Everything had to go just right for the Chargers to beat the Broncos, and they didn't quite, but they came surprisingly close in the final analysis. The Broncos walked away with a 28-20 win, but they turned what should have been a comfortable win into a bit of a nailbiter at the end, one in which they had to amass first downs to run out the clock.
The Broncos scored 'only' 28 points, which is an amazing result for the Chargers defence, frankensteined as it is from mismatched and rejected parts. The San Diegans could finally count on their two starting middle linebackers being in the game at the same time, with Donald Butler and Manti Te'o playing their first regular season game alongside each other. And maybe that helped John Pagano, he again called a great game, mixing in blitzes and stunts and new alignments, and his boys bent and bent and bent, and sure they broked too, but they managed enough stops to keep the game within reach, especially after withstanding the first-half flurry. The defensive line was quietly efficient, and I'm intrigued to see how good Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes will be in a couple years time with a decent set of defensive backs behind them. And a capable nosetackle between them.
The Broncs touchdowns all came via the passing game, with the first being the most objectionable of the bunch. Julius Thomas, a big tight end, caught a short-ish pass from Peyton, turned upfield along the right sideline, and kept running all the way to the endzone. Cornerback Derek Cox didn't distinguish himself on this play, as he almost appeared to let up on the pursuit, expectant that the Bronco would run out of bounds. Sure, there was a blocker in his way, but it didn't look right, it was at least a brain cramp on his part. But right there, very quickly the Chargers were down 7-0.
They tried to slow the game down, Philip taking his time at the line of scrimmage, milking the clock, calling runs and keeping Peyton Manning on the sideline. Trouble is, the redzone was again his bugaboo, with the Chargers settling for field goals while the Broncos' other rampagin', receivin' Thomas, Demaryius this time, added three more TD's.
Generally, I would have preferred the Chargers giving Ryan Mathews a bigger role. He did rack up 60 yards on 14 attempts, and scored a touchdown, but he had a lot of carries siphoned away by Danny Woodhead and even Ronnie Brown, of all people. Again, I understand the issues, that Ryan isn't great catching the ball or with pass protection, and that he fumbles a lot, but in this game, when we needed to keep pace with the Broncs, he was the only homerun hitter out of the backfield, and should have been used more. We weren't going to win this game with 3 yard plunges from Mr. Brown.
So the Chargers tried hard, showed resourcefulness, even converted a fake punt into a first down, but ultimately came up short. And their record droops down to 4-5, and 0-2 in the division.
And another word about the offensive line. King Dunlap again left the game with a concussion, the third time this year. Again, D.J. Fluker switched from right to left tackle, and Jeromey Clary kicked out from his right guard spot to right tackle. The O-Line is significantly more vulnerable when this happens, and I fear that Mr. Dunlap will be out for a while now. He probably should take some time off, three concussions in the same season are nothing to downplay.
But again, without this competent offensive line, with Jeromey Clary again struggling at tackle, and rookie D.J. Fluker miscast on the left side, any hope we have that Philip Rivers can keep us in the game with rookies at WR and double-teams on Antonio seem even more fanciful.