By Dave Thomas
While it may be temporary, the San Diego Chargers will start off the new week holding down last place in the AFC West, this after a last-minute 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans Sunday in Nashville.
The loss, San Diego’s second of the young season, leaves the Bolts with a 1-2 mark overall, giving them the division basement for the time being (Oakland also at 1-1 plays Monday evening at 2-0 Denver, while Kansas City is 3-0).
In losing to the Titans in Music City, the Chargers watched a late fourth quarter 17-13 lead fall apart in the game’s final minute, as Tennessee QB Jake Locker hit receiver Justin Hunter on a 34-yard touchdown pass with :15 remaining in the contest. The win avenged last season’s 38-10 drubbing at the hands of the Chargers in San Diego.
Trailing through much of the game, Tennessee (2-1), which out gained the Chargers in total yards (469-275), defeated a San Diego team that started play Sunday with three starters out due to injuries. Rookie offensive lineman D.J. Fluker (concussion), starting wide receiver Malcom Floyd (neck sprain), and starting corner Shareece Wright (hamstring) all sat out the game. Floyd, who was carted off the field a week earlier after suffering a big hit in Philadelphia, will hopefully get some practice time in before San Diego’s next contest.
Chargers Continue Inability to Finish
With the players available to them on Sunday, the Chargers still saw one of their biggest problems from the last few years bite them yet again, the inability to hold a lead.
In a loss to Denver last season on a Monday night, San Diego led rival Denver 24-0 at halftime before falling. In the season opener this year (also a Monday night contest), the Chargers were ahead of Houston 28-7 before dropping a 31-28 decision on the game’s final play.
Whether it was Norv Turner or Mike McCoy at the helm, the inability to close games continues to haunt the Bolts. If that trend continues, look for the Chargers to miss the AFC playoffs for the fourth straight year, something that many Bolt fans were hoping was just a fear and not a reality.
After piling up more than 500 yards of total offense in the 33-30 win at Philadelphia last Sunday, San Diego was held to a more modest 275 yards of total offensive output by the Titans. Although that figure is not terrible, it more often than not will prevent you from winning many games.
A continuing problem is the inability of starting running back Ryan Mathews to put together a string of good games. Mathews, who missed much of the 2012 season (preseason and regular season) with broken left and right clavicles, was held to 58 yards rushing on 16 carries. Again, that is far from elite running back status in the NFL.
While Philip Rivers did not have any interceptions on this day (a major problem a year ago), he was held to a modest 184 yards passing (20-of-24, one TD). While missing Fluker on the offensive line did not help matters, the Chargers continue to be unable to put together a strong running attack for any of their backs.
Losing games in the final minute or minutes has become an all too common problem for the Bolts. While many coaches, players and fans will tell you that a “prevent defense” prevents you from winning, that is certainly not always the case.
In this case, however, San Diego should have been able to finish against a quarterback (Locker) who is far from an elite passer. To his credit, Locker (23-of-37, 299 yards, 1 TD) did just enough right to get his team the win.
Free safety Eric Weddle (in on six tackles, three solo) continues to be the best player on defense for the Bolts. When your best player on the defensive side of the ball is your free safety, yes, you have some work to do.
Linebacker Reggie Walker was also in on six tackles, including a sack.
After two straight road games, the Chargers entertain the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday at 1:25 p.m
For more Chargers 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.