At 3:30 AM my time, I was delighted. We were blowing out the Broncos! I knew the Chargers could be this goo - WAIT KENNY WIGGINS NO DON'T DO THAT
At 4 AM, I was apprehensive. The Chargers were on top, but were playing too conservatively for my liki - WHY IS MELVIN INGRAM IN MAN COVERAGE ON A WIDE RECEIVER I HATE EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS TEAM
At 4:30 AM, I probably lost a few years of my life. It's 4:30 AM. I should be asleep. Instead, my heart couldn't be going any faster if I'd broken into Starbucks and devoured a coffee machine. Still, it should be fine, right? All we need to do is recover the ons - WHY HAVE YOU TRIED TO ICE THEM ON AN ONSIDE KICK THAT'S NOT HOW THIS WORKS DAMNIT DAMNIT DAMNIT
5 AM: All is peaceful again. Dexter McCoil knocks down Trevor Siemian's pathetic attempt at a Hail Mary, the Chargers move to 2-4 and knock off a division rival, and I wake up my entire university with celebrations so enthusiastic I've already signed up for the Chargers Cheerleading trials next year. Time to get three hours sleep before I have to wake up for a lecture I'm not going to be anywhere near awake enough to understand.
It was worth it.
See, that's the thing. As much as we can all say we hate the Chargers, it's just not true. We all love the Chargers with every inch of our being. We shouldn't, but we do. It's why we all come to Bolts from the Blue every single day to talk about them. They're our team. For better or for worse, they're our San Diego Chargers.
The on-field product isn't always the best. The off the field product can often be a disaster. Regardless, come gameday, that's all irrelevant. All your real world problems suddenly cease to exist. For three hours, the Chargers are the only thing that matter. It's a beautiful feeling. It's even more beautiful when they win a game.
The Chargers looked good. They got their reward. As a fan, you got your reward. Would we like the Chargers to win more? Of course. That doesn't make a win any less sweet when it does happen. Your team won. You might not have had much to do with it, but you're as emotionally invested in the team as is possible.
For many, the NFL is an escape from the real world, although the emotions involved will carry into the real world. The Chargers got the win this time. As fans, we'll all be happier this week. The Chargers shouldn't influence our lives this much, but they do, and they'll continue to do so. We all made that commitment when we signed up to support this franchise. It isn't always easy, but you'll never give up on the Chargers. Against the Broncos, they didn't give up on you. They might go into Atlanta next week and lose, but that's irrelevant right now. You'll deal with reality later. For now, just enjoy the win. Because right now, that's all that matters.
1: Jatavis Brown
Defensive Rookie of the Year Pro Bowler All Pro MVP Hall of Famer When Mike McCoy talks about being the 'next man up' to the locker room for the 43,046th time that week, at least one man was listening. After an injury to Manti Te'o forced Jatavis Brown into starting at ILB, he took that opportunity and ran with it. He's still running.
To me, it's unbelievable what Brown has done so quickly. He was a fifth round pick from a small school (Akron), and was injured for most of the preseason. I was just hoping that he'd be able to start seeing a fair amount of playing time by the end of the season. Instead, it's Week 5, and Brown is looking like one of the best ILBs in the league right now.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better game from an LB this season than Brown had against the Broncos. 14 solo tackles is unbelievable - especially when you consider no-one else on the defense had more than 6. When you combine that with a forced fumble that helped clinch the game, and a sack where he flew in so fast there was a split second I thought Trevor Siemian might be dead, it's easy to see why Brown is the biggest winner of Thursday Night.
The thing that's impressed me most about Jatavis Brown so far is his versatility. His speed is pretty evident - after all, there's not many RBs or TEs who can outrun Brown, and woe betide any offensive lineman who has to handle Brown flying in on a blitz. However, I was worried about his ability to defend the run when the Chargers drafted him, considering his size (or lack thereof). As it turns out, he's an absolute monster against the run as well.
He might not be the biggest LB, but he uses his other traits to full advantage. He has unbelievable short area quickness and so many times you can see Brown just burst past an offensive lineman before the lineman knows what's happening and wrap up the ballcarrier. Brown also has a fantastic knack of being able to 'stay clean', avoiding contact from a lineman while still being able to track down the runner.
Knowing your limitations is important. Turning said limitations into a strength is extremely rare; so far, Jatavis Brown has done just that. I think the Chargers have found their starting LB for the next decade.
2: Drew Kaser
I'm not letting this go. Last week, I wrote 720 words just about Drew Kaser. My take wasn't that the Chargers needed to cut him, however. Instead, I looked back at his college tape to investigate - and ultimately debunk - the claim that Kaser was mentally weak, and couldn't handle the pressure. It looks like I was right, and you're never hearing the end of it.
Drew Kaser may never be in a situation where there's more pressure facing him. He's shanked two punts at the worst possible moment this year. His botched hold last week cost the Chargers a chance to tie the game. The world is watching him on primetime. If he messes up, his job is gone - and his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL potentially vanishes alongside it. If Kaser truly couldn't handle the pressure, he'd have had a terrible game. Except he could. And he didn't.
His first punt went for 60 yards. 60! It also had incredible hangtime, and the Broncos could only return it to their own 16-yard line. His next one was even better, pinning the Broncos at their own 10-yard line, and forcing them to simply run the clock out until halftime, rather than risk giving possession back to the Chargers in great field position.
His third punt? No big deal. It was only downed at Denver's own 3-yard line. Oh, and the Chargers just so happened to get a safety following that punt - the safety that turned a two score game into a three score one. Just for good measure, he boomed another punt 59 yards before finishing the day by forcing the Broncos to start their late rally from their own 15-yard line.
Essentially, Drew Kaser could not have had a better game. He was close to flawless against the Broncos. He showed us in preseason that he could be special. He just proved it against the Broncos. It's up to him to maintain this level of play. I'm confident he will. By week 10, he'll have made people forget that he ever shanke - wait, what was I talking about, again?
3: Hunter Henry
The first three winners are all rookies. I'm not saying Tom Telesco is a wizard, but I'm also not saying that he isn't one. Hunter Henry was one of the best picks of the entire 2016 draft. I defended him when he hadn't been involved in the passing game to start the season. I defended him after fumbling against the Colts. It's Week 5, and I don't think I'll ever have to defend him again. He's earned his respect. He's also earned the right to be the Chargers #1 TE.
Antonio Gates is fantastic. He's the second best TE to ever play the game. But he's also 36 years old. He's clearly slowing down. Gates will still be a good option on third down and in the redzone, but the Chargers just can't rely on him to play 60 snaps a game anymore. Hunter Henry won't only give you 60 good snaps, but he'll give you 60 quality snaps.
As a receiver, he's already up there with the best at the position. His hands are, quite literally, glue. He does not drop the football. It doesn't matter how tight the coverage is - if it hits his hands, it stays there. His route running is fantastic (you can really see Gates' influence rubbing off on him already) and his athleticism means he does a great job of picking up yards after the catch.
As a blocker, he's already up there with the best at the position. The Chargers left him to block Von Miller one on one at times on Thursday. He didn't always succeed, but it speaks volumes about how much faith they have in his blocking. How many other rookie TEs would be asked to do that? (Answer: Zero.)
TE is a position that's notoriously hard for rookies to produce at. Almost all of the top talent at TE in recent drafts have fizzled out. Not Hunter Henry. He's already looking like one of the best players at his position. By the end of the season, he could very well be a top 5 TE in the NFL.
Out with the old, in with the new. Thank you, Antonio Gates. And thank you Tom Telesco for taking Hunter Henry. He wasn't the consensus pick, but he was sure as hell the right one.
4: Joey Bosa
Another rookie! He's the last one on this list (Derek Watt had another quietly good game, but I'm rapidly running out of room so he doesn't quite make the cut), but that doesn't mean he was the worst one. Far from it. The truth is, Joey Bosa has already set the bar for my expectations of him, and they're extremely high. He still managed to clear them.
Two games into his NFL career, I'm ready to admit I made a mistake when evaluating Bosa's tape. I saw a good player, but nothing that made him stand out enough to warrant being the #3 pick in the draft. I wasn't paying close enough attention to him. I saw the high motor scouts raved about, the pretty good athleticism and the displays of strength. I didn't see the technique.
Watch the way Bosa uses his hands when he plays. It's a work of art. He's aggressive with them, but he's also extremely quick with them. He'll jam into the opposing OL and then constantly move his hands, looking to knock his man off balance and power on through to the QB. Against the run, he does the same, using his hands and arms to stand his ground and carry his man with him into the running lane.
Bosa's biggest play of the day was a tackle on Siemian in the redzone, stopping him from potentially picking up the first down and holding Denver to 3. He starts off inside before using his hands to set up the outside spin move, before instantly releasing off Donald 'dirty' Stephenson to make the tackle as Siemian looked to escape. It was poetry in motion.
Don't think Bosa has hit his ceiling already, either. Far from it. His hand usage is fantastic, but that doesn't mean he's technically sound everywhere. He still has a lot of work to do to refine his game and become the finished product. Considering how much Bosa's already impacted his first two games, that's a scary thought for 31 other NFL teams. I didn't like the pick at the time, and I have to admit, I still don't. I love the pick. Bosa brings the Chargers exactly what they need, and he's damned good at it.
If only he'd been available at the start of the year...
5: Craig Mager
Craig Mager was not perfect this game. He wasn't even close. He gave up one or two catches, and got absolutely toasted by Emmanuel Sanders on an 'out and up' route. While Sanders was making the cut upfield, Mager was still tracking his shadow to the sideline, and was busy getting Gatorade from a trainer before he realised that Sanders had turned upfield. That's how much seperation Sanders had. Luckily, Siemian overthrew Sanders, because that's the easiest six points you'll ever see.
So, why's Mager on this list? Well... he was actually pretty good! He was by no means fantastic, as I've just mentioned, but he had a good game for himself - especially if you consider people's expectations for Craig Mager, who after just one season has already become a hate figure for Chargers fans.
Was Mager a wasted pick in the third round? We don't know yet. He was touted as an incredibly raw player who'd need a lot of development, and it completely baffles me that people were calling for him to be cut this offseason. You can blame Telesco for reaching on the pick, but you can't blame Mager for being raw when that's the exact warning label he came with.
Against the Broncos, Mager - for the first time - looked like someone who could make good on his potential. He was fantastic in the closing stretch, reading the game well and deflecting two crucial passes away around the endzone by reading what Siemian wanted and jumping the route.
I'm not going to sit here and claim that Mager is going to become a top quality CB in the NFL. He could be, but it's still far too early to tell. However, I will say that he deserves more patience from the fans. He's been thrown into the fire in the last two games - so far, he's come out mostly unscathed. For a #4 string CB, he's playing extremely well. Hopefully, those games have earned him some respect from the fanbase.
If not, shutting down Julio Jones will.
1: Manti Te'o
Football is a cruel game. Te'o hasn't played since Week 3, but that doesn't stop him from being a loser this week. Jatavis Brown has won a starting job. Denzel Perryman is undoubtedly a starter when healthy. Korey Toomer is looking like a good depth player. Joshua Perry isn't getting much playing time, but it's hard to imagine they'd part ways with a fourth round rookie after just one season. So, where does that leave Manti Te'o?
It must be extremely hard for Te'o to watch from the sidelines. His understudy, Jatavis Brown, is dominating! Good! But that means that Te'o's lost his job. Bad. He's having to cheer for a player that's made him expendable - not to mention a team that he might not be on next season.
I just can't see any way the Chargers decide to bring back Te'o. He's been average at best in his time in San Diego, and if he came back today would either be the #3 or #4 ILB on the roster (I like Korey Toomer, but I'm not sold on him yet). Te'o is going to want a bigger contract than a backup would get, and the Chargers don't have the cap space to splash the cash on expensive backups.
There will be teams that want Manti Te'o. He's got a fantastic football IQ, is a good locker room presence, has a high name reputation, and - believe it or not - isn't an awful player. He'll find a starting job somewhere relatively easily. Unfortunately for Te'o, that likely won't be back home in San Diego.
2: Antonio Gates
Antonio Gates is just 5 TDs away from tying Tony Gonzalez's record for the most TDs of any TE in the history of the NFL. After Thursday's game, I'm not so sure he'll get it. Gates may or may not be playing hurt, but that's not actually all that relevant to his chances of getting the record. In the NFL, you always play hurt. He's not going to magically recover when he's getting hit every week by men half his age.
I don't buy the injury excuse, anyway. He looked slow, fair enough - but when does Gates not look slow? He dropped a couple of passes that he wouldn't normally drop, and he struggled to get in sync with Rivers - something that's almost never happened before. Whatever you choose to blame it on, it's not important. What is important is that Hunter Henry has clearly earned the #1 TE role, and it's likely Gates is limited to just third downs and the redzone, where he can excel.
Still being involved in the redzone won't do his chances of getting that record any harm. Dropping passes and struggling to get on the same page as Rivers will. Mike McCoy is coaching for his job. He has no time for sentimentality. If Gates can't get back to his best - and fast - he's not going to get the opportunity to break that record (unless Rivers starts forcing him the ball, which is both likely and absolutely horrible for everyone involved). One poor performance against the Broncos is bad news, but it doesn't bury him. A second one against the Falcons might.
3: Travis Benjamin
Benjamin has to be on this list, for pure stupidity if nothing else. He waves everyone away from the catch and lets it bounce - I'd rather he go for the fair catch, but fair enough. Except he then changes his mind and tries to pick up the ball, only to change his mind again and attempt to move out it's way, hitting him on the leg and causing the punt to be fumbled. That's ridiculous.
The good news is, Benjamin won't be back on punt returns - and, to be honest, that's probably actually good news for him too. He never looked comfortable doing returns, happy to scamper out of bounds after three yards rather than face a potential big hit upfield. The reason Benjamin goes on this list as a loser, therefore, is because it diminishes his value to the team. He was bought in as a receiver and returner, and he's already lost his job at one of the two.
He also didn't have the greatest game at WR, in all honesty. Benjamin is an exciting player, and a good addition to the team, but he's simply got to learn to hold onto the ball when there's contact. Currently, he drops the pass at the slightest bit of contact from a DB. He's not going to burn past people every time, and not being able to make the contested catch means Rivers is going to lose a lot of trust in him.
Benjamin's been thrust into a fantastic opportunity, going from playing with [insert Browns QB here] to one of the best in the game. If he can't start taking advantage of that opportunity, it's going to slip through his fingers - just like the ball did in the Saints game.
4: Pierre Desir
I was pretty excited when the Chargers signed Pierre Desir. A young corner with a lot of upside, Desir was bought in to replace Stevie Williams. Only, come Week 5, Pierre Desir was inactive, with Stevie Williams back playing as the #3 CB. If it's a issue of knowing the playbook better, then it's fair enough. Only, Trevor Williams is an UDFA also bought in this year, and he was made active ahead of Desir on Thursday. That's a move I just don't understand.
Desir might not be the best cornerback, but if the Chargers think that a newly promoted UDFA could do a better job of it than he could, his job could easily be at risk. If Desir gets cut from the Chargers so quickly after being cut from the Browns, his NFL prospects are not going to be all that great. He'd probably be able to find another team, but it would likely take a few weeks. That's a few weeks spent sitting on his couch, not earning a paycheck, wondering if - and where - the next opportunity will come.
If Brandon Flowers recovers from his concussion in time for the Falcons game, I'd expect the Chargers to get rid of one CB. The obvious move would be to demote Trevor Williams back to the PS - or it would have been before Thursday. I just can't work out a reason that Williams would be above Desir in the pecking order unless they genuinely thought he was the better player - in which case, Desir will be the one to go.
By being kept inactive, Desir didn't get a chance to show the Chargers what he can do. They might have already decided that they don't think he has what it takes to succeed in the NFL. Come Sunday, there's a chance that Desir is watching his games from his couch - just like you or me.