By Dave Thomas
What looked like a win in the season opener quickly went by the wayside, with the San Diego Chargers falling on Monday Night Football at home to the Houston Texans 31-28.
Yes, if you were a Texans fan and you left the stadium or turned off your television set down 28-7, you missed quite a comeback. On the other side of the ball, you watched quite a meltdown.
After blowing a 24-0 lead at home last season to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on a Monday night contest (Denver would go on to win), Charger fans would have hoped they had seen the last of such performances. Unfortunately, a new head coach (Mike McCoy) and new general manager (Tom Telesco) could not save the Bolts from another agonizing Monday night affair to start the 2013 campaign.
Holding a 28-7 lead at one point, San Diego was still rather firmly in control headed to the final 15 minutes of play (28-14), but fate would not be on its side.
Houston, which finished 12-4 a season ago, pulled within 28-21 early in the fourth quarter, with Matt Schaub hitting Owen Daniels for a 9-yard TD play.
San Diego, which is looking to make the AFC playoffs after sitting them out the last three seasons, then went into its total meltdown, as quarterback Philip Rivers, trying to hit running back Danny Woodhead out of the backfield, was picked off by inside linebacker Brian Cushing. Cushing, who missed the remainder of the 2012 season after an injury in the fifth game a season ago, grabbed the intended pass for the former New England Patriot and sprinted 18 yards into the end zone with 9:30 remaining. Other than the Texan fans in the crowd, a hush fell over the nearly 60,000 in attendance.
After San Diego twice failed again to move the ball, Houston, on its second possession after the Cushing interception, started its game-winning drive.
Schaub marched the Texans down the field with several passes and some Arian Foster runs, allowing kicker Randy Bullock to ice the victory on the game’s final play, a 41-yard field goal. Yes, the Chargers were in meltdown mode once again.
While stunned Chargers watched the Texans celebrate on the field, many in the crowd had that look of “here we go again” as they filed out of the stadium.
Even though it is just one game, some Charger fans are likely thinking that 2013 will not be much better than 2012. If that’s the case, look for the Bolts to be watching the playoffs at home yet again.
Despite the demoralizing loss, a number of Chargers came up with notable (good and bad) performances on the final game of the season’s first weekend. Among them:
Despite that terrible decision to try to hit Woodhead with the Chargers nursing a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter, Rivers finished the night with four TD passes and 195 yards passing. Meantime, running back Ryan Mathews was held to 33 yards rushing on 13 carries. Yes, the offensive line was not exactly opening up hole after hole, but Mathews still lacks that explosive speed once he gets his direction set after taking the ball. If Mathews can’t come close to 100-yard rushing performances much of the season, Rivers and Co. are in for a long day. Mathews did make a nice catch on San Diego’s first score (a 13-yard pass from Rivers). Eddie Royal added a pair of TD catches, with Vincent Brown stretching it past the pylon for another great TD effort.
Holding a 28-7 lead, the Charger defense seemed time and time again like they could not make the big play when needed, especially on third down. While the San Diego offense no doubt stalled in the second half (especially the last 15 minutes of play), the Charger defense unfortunately did not come through when needed. Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson had a strong performance with a sack and five solo tackles, along with setting up Cam Thomas for an interception early in the game. Meantime, free safety Eric Weddle played his usual strong game, finishing with nine solo stops.
While this loss was definitely hard to swallow for a team hoping to challenge Denver in the AFC West this season, it all starts over again this Sunday in Philadelphia, as the Chargers travel to the East Coast to meet the 1-0 Eagles.
For San Diego, it’s time to put this opener in the rear view mirror, something that many of the team’s fans are not likely to do anytime soon.
For more news and updates, visit Chargers Central.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.