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Week 15’s loss to the Carolina Panthers officially eliminated the Chargers from the playoffs. Here is what we learned from Sunday’s 31-7 defeat.
1. Momentum Means…. A LOT: The Chargers got behind in a 21-0 hole early in the first quarter and were never able to recover. That’s been an unfortunate trend for the Bolts this season, as they have been unable to halt the opposing team’s momentum. Equally important, they also have been unable to create their own momentum when needed. The most notable examples in addition to yesterday include the New Orleans Saints’ fourth-quarter comeback, the Denver Broncos’ 35-point second half and late game losses the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals. Negative plays are a part of the game, every team experiences them. But the Chargers haven’t been able to find a way to overcome their negative plays and get the momentum shifted back in their favor.
2. Running Back Woes – Ryan Mathews’ broken clavicle was just the latest blow in what has been a disappointing year for the running game. The team hasn’t scored a rushing touchdown in nine weeks, the longest draught in franchise history, and now will look to break that streak without their number one rusher. The team is hopeful to have Ronnie Brown back from injury, but he is no sure thing to return this week. Head coach Norv Turner said he believes seventh-round pick Edwin Baker will be called up from the practice squad to the active roster, though he cautioned without better blocking up front it will be a difficult task for anyone who lines up in the backfield.
3. Turnovers Costly– The Chargers did a good job limiting turnovers in recent games, especially in their win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Against the Panthers though, Philip Rivers fumbled four times, losing two of them. And just like they have all season long, the turnovers proved costly. The first fumble occurred on the team’s first possession of the game when the ball simply slipped out of Rivers’ hand. Carolina recovered and a couple plays later capitalized with Mike Tolbert’s second touchdown that put the Bolts in a 14-0 deficit they never climbed out of. As in previous games, the Chargers just couldn’t figure out how to overcome their own mistakes..
4. Lack of the Big Play – In large part due to the offensive line’s struggles, the Chargers were unable to connect on any big offensive plays. Besides the one 30-yard reception by Malcom Floyd, they didn’t manage any throws over nine yards. A key to the Bolts offensive success this year has been when Philip Rivers has enough time to throw the ball down field to his big, physical receivers. Without that weapon at play, the team was forced to throw short underneath throws the entire game.
5. Gates’ Monumental Day– The lone bright spot of the day was Antonio Gates tying Lance Alworth for the most touchdown receptions in franchise history (81). Watching him work his way past his defender in the end zone and tie the record was a reminder of how much talent and versatility the veteran tight has brought to the Chargers offense in his 10 season career. . With two games remaining, we have a good chance to see more history made if Gates is able to break the record.