I was hoping that the narrative at the end of this game had nothing to do with Ken Whisenhunt and his flurry of head coach interviews during this week, but it's very tough to ignore it at this point.
Against the Denver Broncos, in the most important game of the season, the San Diego Chargers offense looked unprepared and sloppy. Johnnie Troutman started his first game at right guard in place of Jeromey Clary, instead of moving Chad Rinehart over there like the team did when King Dunlap was out. That odd substitution alone would've been enough to derail the offense, but Ryan Mathews' gimpy ankle added to the incompetence of the offense.
It wasn't the injuries that killed San Diego's offense this week, as much as it was the lack of preparation in making up for the injuries. There was no creativity. There was no way in which Ronnie Brown was used that wasn't the same as what they'd do with Ryan Mathews. The running game did almost nothing and it took 3.5 quarters for Ken Whisenhunt to abandon it. The wide receivers had obvious advantages over the Broncos cornerbacks that weren't exploited until the fourth quarter.
I'll be the first to tell you that Whisenhunt was a genius for most of this season. I attribute much of the Chargers' success to him this season and will be sad to see him go, but I do believe that this loss falls on his shoulders before it falls on anyone else's.
John Pagano's "bend but don't break and pick up a few turnovers along the way" defense did it's job. It held the best offense in the league to 24 points and forced 2 (almost 3) turnovers. The pass rush wasn't great, but it seemed like the effort was going to be enough until giving up a 22 yard catch to Demaryius Thomas on 3rd-and-17, after Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen had brought the Chargers within one score. That play was terrible, but this defense shouldn't have been relied upon to stop Peyton Manning to win the game anyway.
The refs were terrible, but it doesn't matter. I'm sure they were equally terrible for both teams. I won't nitpick about them because they did lose the game.
This game was lost when the decision was made to start Johnnie Troutman at RG (another option would've been to start G/C Rich Ohrnberger there after his dominant performance against the Bengals last week), and when the offense spent the first three quarters trying to establish the running game with a gimpy Ryan Mathews. The fact that there was no real backup plan, or that the backup plan wasn't utilized sooner, is what lost this game between two good teams. The lack of help in pass protection for the offensive line until late in the game didn't help either.
Stick around BFTB over the next few days, weeks, and months as we break down this playoff game, Ken Whisenhunt's search for a head coaching job, the search for a replacement, and all of the fun offseason stuff that goes along with free agency and the 2014 NFL Draft. Until then, let's appreciate that the Chargers got deep into the playoffs and nearly matched the #1 seed blow-for-blow, because it really was the most fun season we've had as Chargers fans in a long time.