Division changes course in a snap

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
2:45
AM ET
Philip RiversAP Photo/Ed ZurgaPhilip Rivers was concise when describing the play that changed Monday's game, "I dropped it."
KANSAS CITY -- In the spirit of full disclosure, I was preparing to write the Philip Rivers' revival story.

That was going to be the story of this night. The old Rivers was back. It was just a couple of snaps away. Easy snaps.

Then, the Joe Pisarcik comparison began.

Halloween night provided one of the wildest NFL games of the season, changing the course of the AFC West -- and perhaps the legacies of two key San Diego figures -- on what should have been a glorified victory formation play.

With less than a minute to play and the score tied at 20 with the Chargers at the Kansas City 15-yard line, Rivers simply fumbled a snap from center Nick Hardwick on first down. After a wild scrum, Kansas City linebacker Andy Studebaker came up with the ball, forcing the game to overtime.

For the record, the Chiefs played brilliant on offense and defense in overtime to take the 23-20 win on a short Ryan Succop field goal midway through overtime. What will always be remembered as the Halloween play, though, was the fumbled snap.

Making the play so compelling is that it was so simple. There was nothing extraordinary about it. It’s not like the diagram of the play will be forever studied.

“I dropped it,” Rivers said.

Added San Diego coach Norv Turner: “Wild. I have never seen anything like it.”

As far as the AFC West standings go, the NFL has not seen anything like this since 1989. The Chiefs (who have won four straight games after being humiliated to start the season), Chargers and Oakland Raiders are tied for first place in the division at 4-3. The last time that happened was in 1989 in the old AFC Central.

The division is set up for a tremendous final two months, as all three teams appear to be evenly matched.

The question, though, is how will San Diego bounce back from this? It was basically two kneel-down plays and a short field goal away from being 5-2 and being in control of the division.

The shell-shocked Chargers -- their postgame locker room was as sullen and as quiet as imaginable -- must quickly find a way to put The Snap behind them. San Diego hosts the unbeaten world champion Green Bay Packers on Sunday and Oakland four days later. If the hangover from this play lingers, the Chargers could quickly be the third wheel in this race.

“We’ve got to find a way to bounce back in a hurry,” Rivers said.

The painful realty for San Diego is Rivers was playing his best football of an uneven 2011 season for much of Monday night’s game. After two first-quarter interceptions continued his worst start since taking over in San Diego in 2006, Rivers became his old self in the second quarter. He was accurate and made plays out of nothing as he always has. Rivers put the Chargers in position to win.

Had Rivers (who leads the NFL with 11 interceptions and 14 turnovers) taken the snap from center cleanly, the NFL headlines Tuesday would have been all about how he got over the hump. Now, his problems are more dramatic than at any point this season.

What happened between his second interception of the first quarter and The Snap has been erased. Now, the story remains: What’s wrong with Rivers?

Rivers is a fiery competitor and a terrific player. He will bounce back from this, but you have to wonder what kind of mental damage The Snap could have on him. Right now, this play has a chance to be his legacy. Rivers is no Pisarcik -- the culprit of the Miracle at the Meadowlands when he turned a victory formation into an Eagles win in 1978 -- but Rivers has to overcome a similar plight.

If the Chargers end up out of the playoffs, calls for Turner’s firing will be loud and Monday night will be recalled as a perfect example of this talented team finding ways to hurt itself.

Like all classic games, there is already a legend building in Kansas City that an untimely (timely?) fireworks display near the parking lot area -- and facing the direction the Chargers were headed in the final seconds -- could have affected Rivers on the fateful play.

It was the buzz in the Chiefs' locker room after the game, but no one in Chargers' locker room thought it had any bearing.

“No, I wish I could say I did,” Rivers said when asked if he heard the fireworks during the play.

Fireworks had nothing to do with the fumble. It was simply a freak play on the freakiest of American nights.

As stunned as the Chargers were by the turn of events, the Chiefs were as exuberant.

“I believed it when I saw it,” deadpanned Kansas City pass-rusher Tamba Hali.

If you didn’t see it, believe me, it was hard to imagine The Snap that changed the AFC West.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter

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