SAN DIEGO -- This was the kind of game the San Diego Chargers would have found a way to lose the last five years, and if they were playing anyone else but the Kansas City Chiefs, they probably would have done just that.
The Chargers are 2-1 for only the second time since 2006 and San Diego's players and coaches will tell you this is all that matters. They will take a win any way they can get.
We, of course, should know better than that.
When you're as talented as the Chargers and beginning a season with Super Bowl aspirations, a couple of nail-biting wins at home against the Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs -- two of only five teams in the league still winless after three weeks -- isn't going to cut it.
Yes, the Chargers are 2-1 and will try to move to 3-1 next week for only the second time since 2002 against the Miami Dolphins, another winless team, but this is far from a Super Bowl contending team right now.
If anything it looks like a familiar squad filled with the same characteristics Chargers fans have become all too familiar with in the postseason -- underachieving, mistake-prone, and ultimately, self-destructing.
Against the likes of the Vikings and Chiefs, who can’t get out of their own way this season and will probably find new and exciting ways to lose each week, the Chargers can afford to shoot themselves in the foot a few times and still come away with a win. The Chargers, however, proved last week they can’t do that against a good team like the New England Patriots and won’t be able to get away with careless turnovers and poor clock management against most teams in this league and come away with a win.
“The whole thing for me and it’s important for our team is that we’re 2-1,” coach Norv Turner said, echoing the feeling of the team after the game. “Our long-range goal is to be 3-1. We got a lot of work to do. I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a group of guys that cares more, that works harder than this group does. We’re good enough to get better. We have to get better there’s no question.”
For a team that has consistently started the season as slowly as the Chargers have over the last decade, it’s understandable to get excited about small things like starting the season off 2-1 and 3-1 but the truth is they’re like a college powerhouse getting fat off cupcakes with three of their first four opponents being winless with one of them likely being the future team of Andrew Luck come April.
Sunday was an opportunity for the Chargers to show everyone they had changed. They weren’t going to sleepwalk through the beginning of the season and the start of games. Kansas City came into the game 0-2 and having been outscored 89-10. In their last two trips to San Diego they had lost by a combined score of 74-14. This was a chance to blow out a divisional rival, who knocked them off their perch atop the AFC West last year, and rest their injured starters in the fourth quarter.
Instead, the Chargers had to be bailed out by a poor pass by Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel that was intercepted by Chargers safety Eric Weddle, on a potential game-winning drive at the end of the game to salvage a 20-17 win.
There was no excuse for the game to be that close in the final seconds. The Chiefs didn't get a first down on offense until the third quarter and had just 34 total yards on 18 plays at the half. Despite Kansas City’s inability to do anything, the Chargers were up only 10-0.
Perhaps the biggest culprit in the team’s poor performance to start the season is none other than their captain and quarterback Philip Rivers, who has six interceptions and four touchdown passes through the first three games. It is the first time Rivers has thrown six interceptions over a three-game stretch in his career. Last year he didn’t throw his sixth interception until the seventh game. This year he did it before the half of the third game.
“The biggest thing is he’s trying too much,” Turner said. “I have been around Philip long enough to know he will go on a stretch, and it will start soon, where he’ll go six or eight games without throwing an interception. That’s what we’re working for.”
Rivers would like that stretch to begin this week against Miami, but it’s not just his turnovers that have been problematic. The normally dependable quarterback has also had lapses in judgment went it comes to field position and clock management as well. All of his interceptions have been picked off inside the opponent’s 20-yard line and he gave the Chiefs an extra 20 seconds on their last possession by snapping the ball early on a failed quarterback sneak on fourth and one.
“Looking back I obviously should have handled that a little better,” Rivers said.
San Diego is also averaging about a touchdown less per game than their average last season and has been outscored so far after three games 69-65. All of these stats and numbers are well and good to Rivers as long as the team finds a way to win like they did on Sunday.
“The only stat I care about is winning,” Rivers said. “Everybody can analyze and talk about what I should’ve done and shouldn’t have done. We’re 2-1 and we’ll keep trying to do all we can to help us win. Certainly I want to play better but 2-1 is what’s important and I’m going to work like crazy this week to get number three.”