I don't think this was Philip Rivers' worst game of the season, but considering the circumstances, I think it's his most disappointing. Rivers finished with 20 completions on 33 attempts (60.6%) for 189 yards (5.72 YPA) with 1 TD pass and one INT, and the numbers reflect how ineffective the passing game really was.
The TD pass was a nice touch pass to Floyd in the end zone, but beyond that play, Rivers was strangely inaccurate - he missed receivers on simple outs and hitch routes. Rivers generally looked uncomfortable - he didn't see the field very well and missed some opportunities for big plays, as well as chances to move the chains. Lastly, the INT was a horrendous decision - a late throw down the middle which was picked by LB Akeem Ayers.
Running Back: C
RB Ryan Mathews had a strong game running the ball, with 11 carries for 44 yards (4 YPC), along with another reception for 4 yards on 1 target. The offense, not efficient to begin with, lost all ability to sustain drives when Mathews left the field with a minor injury. Strangely, he was not given much opportunity to run once he returned to the field, in a game that was within 1 score until the 8:53 mark of the 4th quarter, and given the struggles of the passing game.
Beyond Mathews, RB Donald Brown was actually the most efficient receiver, with 5 catches for 49 yards on 6 targets. Brown did not get a rushing attempt, but might have been the Chargers' most effective pass blocker. RB Branden Oliver continued to struggle when on the field - he finished with 1 yard on 3 carries, and no catches on 2 targets and his early season success looks more and more like a product of playing bad defenses.
The simple truth was that the Chargers receivers never made the Patriots defenders pay for playing close to the line. WR Keenan Allen was no match for CB Darelle Revis who held him to 2 catches for 3 yards on 3 targets. WR Malcom Floyd was more effective, but not very efficient - finishing with 3 catches on 6 targets for 54 yards - although his diving TD catch, along with winning a jump ball for 28 yards were strong catches. WR Eddie Royal gained 30 yards on 2 catches but was targeted 5 times.
AT TE, Antonio Gates caught 6 passes on 5 targets for only 34 yards, and his blocking was not very strong on running plays. TE Ladarius Green finished with 2 catches on 2 targets for 15 yards - not including his dropped pass turned INT called back for a personal foul - and struggled to block as badly as Gates did.
Offensive Line: F
The best game (not necessarily a good game) came from LT King Dunlap, who allowed a couple of pressures against Ayers, but didn't allow a sack. LG Chad Rinehart drew a brutal matchup against NT Vince Wilfork, and while getting pushed back regularly, he also managed not to allow a sack. Unfortunately, he was a liability in the running game.
C Chris Watt really struggled to properly diagnose all of the A gap pressures shown by New England's defense - it created confusion for the right side of the line, and Watt himself was beat twice for sacks by LB Jamie Collins. RG Johnnie Troutman did allow a late sack on an extended play late. RT D.J. Fluker gave up multiple pressures and an uncontested sack to LB Rob Ninkovich as part of the confusion.
Defensive Line: B
After struggling mightily the previous week against the Ravens, DT Sean Lissemore responded with a stronger outing. He did a better job of holding up against double teams, and did a decent job of clogging the middle on running plays - he finished with 2 solo tackles and a QB hit. DE Kendall Reyes also played a bit better this week, finishing with 3 combined tackles and a QB hit of his own. In reserve duty, Tenny Palepoi and Ricardo Mathews combined for 3 tackles but struggled more than the starters to get off run blocks.
DE Corey Liuget was, again, the star of the unit. He finished 7 tackles (4 solo), which included 2 tackles for loss. He got pressure on multiple plays, often from different positions. Further, he has become such a stout run defender that teams actively run away from him.
This was the game we've been waiting for from OLB Melvin Ingram. Ingram finished the game with 5 solo tackles (6 total), 3 tackles for loss, 1 QB sack, and 1 pass defensed, and was routinely responsible for getting QB Tom Brady off his spot in the pocket. OLB Dwight Freeney wasn't nearly as effective, although he did generate some pressures with Ingram opposite him and recorded a QB hit. OLB Jeremiah Attaochu also did a nice job of generating pressure on Brady, and he was credited with a pass defensed. OLB Jarret Johnson was his usual stout presence in the run game, finishing with 8 combined tackles and a tackle for loss.
On the inside, this was the best game we've seen so far from ILB Manti Te'o. Te'o was terrific in coverage, with an INT of Brady, along with a near INT, 3 combined tackles and 1 tackle for loss. LB Andrew Gachkar actually held up pretty well in coverage with difficult matchups against TEs Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright, finishing with 5 solo tackles (6 total) 1 pass defensed and a tackle for loss. ILB Kavell Conner was a bit up and down - he missed a few tackles and overran a couple of plays, but still finished with 5 solo tackles (7 total).
FS Eric Weddle rebounded nicely from last week's poor showing, finishing this game with 5 solo tackles (6 combined), and while he didn't make any huge plays, there were no crucial mistakes. SS Jahleel Addae made the biggest defensive play of the game for the Chargers, forcing a fumble of WR Brandon LaFell, which was returned for a TD by S Darrell Stuckey. Addae led the team with 8 total tackles (6 solo). S Marcus Gilchrist was playing a much better game - he finished with 8 total tackles (5 solo), but overran the tackle on the 69 yard TD pass to WR Julian Edelman, which turned out to be the backbreaker.
Among the CBs, Brandon Flowers was the primary target (surprisingly) and had a very rough game, allowing well over 100 yards in receptions. He was also the victim on Brady's TD to Gronkowski, a pass which could have been defended had he looked back for the football. Amazingly, Shareece Wright had the better game of the two. Wright finished with 2 passes defensed, and his worst play was a dubious defensive interference call late in the 1st half.
Special Teams: D
The biggest special teams play of the game was a blown block by Donald Brown, leading to a blocked punt and broken collarbone for P Mike Scifres, which will shelve him for at least the rest of the regular season. Beyond that play, PK Nick Novak filled in respectably, with 6 punts for a 40 yard average and 36.7 yard net, and even dropped one inside the 20. Novak also converted his 2 extra points, but again struggled to produce distance on kickoffs - which is becoming a serious competitive liability. Coverage units were solid, led again by Stuckey's strong tackling. It should also be noted that Shareece Wright came close to blocking a FG attempt, but was penalized for being offsides.
The only thing saving this from being an F was an unusually aggressive game plan from Defensive Coordinator John Pagano. He did a good job of moving players around to get favorable matchups, did a better job of disguising his blitzes, and sent blitzes at Brady on a regular basis. While the defense generated only one sack, Brady was made uncomfortable on several occasions.
Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich followed his strong game against Baltimore with a much weaker game - admittedly against the best defensive coach of this generation. That said, Reich didn't alter his protection schemes to help his struggling offensive line, never went to a true hurry up to limit the Patriots defensive options, and didn't run Mathews nearly enough despite the closeness of the contest. Also, there was no use of screens, limited use of rub routes - nothing to help his WRs beat man coverage and get the ball in space.
All that said (and at the risk of further beating a dead horse), nothing in the game was as bad as Head Coach Mike McCoy electing to punt the ball on 4th and 4 from the 50 with less than 7 minutes to play, trailing by 9. Considering the potential rewards of winning this game - a puncher's chance at a division title and home-field advantage, a one game lead in the wildcard chase, knocking the Patriots out of home field advantage, then considering the loss of his punter, and considering a punt essentially concedes the division and a 1st round bye to the Denver Broncos, as well as consigning the Chargers to the wild card chase - it was the single most gutless game decision a head coach of the Chargers has made since Norv Turner punted in the 4th quarter of the 2008 AFC Championship Game.
All of this reminds me of a quote I heard once from McCoy - after the playoff win in Cincinnati last season, I think - something to the effect that sometimes the best move is to let your opponent lose the game. I'd argue following that strategy is sound against 20 or so of the 32 teams in the NFL. With average talent or a plus QB, you'll win 7-11 games a season under most circumstances. You might even win a playoff game against a 2nd tier team (like the Bengals last year). But you can't apply that strategy to a team like the Patriots. Victories against quality opponents must be seized - not waited for. Until and/or unless Mike McCoy learns this lesson, the Chargers are not likely to get where they want to go, unless GM Tom Telesco builds a juggernaut.
5 Biggest Hidden (i.e. non-scoring , non-turnover) Plays
- 5:36 in the 2nd Qtr, 4th and 2 SD at the SD 28. Branden Bolden beats Donald Brown's block, and blocks Scifres' punt. Scifres suffers a broken collarbone, and the Patriots score a TD with the short field 4 plays later to cut SD's lead to 14-13.
- 6:28 in the 4th Qtr, 4th and 4 SD at the 50. Trailing by 9, Mike McCoy elects to punt the ball back to a New England offense which has scored 10 points on their last 2 possessions. The Patriots advance the ball to the SD 44 and bleed 4:15 off the clock.
- 7:47 in the 2nd Qtr, 3rd and Goal NE at SD 4. Brady throws into the end zone, and a should've been intercepted pass is dropped by Te'o. NE goes on to convert the FG, cutting the lead to 14-6.
- 11:55 in the 1st Qtr, 3rd and 4 SD at NE 44. Due to a missed block, LB Jamie Collins sacks Rivers for a 7 yard loss, forcing a Chargers' punt.
- 4:11 in the 1st Qtr, 3rd and Goal NE at SD 1. Ingram sacks Brady for a 7 yard loss, forcing a FG attempt and resulting in a 3-0 NE lead.
Looking Ahead To:
Seeing if this team can do anything on offense against the (by default) division-winning Denver Broncos.