By Dave Thomas
Whatever playoff hopes the San Diego Chargers had when they got off the plane to start the weekend in Miami were certainly not encouraging going home with them come Sunday evening.
A potentially late game-winning drive died in the end zone early Sunday night, perhaps with it San Diego’s season, too. The 20-16 loss to the Dolphins left the Chargers at 4-6 after 10 games, certainly not a record that is a lock by any stretch of the imagination for an AFC wild card spot.
For the Chargers, the one and maybe only saving grace after their third straight loss is that the Dolphins and New York Jets only sit one game ahead of them (5-5) in the wild card race.
With six games to go, the Chargers have not been eliminated, but they are hanging by a thread. Making matters worse, the Chargers have upcoming games with AFC West leading (as of Sunday night) Kansas City and AFC North leading Cincinnati the next two weekends. Not an impossible mountain to climb, but certainly one that will require close to perfect play.
San Diego Continues to Miss Opportunities
On this Sunday in South Florida, the Chargers did not necessarily have trouble moving the ball (435 total yards), but it was mostly the inability to come up with the big play when needed that doomed San Diego.
Instead of cashing in with touchdowns, the Chargers had to settle for a pair of short Nick Novak field goals (27, 29 yards) when seven points would have been much more preferred.
Another problem: keeping quarterback Philip Rivers upright for the better part of the day.
Rivers, who will never be confused for Michael Vick or Russell Wilson when running the ball out of the pocket, was sacked three times on the day, along with being pressured on numerous other occasions.
Down 20-16 midway through the final quarter, the Chargers had a chance to pull out the victory, moving the ball from inside their own 20 all the way down to the Miami 25. That’s where things ended, however, as Rivers watched his last gasp throw with seven minutes remaining be knocked away by Miami’s Brent Grimes.
Making matters worse for the Chargers on the day, San Diego was penalized 10 times for 76 yards (Miami was only flagged three times for 15 yards). Throw in the fact that the Bolts wasted a rare 127-yard rushing performance from running back Ryan Mathews, and you had a frustrated team boarding their cross country flight home.
While the Chargers are not mathematically out of the AFC playoff race, they certainly sunk a little further down in the hunt.
Offense Grade: C
The Chargers’ offensive line still has not had its best game of the season to date. Too much inconsistency has led to Rivers (298 yards passing on the day) running for his life at times or simply going down in a heap. When you have what amounts to an immobile quarterback in Rivers, the shaky offensive line play is magnified even more. Rivers had some open opportunities at times during the game, but pressure prevented him from either getting off a good pass or a pass at all. Rivers did spread the ball around, hitting nine different players on the day. It was a nice game for backup tight end Ladarius Green, finishing with four catches for 81 yards. Given that San Diego faces a tough Kansas City defense on the road next Sunday, the pass protection for Rivers will have to improve rather dramatically.
Defense Grade: B
Even though Miami will not confuse anyone for Denver or New Orleans on offense, they do have some weapons. For the most part, San Diego’s defense did enough to keep the Chargers in the game. Miami QB Ryan Tannehill was sacked four times on the day, finishing with 268 yards through the air. Eric Weddle, Reggie Walker, Sean Lissemore and Thomas Keiser recorded sacks of Tannehill. San Diego also held Tannehill and the Dolphins to a mere two of 10 conversions on third down. Lastly, only giving up 104 yards net rushing, the Chargers certainly did not let Miami’s rushing attack go up and down the field on them.
The bottom line: missed opportunities for the Bolts on the offensive side of the ball mainly accounted for this loss.
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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.