Is it just me who felt a little flat after the win over the Titans?
The game was an absolute must win for the Chargers, with a loss all but ending their season. After the win, happiness very quickly turned to a feeling of 'time to beat Miami'. It's fair enough - at 4-5, there's nothing to celebrate unless the Chargers can get back to .500 before their bye. But considering Chargers wins usually leave me elated for a couple of days (at the least), it feels strange.
Still, the Chargers did their job. If they can do their job at home against Miami next week, this season is still very much alive. It won't be an easy game - but when is any game easy for the Chargers? They'd manage to keep a game against a pee-wee team close. Which would mean the Jaguars are worse than a pee-wee team. Hmm.
1: Melvin Gordon
It feels unfair to reduce Gordon's performance on Sunday to one play, so I won't do that.
What? You thought I wasn't going to talk about it at all? Get real.
That's not just the best run of Melvin Gordon's career, but it's one of the best in the NFL this season. On 3rd and 7, the Chargers needed a first down to essentially ice the game. They decided to run the ball because Mike McCoy. No problem - enter Melvin Gordon.
SUPER MELVIN SMASH PATHETIC TACKLE ATTEMPTS BY PUNY TITANS.
Firstly, Gordon makes a nice jump-cut to the left, sensing that there's not going to be much room up the middle. There's not a whole lot of room on the left either, but that's fine because Gordon can create his own room. He breaks one tackle without trying, powers through another to seal the first down, and sprints away into the distance, unable to contain the smile on his face.
At least, that's how I hope it happened. Because Melvin Gordon finally got his vindication.
Despite judging someone after one season never being a good idea, that's what happened to Gordon last year. It wasn't possible to have his name mentioned without the word 'bust' following it. They weren't talking about a bust in Canton, either.
I'm not going to say Melvin Gordon has transformed his game since Year 1, because he's still far from the finished product. His vision still isn't where it needs to be. He still goes down on first contact too easily. His pass blocking is better, but he still makes mistakes when asked to block.
Despite all of that, Sunday gave us a glimpse of just how good Melvin Gordon can be. Running behind an underperforming OL against a strong Titans front seven, Melvin Gordon had 261 all-purpose yards. Those were 261 hard fought yards, and that places him second all-time in Chargers history for a single game. First place is LaDainian Tomlinson, a future Hall of Famer, with 271 back in 2002.
Maybe those critics should have been talking about a bust in Canton after all.
2: Antonio Gates
America turned their clocks back an hour on Sunday. I think Antonio Gates' internal clock malfunctioned because he seemed to turn his back 15 years.
Despite being held to less than 40 yards a game in every game so far this season, Gates was the Chargers leading receiver against the Titans, hauling in five passes for 75 yards and a TD. Antonio Gates is - or is supposed to be - 36 years old.
Granted, that's probably what happens if the Titans are both disrespectful and stupid enough to match Gates up with Defensive Linemen, which is what happened often on Sunday. Still, that doesn't take anything away from one of the finest performances by Antonio Gates in the last few years.
It wasn't just his day as a receiver, either. Gates was asked to block more in the absence of Hunter Henry. For possibly the first time in his career, he did it really well. He wasn't driving LBs 10 yards downfield, but he was smart with his blocks, getting just enough of a push at just the right time to clear just a big enough hole for Melvin Gordon to run through.
The most exciting part of Gates' performance? That's the 108th TD of his career. Tony Gonzalez has 111. Gates is just three away from tying the all-time record, and just four TDs away from making that record his own (unless Tony Gonzalez fancies coming out of retirement, that is). After Sunday's performance, I think he's going to do it.
3: Dontrelle Inman
Why is it that the phrase 'the best ability is availability' only ever gets thrown around when a player gets injured? Dontrelle Inman has not only been consistently healthy, but he's consistently been a reliable target for Philip Rivers when all else fails. That was the case again on Sunday. With Travis Benjamin's injury limiting him to just 8 snaps, the Chargers only available WRs were Dontrelle Inman, Tyrell Williams (also nursing a knee injury), Griff Whalen (ugh), Jeremy Butler (for about five minutes) and Isaiah Burse, who has more chance of winning the lottery than seeing the field on offense.
To put it more simply - if Dontrelle Inman didn't step up, the Chargers were screwed. And, as he so often has done in the past (remember the 2014 game against the 49ers that kept the Chargers alive in the playoff hunt?), Dontrelle Inman was there when required.
There's nothing flashy about Dontrelle Inman. He just knuckles down and gets on with the job. That's exactly what the Chargers need him to do. Inman finished Sunday with six catches for 56 yards and was often the one Philip Rivers trusted most to convert a third down play. You don't gain Philip Rivers trust by messing up. Oh, hi, Griff Whalen! I didn't see you there with your zero catches on the day in 49 snaps.
Don't look now, but Inman is on pace to end the season with roughly 50 catches for 600 yards. That's better than Julian Edelman, John Brown, Kendall Wright, Torrey Smith and Danny Amendola. Point is - Inman is a pretty useful receiver to have around.
Are there players with higher upside than Inman? Sure. The Chargers have a handful of them sitting on their practice squad. Does that mean I'd want them in the game over Inman? Not a chance. When the Chargers are facing a 3rd and 8, you'll remember why Dontrelle Inman is such a useful player to have around. And no, it's not because he goes over to pick up Antonio Gates after Philip Rivers tried to force it to him in quadruple coverage.
4: Dwight Lowery
As someone who's given Dwight Lowery plenty of criticism so far this season, let me be the first to say that Lowery played well against the Titans. Scratch that. He was fantastic.
For the first time since joining the Chargers in summer, Lowery looked like a genuine safety. He manned the field deep superbly. The Titans OL gave Mariota plenty of time to try for the deep ball - correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember one deep ball even coming close to being complete near Lowery's zone. Mariota did try to test Lowery deep once. He swatted that football away like it was a fly. Or a Raiders fan. Both are equally as annoying.
Of course, the pinnacle of Lowery's day was scooping up a fumble and bobbling it before taking it back 36 yards to the house to put the Chargers up by two scores. A fumble return doesn't always relate to a good play, as it can just be down to luck that the player was around to fall on the football. Not this time, though. Lowery deserved that recovery.
I've given Lowery plenty of criticism this year for being too slow to make a play on the ball, always getting there slightly after he needed to in order to break up a pass or stop the run. That wasn't the case on Sunday. Lowery was smart, aggressive, and technically sound, and that meant that Lowery happened to be in the 'right place at the right time' to recover the fumble. That's not a criticism. It's a huge compliment. I wish he was in the right place at the right time more often.
5: Spencer Pulley/Trevor Williams
Two UDFAs share the last spot because I love them equally and can't decide who deserves it more. Aren't I nice? (No, not really).
Let’s start with Pulley. After coming into Training Camp as a long shot to make the roster at a deep position, Pulley impressed the coaches enough to see some reps with the first team by the end of camp, solidifying his place on the roster. Against the Titans, he made a real push to have that starting spot become his own permanently.
Filling in at LG for Orlando Franklin when he went down with a concussion, Pulley played admirably in his 19 snaps. He was solid in pass protection and an absolute mauler in the running game, playing to the whistle and not being happy until his man was on the floor, looking up at Pulley's snarling face. That's the kind of mentality the Chargers need more of.
I'm willing to argue that Pulley is better than Orlando Franklin. If Franklin has to miss any time (which I hope isn't the case, because long-term concussions are incredibly scary), the Chargers may actually have upgraded at that position - just like they did when Tyrell Williams replaced Stevie Johnson and Jatavis Brown replaced Manti Te'o.
The other UDFA to get his chance to shine due to injury was Trevor Williams. I have to admit, after not being overly impressed with him in preseason, Trevor Williams has really won me over in the two NFL games he's taken defensive snaps in so far this season.
The thing that's impressed me most about Williams is just how tightly he sticks to the hip of the receiver when in man coverage. He gave up a TD against the Titans on a fantastic catch by Delanie Walker, but even then Williams is draped all over Walker and is only beaten by pretty much perfect placement from Marcus Mariota. On the other 18 pass plays that he was on the field for, Williams wasn't giving up anything.
It's too early to anoint Trevor Williams after just 42 defensive snaps in his NFL career. I'd still rather see him than Stevie Williams on defense. We already know that Stevie isn't ever going to be a quality starter in the NFL, having already been cut by the Chargers and only resigned due to injury. Trevor Williams might never become a quality starter, but his first two performances in the NFL certainly lead to optimism.
Even if Craig Mager makes his way back onto the field next week against the Dolphins, I'd like to see Trevor Williams get his fair share of playing time. Right now, he's playing like the third best CB the Chargers have not on IR (behind the excellent Casey Hayward and Brandon Flowers). Be smart with this one, San Diego. If Mager is back, limit his snaps to 'help him recover fully.' Play the hot hand. Because right now, that's Trevor Williams.
1: Jeremy Butler
Welcome to San Diego, Jeremy Butler! Unfortunately, you found out the hard way what 'being a Charger' really means. On his very first catch in a Chargers uniform, Butler hurt... something. Apparently, it was his ankle. Why not.
The Chargers may or may not be in the market for another body at WR soon. This is how I imagine that conversation going with a player and his agent:
Agent: "Great news! I've got you another shot in the NFL!"
Player: "My bags are packed! Where we going?"
Agent: "San Diego! You'll love it there. Beautiful wea- *breaks voicebox*"
Player: "Hello?" *Falls down the stairs of his one-story home*
So... yeah. Rest up soon, Jeremy Butler. I actually quite like you. Hopefully, you'll be healthy after the bye, because we'll need another WR to step up into the boots of our starters and get injured like a pro soon enough.
2: Dexter McCoil
This pains me to write because I really like Dexter McCoil. Unfortunately, he was pretty clearly the worst player on the field against the Titans. McCoil's day didn't get off to a fantastic start, picking up a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness. That would turn out to be the highlight of his game.
Adrian Phillips went down hurt, which meant that Dexter McCoil became the starter opposite Dwight Lowery, the role that most Chargers fans envisioned - and hoped for - when Jahleel Addae went down. Phillips wasn't down for long - and considering the quality of McCoil's play, that's incredibly fortunate.
McCoil was guilty of doing a Dwight Lowery, getting over way too late to help out Casey Hayward on a pass, allowing Tajae Sharpe to get behind the Chargers defense for a gain of 29 yards with 14 seconds left on the clock. If McCoil had been in the correct position, the Titans would have likely been held to a long field goal attempt. Still, no harm done, right? They still only had 14 seconds to get the TD.
On the very next play, McCoil and Hayward are defending the corner of the end zone in a zone-read concept. If the receiver goes inside, Hayward takes him. If he goes outside for the corner, he becomes McCoil's man. Rishard Matthews ran to the corner, and Dexter McCoil was so slow getting there that Matthews could have probably tipped the ball up into the air, performed a handstand and caught it in between his legs before McCoil was in position. (I kind of want to see that happen, now. I guess I'll have to settle for Golden Tate sending Andrew Sendejo flying with a spinning heel kick to the face).
Phillips came back in shortly after halftime, and McCoil was relegated to reserve duties once again. McCoil clearly has a lot of potential and his play this season hasn't been all that bad. Unfortunately, he picked the worst possible time to have an off day, because he affirmed why the coaches have been using Adrian Phillips over him. With Phillips down, he had a chance to win back some of his playing time. He might have lost even more.
Not to mention, Jahleel Addae is very close to healthy. If he's not back this week, he definitely will be after the bye. There's no question that Addae will slot straight back into the starting lineup opposite Dwight Lowery, which means that Adrian Phillips drops back to the rotation. There's only so much playing time that can go around, and there are a lot of mouths to feed in this Chargers secondary.
Dexter McCoil needs to be prepared to go hungry for a while.
3: Josh Lambo
To me, Josh Lambo looked 'off' against the Titans. I mean, the fact that he missed a PAT makes that pretty obvious, but PAT misses happen. That was the first miss Lambo's had on PATs this season out of the 27 that haven't been blocked, so it's not a huge problem - yet.
He was 3/3 on FGs against the Titans - so why's he on this list? Well, apart from it being difficult to pick out many losers, not one of his kicks filled me with confidence. I don't think Lambo knocked a single kick straight through the uprights yesterday. He had that one PAT miss, but could very easily have had another one miss, as well as missing on at least one of his FGs. That's not a good look for a kicker.
Is this contentious at best? Of course. Lambo put up 13 points yesterday (3 FGs and 4 XPs). That doesn't mean I shouldn't at least be a little concerned about how his kicks looked. Football is a game of inches, and Lambo was - at times - inches away from making this game a whole lot closer than it should have been.
At the end of the day, this is hopefully a nonissue. Lambo still had a good day stats wise, and he's still looking like a top 10 kicker in the NFL this year. I'm still nervous. The Chargers face another must-win game next week against an on-form Miami team, and they can't afford to have any more Special Teams miscues costing them points. The first time Lambo knocks through a kick cleanly, I'll relax and drop the issue. Until that happens? You better believe I'm going to be on the edge of my seat.
Isn't that the Charger way?