By Dave Thomas
Drew Brees broke a legendary record and got his team its first win of the season, San Diego missed a chance to take a two-game lead in the AFC West race, and the regular officials made some Chargers fans yearn for the replacement ones Sunday evening.
In one of the more entertaining Sunday Night Football games this season, Brees and the Saints rallied from a 24-14 hole to post a 31-24 victory over the visiting Chargers, putting them at 1-4 for the season. The win keeps the Saints faint playoff hopes alive.
San Diego (3-2), meanwhile, missed a golden opportunity to go two games up on rival Denver in its division heading into a showdown with the Broncos next Monday night in San Diego.
On a night when Brees surpassed NFL legend Johnny Unitas with his record 48th straight game with a touchdown pass, the Saints may have saved their season with the victory. An 0-5 record heading into a bye week may have been too much to overcome for a team saddled with suspensions and turmoil from the “Bountygate” saga. Now, the Saints go into their Oct. 21 match up with Tampa Bay with some confidence.
For the Chargers, it will be interesting to see how they rebound from a tough loss. Do they come out fired up for the rival Broncos a week from Monday, or does this loss carry over and allow Denver to even up the AFC West race at 3-3?
Safe to say, this was one game the Bolts would have liked to penned a different ending to.
San Diego Report Card:
Offense – Ryan Mathews had one of, if not his best, game of the season with the ball. Mathews, who suffered an infamous fumble early in the second quarter in the loss to Atlanta two weeks ago, carried the ball Sunday night 12 times for 80 yards, while hauling in six passes for 59 yards. Mathews looked confident and sharp running the ball, making some nice cuts to tack on some extra yardage. Any game Mathews makes it through without fumbling has to build his confidence and that of his coaches and teammates. Quarterback Philip Rivers was 27-of-42 for 354 yards, with two TD’s and one interception. A costly fumble near the end of the game as he was stripped of the ball ended the night for San Diego. While the offensive line had its moments, too much pressure on Rivers in the fourth quarter especially, proved bad for the Bolts. Kudos to receivers Malcom Floyd (5 catches, 108 yards) and former Saint Robert Meachem (3 receptions, 67 yards, 2 TDs) for strong performances. Grade B-.
Defense – Chargers fans had to be encouraged with the pass rush the ‘D’ got on Brees during the night. Although Brees finished with 370 yards passing and four TDs, he was harassed for a good portion of the game, getting sacked three times. Corey Liuget, Shaun Phillips and Eric Weddle recorded the sacks, but Takeo Spikes and Jarret Johnson also had their moments. In the secondary, too many open New Orleans receiver became a problem, as Brees picked apart the coverage on a number of plays. If you take away the missed plays in the secondary, and a costly roughing the passer penalty on Melvin Ingram negating an interception for a touchdown by Demorrio Williams that would have made it 30-14 Chargers, overall a good defensive effort. Grade B-.
Lastly, one never likes to point out the officiating, but it certainly came into play on San Diego’s final drive of the game.
On several penalties that may have been reminiscent of replacement official calls, the Chargers saw a promising drive that may have led to a game-tying touchdown and extra point, go by the wayside.
The most questionable call came as tight end Antonio Gates was called for pass interference against defender Roman Harper. The call came as Gates had caught a pass and had moved the Chargers down into potential scoring territory. Replays showed that there was minimal contact by both players at best, yet the Gates penalty pushed the Chargers into a bigger hole.
The Chargers were also called for a holding penalty on the final drive, while officials did not call a potential roughing the quarterback foul after Rivers was knocked to the ground just after releasing a pass.
Granted, the Chargers should not have let a 10-point lead with three minutes left in the third quarter slip away, but they should have at least been in position were it not for some questionable calls at the end, to make it 31-31.
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Dave Thomas is a freelance writer covering all things Chargers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.