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Chargers-Saints Final Score: San Diego Chargers lose to New Orleans Saints 35-34

In a must-win game for both team, one team just looked better prepared to actually win.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at San Diego Chargers Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

First Quarter

The New Orleans Saints received the opening kickoff and started the game on offense. Drew Brees and the Saints showed early on that they could move the ball either passing or running the ball. The Chargers defense had a few opportunities to get off the field on 3rd down, but when you need to move the sticks, you can always just throw to the guy covered by Craig Mager. Although, in fairness to Mager, the entire defense looked equally inept. The drive only ended when Mark Ingram was allowed to jog into the end zone untouched.

The Chargers offense “responded” by going three and out.

The Saints were moving the ball again and had converted another 3rd down, but on the next 3rd down, Jerry Attaochu won his one-on-one and got to Brees to force a punt. Travis Benjamin then had his first big return of the season to set up Philip Rivers and the offense with decent field position.

Hunter Henry picked up the Chargers’ first 1st down of the game with a nice catch and run in the middle of the field. Dexter McCluster then showed off his open-field running on a swing pass that picked up another 1st down. Melvin Gordon, not to be outdone, picked up another 1st down on the ground. Orlando Franklin left the game with an apparent injury. Henry scored on a seam route on the next play.

Early on the Saints’ next drive, the Chargers had an opportunity to get off the field on 3rd & 1 but allowed John Kuhn to convert with ease.

Second Quarter

Jatavis Brown made a very solid play going across the field to make a stop after only a two-yard game. A false start moved the Saints back. Then the defense sniffed out a screen to set up 3rd & long. An easy pitch and catch to Brandin Cooks defended by Jason Verrett moved the chains. Kyle Emanuel blew up the next play in the backfield.

On the next play, Mark Ingram caught a pass and fell to the ground, but he was not whistled down by contact. He got up and ran for the 1st down. Mike McCoy used his first challenge of the day the hopes that he was down by contact. Ingram had clearly been touched by Brown and the call on the field was reversed. It did not matter, though, because Willie Snead picked up all of the yards taken away and more on the very next play by beating Casey Hayward.

A couple runs by Daniel Lasco and a short pass to John Kuhn later, the Saints were back on top 14-7. The truly scary thing was that Brees had his pick of three guys that were wide open for a touchdown on that play.

In danger of going three and out, the Chargers turned to an unlikely hero when Inman got open across the middle of the field for a 1st down. And then on the very next play was left all alone down the sideline where he caught a Rivers’ pass for a 57-yard touchdown.

Drew Brees then threw a pass that got tipped into the hands of Craig Mager. The Chargers took a shot on their first play with the ball and Travis Benjamin bot the offense inside the red zone. The drive quickly fizzled out, though, and Josh Lambo came on to kick a field goal. It was a disappointing drive, but it gave the Chargers the lead.

A pair of Saints holding penalties put them in a tough spot and on 3rd down, Melvin Ingram sacked Drew Brees to force a punt. Benjamin was unable to get much on the return.

Philip Rivers took over in Saints territory to start the two-minute drill. They moved the ball well at first even without Chris Hairston who apparently injured his right leg. D.J. Fluker was shifted to right tackle, Spencer Pulley to right guard, and Joe Barksdale to left tackle. A D.J. Fluker holding penalty threatened to kill the drive. Melvin Gordon caught a short pass and fought for the 1st down, though. There was a booth review, but there was nothing on video to support overturning the ruling on the field. Rivers found an open Hunter Henry in the front corner of the end zone, but the rookie tight end could not get both feet in bounds. On the next play, the Chargers had a free play and Rivers threw one up for grabs. The Saints came down with it, but that did not matter. On 3rd & 3, Melvin Gordon picked up the 1st down about six inches from the goal line. From there, he scored easily on his next carry.

Third Quarter

The Chargers received the ball to start the second half with a chance to go up by three scores. It got off to an inauspicious start with McCluster making a bad decision to return the kickoff instead of taking a knee. Ineffective offensive plays and a pair of penalties resulted in a 3rd & 14 from their own 11. An incomplete pass brought out the punting team who managed to get a delay of game penalty before kicking.

The Chargers forced a 3rd & 8, but the Saints easily converted it by throwing to his tight end Coby Fleener. Mark Ingram then added a chunk play on a perfect throw by Drew Brees. Jatavis Brown was in good coverage but the throw was too good. Facing 3rd & 3 from the Chargers’ 5, the Saints called their first timeout of the second half to avoid a delay of game penalty.

Mike Lombardi likes to call red zone 3rd downs “4-point plays,” and the Saints converted this one. The Chargers responded by calling their own first timeout. In a game that already seemed destined to come down to the end of the 4th quarter, burning a timeout early in the 3rd quarter had to make Chargers fans nervous. The timeout was for naught as John Kuhn easily hopped over the line into the end zone.

The Chargers offense came out on the field and again had nothing for the Saints. They meekly went three and out again. They avoided the multiple penalties this time, though. So, that was a bit of a moral victory, honestly.

The defense came up with a quality series. Dexter McCoil just missed a big interception, but he still made a nice play to deflect the pass. On 3rd down, Verrett had solid coverage on Brandin Cooks. A 62-yard punt flipped field position after Benjamin elected not to field it.

If you’re wondering about reasons for why the offense stalled so badly:

That wasn’t ideal. Tyrell Williams didn’t care, though, and he picked up a 1st down on a catch and run. Benjamin then did the same. Williams then appeared to injure himself on an incomplete pass that resulted in a 3rd down (he would miss only one play). That 3rd down was another incomplete pass, this time, directed at Henry. Kaser’s punt was downed inside the 30.

The defense forced a three and out thanks to pressure up the middle by Corey Liuget on 3rd down. Benjamin fielded this punt and returned it, and a dumb penalty by the Saints tacked on five more yards.

Inman picked up six yards on 1st down. Rivers took a shot to Benjamin on 2nd down but came up empty. He found Inman again for a chunk play and a 1st down. He looked to Inman again for three yards on 1st down before being flushed from the pocket and throwing the ball away on 2nd. Henry stretched for a 1st down when it looked like Kenny Vaccaro had him short of the sticks on 3rd down.

Rivers couldn’t hit Inman on 1st down and Williams appeared to run the wrong route on 2nd. He went right back to Williams on 3rd down and Williams rewarded his confidence with a 1st down.

Fourth Quarter

Philip Rivers got drilled while delivering a strike over the middle of the field. Tyrell Williams came down with it.

McCluster picked up three from the 8. Vonn Bell held Inman on 2nd down. 1st and goal from the 1 was a quick pass to Williams after a play fake. Vaccaro made a great tackle to deny him. There was o denying Melvin Gordon, though. He punched it in for six.

On the Saints’ next drive, Drew Brees hit Adrian Phillips in the chest. Unfortunately for the Saints, Phillips plays for the Chargers.

Philip Rivers immediately tried to make the Saints pay by hitting Henry for a big gain and setting up 1st & goal. The drive fizzled from there, concluding with a sack and a 15-yard dead ball foul on Matt Slauson before a field goal.

Aided by some atrocious tackling, the Saints started off quickly moving the ball against little resistance. Inside linebacker Nick Dzubnar limped off the field. Shortly after, Brees missed on two pass attempts before the Saints settled for a punt.

Melvin Gordon, fighting for extra yards, coughed up the ball on the first play of the subsequent drive. The defense forced a 4th down attempt.

Unfortunately, the Saints turned it into a touchdown anyway. Michael Thomas beat Pierre Desir and Brees found him for the score.

On the first play of the next Chargers possession, Travis Benjamin fumbled the ball without being touched. You can’t make this stuff up.

The Saints proceeded to march the ball into the red zone and set up a 1st & goal from the 1. The Chargers defense offered no resistance whatsoever. Also, through some creative timeout (non-)usage, McCoy managed to give away over 30 seconds. John Kuhn scored his third touchdown to put the Saints back on top.

Rivers took over from his own 25 with 1:57 on the clock and one timeout. He was sacked on 1st down. It lost 5 yards and burned over 20 seconds. Matt Slauson then snapped the ball too early and set up a 3rd & 22. Rivers found an open Dontrelle Inman past the sticks who let the ball bounce off his facemask to force 4th down. He was picked off trying to force the ball to Inman again.