With the season on the line, the San Diego Chargers had to convert 4th downs on three different occasions in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. Let's relive each of the 4th down conversions to see how San Diego was able to convert.
3rd quarter, 7:15 remaining, 4th and 5
This was the first possession it seemed that the offense really got anything moving. They came out of the half with two 3-and-outs, so going for it here given the situation was a no-brainer.
For the majority of the game, the 49ers had been playing very vanilla on defense. Not blitzing much, just sitting back and playing coverage while rushing four. It had worked for them, but they decided to change it up on this play. They decided to bring both slot defensive backs, rushing six guys altogether.
Both inside linebackers sugared the A-gaps, but eventually dropped out and were playing to take away on any crossing route. There are no safeties to help over top, and as you can see, the safety lined up over Eddie Royal in the slot to stop the screen and tips the blitz with his alignment by creeping up at the snap.
Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich has a good route combination called, as Dontrelle Inman runs a post to the top of the screen and Royal runs an out route. The safety doesn't have a chance on Royal, as he gives a good head fake at the top of the route. The line picks up the blitz, Gates gets just enough of the safety and Rivers hangs in there and delivers a dime.
Crisis #1 averted.
4th quarter, 1:35 remaining, 4th and 6
While I'm sure you can come up with a wildly outrageous outcome where the Chargers comeback to win from the previous 4th down, if they don't convert this time, the game's over. They only had 2 timeouts.
The 49ers play a Cover 1 here, and try to catch Rivers off-guard, similar to his Patriots interception where they had a linebacker peel off from the line of scrimmage into coverage.
The line does another good job of picking up the blitz, especially Ronnie Brown, who stones the linebacker, and Rivers puts the pass in a spot where literally only Royal can make the catch. I can only imagine how frustrating the safety had been. This throw, man. Rivers threw the ball before Royal even broke. There were a few throws in this half where Rivers threw with tremendous anticipation.
Crisis #2 averted.
4th quarter, :54 seconds left, 4th and 10
After three consecutive incompletions, the Chargers put themselves in a tough situation, as far as the option of routes that Reich has to choose from. Surprisingly, he chose one of the more basic concepts, known as "Houston", a simply curl/flat combo. This is a good call because the route combination is designed to beat either zone or man coverage. The 49ers chose to sit back and play coverage this time after being burned on the last two 4th downs.
The safety highlighted in yellow is suposed to "take the cheese" and run with Royal on the quick out, which will open up the curl route at the sticks behind him. Given the down and distance I'm not sure why the safety would honor the out route, but he did. Rivers has all day to throw; the pass and his momentum actually bring Inman a half yard or so behind the sticks.
There was never any real doubt, as Inman was able to break the tackle and gain an additional 7 yards for the 1st down.
These are three big plays in a game that featured seemingly big play after big play. What a comeback. What a finish. What a game. The Chargers also got big contributions from a trio of guys who have barely, if at all, played this year. I'll highlight those tomorrow and show how those players will have to keep that up if the Chargers want to make the playoffs.