By Dave Thomas
For the San Diego Chargers, the clock is getting close to striking midnight.
Heading into their bye weekend in late October, the Chargers were 4-3 and on a high. Since then, they’ve dropped a pair of games, leaving them precariously close to being on the outside looking in when it comes to grabbing an AFC wild card spot come early January.
On Sunday, Peyton Manning (four touchdown passes) and the Denver Broncos added another nail in San Diego’s coffin, scoring a 28-20 win over the Chargers in San Diego. As many in blue and gold leaving the game remarked, the Chargers are in a pretty deep hole. While certainly not mathematically out of the wild card race, the Chargers have now missed opportunities to firmly cement themselves in the race two weeks in a row.
Trailing 28-6 at one point to the second-place Broncos (8-1, one game back of Kansas City in the AFC West), the Chargers rallied to within 28-20, but got no closer. Once Denver stopped the Chargers on their final drive, Manning and Co. moved the ball just enough to be able to run out the clock, sending San Diego on a two-game road trip (Miami, Kansas City) that are all but absolute necessary victories.
Time to Start Thinking About 2014?
As has been the case for most of the season, the Chargers have been unable to put together back-to-back, consistent, 60-minute games. While wins over Indianapolis and Jacksonville last month were impressive, the Colts are looking more and more like the defacto winner of the AFC South at this point, while the Jaguars are just short of terrible.
One of San Diego’s big negatives has been its inability to put together consistent games in all facets, specifically running the ball (Ryan Mathews), protecting QB Philip Rivers (offensive line), and shutting down opposing quarterbacks, notably in the secondary.
While Manning is the clear front-runner for the 2013 MVP crown, San Diego’s secondary made the future Hall-of-Famer shine even more on this summery day.
Manning passed for 330 yards, with three touchdowns going to Demaryius Thomas, the other to Julius Thomas. Time and time again, Bronco receivers seemed to have several yards separating them from their nearest Charger defender. While Manning did get sacked twice, his counterpart had an even tougher time getting away from the opposing pass rush.
Rivers was sacked four times on the day, not to mention pressured numerous other times. Meanwhile, San Diego again failed to pound the ball and keep the opposing quarterback on the bench more times than not, as the Chargers managed only 131 yards on the ground (Ryan Mathews had 59 yards on 14 carries).
Even though San Diego is certainly not out of the AFC wild card race, the opening is getting smaller and smaller with each passing week.
Offense Grade: C
Chargers needed to run the ball consistently and effectively in order to keep Manning off the field as much as possible. While San Diego did enjoy a time of possession advantage (38:03 to 21:57), it could not sustain drives, with Rivers under duress often. Offensive lineman King Dunlap did suffer a concussion during the game, but even with him in the contest it didn’t seem to matter much (center Nick Hardwick was also injured, suffering a stinger). A major problem the last few years, the inability of the offensive line to give Rivers ample time to pass, reared its ugly head again on Sunday. Yes, give Denver’s secondary some credit, but this all too familiar problem has not gone away.
Defense Grade: B-
It’s really tough to hammer the Chargers defense when they were going up against one of the best QB’s to ever play the game. While it may only be a moral victory, San Diego’s ‘D’ held Denver to its lowest point total of the season. Larry English and Tourek Williams recorded the sacks on Manning, a small victory in the scheme of things. While San Diego’s defense will not be tested as stiffly the next two weeks (at Miami, at Kansas City), they get Andy Dalton and the Bengals on December 1 and a return match with Manning and the Broncos on December 12.
AFC WILD CARD RACE AS OF NOV. 11:
* Jets 5-4
* Dolphins 4-4
* Titans 4-5
* Browns 4-5
* Ravens 4-5
* CHARGERS 4-5
* Raiders 3-6
* Steelers 3-6
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.