas City went into the locker room at halftime with a 13-3 lead over San Diego.

In the third quarter, you could feel the momentum slipping away from the Chiefs:

  • KC 3 & Out
  • SD Field Goal
  • KC Interception
  • SD Field Goal
  • KC 3 & Out
  • SD Field Goal

And just like that, it was a one point game. The Chiefs' 13-12 lead heading into the fourth quarter didn't look too secure until future-former Chargers RB Jackie Battle showed up. On the first drive of the final quarter for KC, Battle carried the ball four times for 42 yards and a touchdown. It was a statement. The Chiefs weren't going away.

The Chargers fought back, grabbing the game by its throat, with a little bit of Curtis Brinkley. Brinkley ran the ball twice for 6 yards and a touchdown, but it was his 20 yard catch that put the team in 1st & Goal and it was another catch that helped San Diego to convert the 2-point conversion and tie the game.

The 13-3 score at halftime was now 20-20 with 7 minutes left in the game. The Chargers were in the driver's seat. The defense forced another 3 & Out from the Chiefs' offense, and now had the ball and 5 minutes left to win the game.

1st and 10 at KC 48 P.Rivers pass incomplete short right to A.Gates. PENALTY on SD-M.McNeill, Illegal Use of Hands, 10 yards, enforced at KC 48 - No Play.
1st and 20 at SD 42 P.Rivers pass short right to C.Brinkley to SD 44 for 2 yards (D.Johnson; K.Gregg).
2nd and 18 at SD 44 P.Rivers pass incomplete deep middle to M.Floyd (B.Flowers).
3rd and 18 at SD 44 (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short middle to P.Crayton to KC 37 for 19 yards (B.Flowers).
1st and 10 at KC 37 C.Brinkley up the middle to KC 31 for 6 yards (G.Dorsey).
2nd and 4 at KC 31 C.Brinkley up the middle to KC 25 for 6 yards (A.Bailey).
1st and 10 at KC 25 C.Brinkley up the middle to KC 21 for 4 yards (G.Dorsey).
Timeout #2 by KC at 01:54.
2nd and 6 at KC 21 C.Brinkley up the middle to KC 16 for 5 yards (J.Belcher).
Timeout #3 by KC at 01:48.

So far, so good. It's 3rd & 1. The Chiefs were out of timeouts and their offense had been terrible all half, save for one drive when Jackie Battle went nuts running the ball.

The conservative call here is a field goal. Kicking on 3rd down allows the snapper or someone to sit on the ball and try the kick again on the next play if something goes wrong (botched snap, blown block, etc.). Novak had hit four of his five FG tries so far in the game (missing a 52 yarder at the end of the first half), and the Chiefs' offense probably wasn't going 50 yards in two minutes with no timeouts. Even if they did, all they could hope for was a tie that would send the game into overtime.

The aggressive call here is to go for it on 3rd & 1. Something safe like a run up the middle with someone you know won't fumble the ball. This is the "We're winning this game right now, with our offense" call.

Which did Norv Turner choose?

3rd and 1 at KC 16 J.Hester up the middle to KC 15 for 1 yard (R.Langford).

Would you look at that? Norv being aggressive! He put his boot on the throat of his opponent! The refs rule it enough for the first down and the Chargers have won the game, as long as Nick Novak can hit a chip-shot field goal.

Whew, that was a close battle against a foe within our own division. Those happen, I suppose. It's nice to know that this team call pull out the close games.

Now, with about a minute left in the game, Philip Rivers will kneel down twice (somewhere close to the middle of the field) and set up the easy game-winning field goal for Novak.

Philip-rivers-fumble_medium

1st and 10 at KC 15 P.Rivers FUMBLES (Aborted) at KC 15, RECOVERED by KC-A.Studebaker at KC 16. A.Studebaker to KC 15 for -1 yards (P.Rivers).

WHAT THE HELL.

Based on Randy McMichael's pull over to block into the middle of the line, there's no way that I'll believe that this was a kneel down call. It looked like a run up the middle with Curtis Brinkley.

Norv went crazy. Norv got greedy. Norv thought "To hell with winning the game on a field goal, let's win it with a touchdown!" He thought this despite the fact that Rivers had 4 fumbles in the previous 5 games.

Philip Rivers didn't seem too confident after literally fumbling the game away.

Rivers_medium_medium

The Chiefs, predictably, didn't have the firepower on offense to drive 50 yards in a minute with no timeouts. Their final drive ended with an Eric Weddle interception with 6 seconds left in the fourth quarter. This time, Norv Turner sent Rivers out there to kneel down and play for overtime.

You can probably imagine how overtime went, if you don't actually remember.

The Chargers got the ball first. On 2nd & 8, Rivers was sacked by Tamba Hali and fumbled again. This time, the Chargers recovered the fumble. However, the sack cost the team 10 yards and it led to Mike Scifres' first punt since the beginning of the second quarter.

Suddenly, the defense had no answer for Matt Cassel. Starting at his own 19, the Chiefs' QB completed passes of 12 yards (Dwayne Bowe), 11 yards (Jon Baldwin), 13 yards (Dexter McCluster) and 17 yards (Steve Breaston) to get Kansas City in field goal range. Once they were there, the rest was up to Jackie Battle and Ryan Succop.

1st and 10 at SD 30 J.Battle up the middle to SD 30 for no gain (D.Butler; A.Barnes).
2nd and 10 at SD 30 J.Battle left tackle to SD 21 for 9 yards (E.Weddle).
Timeout #1 by SD at 07:20.
3rd and 1 at SD 21 J.Battle left end to SD 15 for 6 yards (D.Butler; S.Gregory).
1st and 10 at SD 15 J.Battle right end to SD 15 for no gain (D.Butler).
2nd and 10 at SD 15 T.Jones up the middle to SD 12 for 3 yards (T.LaBoy).
Timeout #2 by SD at 05:19.
3rd and 7 at SD 12 R.Succop 30 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-T.Gafford, Holder-D.Colquitt.

Le sigh.

This game will make me hate Halloween for a long time. It wasn't just a loss to a divisional foe, it was such an easy victory that Norv Turner and Philip Rivers gave away.

I don't blame the defense for giving up that final drive, they thought they were done. They had done everything they needed to win the game, but the ghosts of Arrowhead wouldn't let them have it.

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