As usual, Chargers bounce back
October, 25, 2009
By Bill Williamson | ESPN.com
|John Rieger/US Presswire|
|San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers led one of the best offensive performances of the season for the Chargers.|
KANSAS CITY -- Philip Rivers drove home from the San Diego Chargers’ practice facility Wednesday night, knowing everything was going to be OK.
Coming off a bitter home loss to the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos less than 48 hours earlier, the Chargers were crisp, deliberate and focused as they began their work week in preparation for Sunday’s game at Kansas City. The fresh, relaxed, productive approach lasted all week.
“That was so encouraging,” Rivers said Sunday. “We could have slumped around practice all week, feeling sorry for ourselves. But we went out and had our best week of practice. We knew it was time.”
The Chargers followed up their most productive week of preparation with their best overall game of the season. San Diego hammered Kansas City 37-7 in a driving rainstorm. The Chargers were dominant in all three phases of the game. They jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and were never challenged by the still green Chiefs, who were unable to parlay the good vibes of their first win last weekend at Washington.
While the Chiefs couldn’t put together a modest winning streak, San Diego was determined not to lose a third straight game.
San Diego has become famous for bouncing back, and Rivers is hoping Sunday’s win signifies the Chargers are starting their annual resurrection early. In 2007, San Diego started 5-5 before winning six straight and the AFC West title. Last season, the Chargers became the first team to make the playoffs after starting 4-8. It took a four-game winning streak and a historic collapse by Denver.
The Chargers are now 3-3, but still trail the Broncos, who were idle Sunday, by three games.
“We can’t chase anyone,” Rivers said. "We just have to take care of ourselves and hopefully look up in a month and we’ll be closer [to Denver]."
Rivers has no explanation but he does believe the Chargers tend to play their best when they have to.
“I think guys on both sides decide to take care of their individual jobs,” Rivers said. “There is no magic call or magic solution. So instead of waiting for it, guys just take control of their own situations. I think we play our best when we do that."
Rivers said he and several other leaders on the team, including tight end Antonio Gates and linebackers Stephen Cooper and Shaun Phillips, were in communication this week, making sure that players from both sides of the ball were in good spirits and ready to bounce back from the Denver game.
“There was no question about it, when the practice week started,” Rivers said. "Guys are relaxed. They just knew things weren’t that bad.”
A balanced offense is a winning formula: The Chargers had their most balanced offensive game of the season. The Chargers entered the game tied for last in the NFL in rushing. All of San Diego’s offensive production was coming from Rivers, who is having an outstanding season.
Rivers carried the load again Sunday. But at least he had help.
San Diego had 135 yards rushing. LaDainian Tomlinson had 71 yards on 23 carries, but one run was for 36 yards. So it would be premature to categorize Tomlinson as being at full strength considering he had 35 yards on 22 carries. But Tomlinson played well enough to allow backup Darren Sproles to be a factor as a change-of-pace back. Sproles had 41 yards on the ground and he broke a 58-yard touchdown on a short pass.
San Diego, which scored touchdowns on only two of five trips to the red zone, made huge plays in the passing game. Rivers completed 18 of 30 passes for 268 yards. He threw three touchdowns and he was not intercepted. Receiver Vincent Jackson had 142 yards on five catches. He had two 51-yard catches as he and Rivers continue to become one of the best deep-ball combinations in the NFL.
Chargers play safety blitz dance: The Chargers got creative in an attempt to create some pass rush.
The Chargers had their safeties blitz extensively and it was very effective. San Diego had four sacks. Safeties Eric Weddle and Steve Gregory (who was playing nickel cornerback) each had one sack. Phillips had two sacks.
“We came out with an aggressive approach,” Weddle said. “I think it caught them off guard and we were able to do some nice things. The key is staying aggressive. We’re better when we play that way.”
San Diego has been making changes in the secondary in recent weeks. Before the Denver game, starter Clinton Hart was cut out of the blue and rookie Kevin Ellison was made a starter. This week, Gregory took over for 2008 top pick Antoine Cason at nickel. The moves have worked.
Ellison, a sixth-round pick from USC, has played well in his two starts. Gregory had an interception to go with his sack.
Cassel gets sloppy: Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel had been very good in his past four games, but he struggled Sunday.
Cassel, who went 153 straight passes without throwing an interception, threw three interceptions in a span of eight plays. He completed 10 of 25 passes for 97 yards. The Chiefs used a hurry-up offense in the second half, but still couldn’t get much going.
Kansas City coach Todd Haley was not happy with any aspect of his team, especially on offense.
“Disappointed, mad,” Haley said, describing his thoughts. “I’m the head coach of the team. I’m running the offense and we've got to be better than that. We’ve got to be better protecting, we’ve got to be better run blocking, we’ve got to be better catching the ball, we can’t be tipping it to them and we’ve got to be better at quarterback.”
If there was a bright spot for the Chiefs, it was backup running back Jamaal Charles gaining 33 yards on four carries. Starter Larry Johnson had 49 yards on 16 carries. Watch for Charles to get more playing time if Johnson can’t get going.