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Sunday, November 3, 2013
Ryan Mathews deserves goal-line carries

By Eric D. Williams

Ryan Mathews
Chargers running back Ryan Mathews has two rushing touchdowns since 2012.
LANDOVER, Md. -- San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle scratched his grown-in Mohawk and pulled at his scraggly beard, searching for an answer.

How frustrating was it to watch from the sidelines as his team failed to get into the end zone from a yard out on three consecutive plays? After a long pause, he spoke.

“You can second guess everything that you want, but we didn’t do it,” Weddle said. “I’m sure we wish we could do different play calls obviously, because it didn’t work. We needed to do something different. For us, you just have to score. You have to win it right there. Obviously, what we did didn’t work, and hopefully we’ll learn from that.”

In the past two games, the Chargers have run seven plays from a yard out, failing to get into the end zone.

Against Jacksonville, the Chargers were in a little different situation with no time outs. But San Diego tried to spread the field, throwing three times before quarterback Philip Rivers tried to scramble for a score, getting stopped just short of the goal line as time expired in the first half.

San Diego failed to get any points in that situation, but there was less at stake, because the team already led 14-3 at halftime against winless Jacksonville. But Sunday’s heart-breaking overtime loss to Washington was different.

Needing just inches to steal a game on the road on Sunday, the Chargers again used a spread formation, with Rivers calling a run audible to scat back Danny Woodhead against a heavy front that failed to surprise Washington’s defense.

Rivers threw two more times with no success -- an overthrown fade route to tight end Antonio Gates and a half rollout where he tried to force the ball to Keenan Allen in the back of the end zone. So the Chargers had to settle for a Nick Novak field goal to tie the game and send it into overtime.

San Diego’s every-down back Ryan Mathews was in for just one of those seven goal line plays. That needs to change. Mathews has two rushing touchdowns since 2012, which is a curious number considering he’s carried the ball 301 times over that time frame.

Yes, I’m aware of Mathews’ fumbling issues -- 13 career fumbles, eight of them lost to the other team.

But at some point, you have to establish that you can physically dominate your opponent at the goal line when you need a score. San Diego already has done that with Mathews between the 20-yard lines, so why not take that same approach on the goal line?

Certainly, the team can afford to consider a different approach with the way things have gone of late.

However, Gates says it’s not about the play calls; it’s the lack of execution.

“We’re still learning,” Gates said. “But most importantly, it’s about executing. It’s about believing in the calls that are being made, and then going out and executing. To me, that’s the most important thing that we have to learn.

“Because when you get into that situation, you have to execute. It ain’t about the plays. It’s not about the play calling. It’s about executing what’s called, and doing it to the best of your ability. And we weren’t able to do that today.”

Rivers argued fervently that he believed Woodhead got in when he dove for the pylon on a 6-yard reception with 29 seconds left. But replay official here disagreed, overturning a touchdown call on the field that would have given San Diego a big road win.

“I know these guys are doing the best they can, just like we are,” Rivers said. “I’m by no means saying that cost us. But I thought he got in. I thought the call on the field would be a hard one to overturn.

“Then again, if we had the ball on the half yard line for three plays, it’s our job to score, and we didn’t.”

River’s last point is a salient one. Hopefully, coach Mike McCoy was listening. Give the ball to Mathews.

“Every game plan, regardless of where it is or who you are playing, you do what you think is best for the football team to win,” McCoy said. “You put together a package of what you think is best, and that’s what we are doing.”