By Dave Thomas
While they are far from officially clinching an AFC wild card spot, the San Diego Chargers will breathe some life into the regular season’s final weekend.
With their 26-13 win Sunday over the hated Oakland Raiders, coupled with critical losses by both Miami and Baltimore, the Chargers remain alive in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Miami entered the day with a chance to end San Diego’s season, but the Dolphins did not surface in a 19-0 loss at Buffalo. Hours later, defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore could have closed the door on the Chargers season too, but they were unable to beat New England at home. As a result, San Diego, Miami and Baltimore all sit at 8-7 heading into this coming Sunday’s final day of play.
Unfortunately for the Bolts, Miami and Baltimore can both lose and still keep the Chargers from making the playoffs for the first time in four seasons if the latter fails to beat AFC West rival Kansas City at home (Dec. 29). If the Chargers win and Miami and Baltimore fall short in their last games, then the Bolts would qualify for the sixth seed. Yes, still much remains for the Chargers to be playing past this coming Sunday.
Oakland Couldn’t Play Spoiler
The Raiders failed in their bid to spoil San Diego’s lingering playoff hopes, this despite being tied with the Bolts at 10-10 going into intermission.
San Diego, which fell to Oakland (4-11) back in the Bay Area in September (27-17), scored what would prove to be the game-winner in the third quarter when quarterback Philip Rivers hit rookie sensation Keenan Allen with a four-yard touchdown pass, giving the Chargers a 17-10 lead.
The Chargers got nine more points over the remainder of play as Nick Novak (four field goals in all) connected on kicks of 48, 28 and 33 yards.
Running back Ryan Mathews added a seven-yard touchdown run in the second quarter for San Diego’s other touchdown on the day.
While the Chargers will undoubtedly be focused on Kansas City (San Diego won the first contest 41-38) come this Sunday, they will no doubt also be doing some scoreboard watching along the way.
Miami hosts the New York Jets on Sunday, while Baltimore travels to Cincinnati, a pair of games that will likely be finished or close to it by the time the Chargers take the field.
Buckle up your seat belts!
Team Grades Against the Raiders
Offense Grade: B
San Diego again got a strong effort from Mathews on the ground, as the Fresno State product finished with 99 yards rushing on 25 carries. Not nearly suffering the fumble issues he has his first few seasons in the league, Mathews has been much more dependable in 2013 carrying the rock. As a team, San Diego accounted for 344 total yards of offense and 24 first downs. Rivers finished his afternoon a modest 19-of-29 for 201 yards, along with an interception, a fumble and a sack. Eddie Royal led all San Diego receivers with four receptions for 54 yards. Lastly, San Diego held a nearly 10-minute advantage in time of possession.
Defense Grade: B+
Even though Oakland’s offense will not be mistaken anytime soon for Denver or that of New Orleans, the Raiders still have some weapons. Chargers did a good job of holding the Raiders to one TD and a pair of field goals. Oakland finished with 265 yards of total offense, with Matt McGloin going 20-of-36 for 206 yards, with an interception. Most impressively, San Diego held Oakland to a mere 59 yards of total rushing.
Key players on the defensive side of the ball included Shareece Wright (seven solo tackles), Richard Marshall and Marcus Gilchrist (four solo tackles apiece), and Eric Weddle with an interception.
Given Kansas City is much more capable of churning out yards and putting points on the board, the Bolts will have their hands full come next Sunday.
San Diego Playoff Picture
Chargers would clinch a playoff berth with a win against the Chiefs and Ravens loss to the Bengals and Dolphins loss to the Jets.
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.