A couple years ago, after another example of Philip Rivers losing his cool and failing to lead his team to victory, I wrote a comment on a Kevin Acee article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, in which I said that I understood Philip wasn't the cool steely-eyed killer that Tom Brady is, but maybe he should try to fake it once in a while, in tight games, instead of sulking or blowing up at Norv or kicking a dead ball on the ground. Mr. Acee responded that it's easy to pile on Philip from a distance, but that I "wasn't there, in the meetings and the locker room and the practice field" or words to that effect. He argued that Philip shows plenty of leadership, it just comes in a different flavour than a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. I couldn't decide at the time if it was noble for the Chargers beat writer to stick up for the quarterback he's covered for years and obviously has some affection for, or whether it was de rigueur for an embedded correspondent to do so, to preserve his access.
I've never come up with an answer. But today, we saw another example of a veteran Pro Bowl quarterback throwing a tantrum, and in the face of adversity acting like a four-year old. Specifically, after a touchdown pass to Eddie Royal was nullified by a offensive pass interference call, Philip resorted to his all-too-frequent practice of arguing the call with the refs, too vigourously and too long. This time however, instead of it being just a distraction from his duties of getting his teammates organized for the next play, he pushed it so far that he was flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty himself.
What was a tough ten yard penalty that could still be salvaged, since the Chargers would have had a first-and-goal from the 15 yard line, now became, when Philip's penalty was tacked on, a first-and-goal from the Titans' 30. What was originally thought to be an Eddie Royal touchdown finally turned into a Nick Novak field goal. As the final score indicates, we could have used the four points.
Mostly though, this was a case of the Chargers being true to form, of not coming through in the clutch, of questionable, conservative play-calling, of feeling the collars getting tight in the fourth quarter, and of the defense folding and allowing a game-losing drive in the dying minutes. I've bemoaned in the past how we often draft projects, guys with lots of potential, instead of gamers, football players who may not look great at the combine but have always acted as captains in lower levels, guys who love and breathe the game and want the pressure situations on Sundays.
Coach Mike McCoy flubbed a great opportunity to seize the day in the first quarter, on the second drive of the game, when the Chargers had 3rd and 1 at the Titans' 39. This was no-man's-land, well into Tennessee territory but not deep enough for a makeable field goal attempt. An aggressive coach who's up on his probabilities, reading the situation correctly, would have known that he had two shots to get the first down, that punting was going to yield meager results anyway. Might as well call up a play with a deep route and a couple of short outlets to gain the yard, and if it doesn't work do that again. The probability of keeping the drive going was quite high, the risk virtually nil. The Titans were on their heels, nothing was working for them, now was the time to strike.
Instead, he sent Ryan Mathews up the gut for a perfunctory attempt that netted no gain, and then sent in Mike Scifres for a punt that planted the Titans on their own eight-yard line. But they were off the hook.
Calling a running play showed little awareness, never mind that the team was missing monster Right Tackle D.J. Fluker. It was conservative, CYA coaching, which took the boot off the Titans' throat. Instead of getting another TD and forcing them to play catch up, and limiting their playbook options, the Titans got another life, and slowly got their rhythm.
Another situation where the coach could have been more opportunistic was the final possession with over six minutes left on the clock. What the Chargers needed was a few first downs, and the best way to accomplish that would have been short passes in the backfield or over the middle, with the receivers aware that they should not go out of bounds. Instead, Coach McCoy, or should I say Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, called a succession of run plays, and gave the ball up to the Titans before the two-minute warning. Even for them that was enough time to drive the field.
The Chargers' Bend and Bend Some More defence allowed 452 yards, didn't cause a turnover, and allowed another end-of-game winning drive. We knew going into the season that this unit was a patchwork and couldn't suffer any injuries or it would implode. Sure enough, Donald Butler and Shareece Wright were both out of action, and it was hard to find anyone who could make a play. Not that there weren't opportunities. In the final minute, during the failed last stand, Marcus Gilchrist had a ball carom right into his hands, but he couldn't pull it down. Not that it was a gimme, but with a chance to win it for the team one of ours came up short. Again.
So even though the Titans did everything they could to gift-wrap the game for us, committing 11 penalties for 116 yards, and fielding ambulatory brain-cramp Kenny Britt, we still did just enough to lose narrowly, in the dying seconds. Another kick in the ego was the football follies-style finish to the game, in which the Chargers tried a ridiculous sequence of laterals to Music City Miracle 2.0 themselves a win, but which ended with a fumble well behind the original line of scrimmage, even though the initial pass by Mr. Rivers had traveled thirty yards downfield.
So yeah, a tough loss, one in a manner we've seen all too often, and with two more offensive linemen being injured, things look a little more bleak today than they did this week. We may get that high draft position next season yet.