By Dave Thomas
With their move to the greater Los Angeles area complete, the Chargers opened their 2017 NFL regular season in a meeting against an old foe Monday evening, the AFC West rival Denver Broncos. By the time the dust had cleared, the Chargers found themselves in a familiar situation that is on the losing end.
A late field goal attempt by rookie placekicker Younghoe Koo was blocked, allowing the host Broncos to escape with a hard-fought 24-21 victory in the Mile High City.
Down 24-7 in the final 15 minutes of play, the Chargers rallied to pull within three points, giving them an opportunity to take the game into overtime.
Veteran quarterback Philip Rivers threw two of his three TD passes in the fourth quarter, but it still was not enough. Some questionable clock management on the final drive also made things tough on Los Angeles.
So, a week to get over a tough loss before hosting their first-ever game in Carson (Calif.) this coming Sunday, the Chargers will look to rebound and get in the win column for new head coach Anthony Lynn.
Although Rivers and the Bolts rallied in the final stanza, you can’t get behind a great defensive team on the road and expect to walk away with a win time and time again. Los Angeles has had a habit in the past of either blowing leads or falling behind and coming up short in its rallies. As such, it is no wonder this is the only team in the AFC West to have never won a Super Bowl.
Rivers finished his season-opening night going 22-of-33 for 192 yards and three TDs against one interception. Travis Benjamin, Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon each ended up with a TD reception. On the ground, running back Melvin Gordon had trouble establishing himself against one of the better defenses in the league. Gordon ended his night with 54 yards on 18 carries. If the Chargers are to make any waves in the AFC this year, they will need to get more out of their running game.
While giving up 24 points may not seem like a great defensive night, the Los Angeles defense did enough to keep the Chargers in the game until the very end. Jatavis Brown paced the Chargers with 14 total tackles (11 solo), with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram each adding 1.5 sacks, respectively. Given Denver’s average play at the QB position since the retirement of Peyton Manning, one would have hoped the Chargers’ defense would be able to bottle up Trevor Siemian. As it turns out, the young quarterback threw for a pair of touchdowns (both to Bennie Fowler III) and ran for another.
Special Teams: (C+)
Although the record book will show that Koo missed what would have been a game-tying field goal with :05 remaining in the game, it was Denver’s ability to get a good rush on the kick that proved the difference. Denver’s Shelby Harris got enough of a push to partially block the kick, sending Los Angeles to defeat. In what proved to be the right call, Denver Head Coach Vance Joseph called a timeout just before Koo hit on his first field goal attempt of 44 yards. On the second try, it was Harris and the Denver defense that changed the outcome. On a side note, the NFL really needs to look at this calling timeout just prior to a field goal attempt. While it is still the kicker’s responsibility to make good on the kick, how many teams end up losing because the next attempt immediately after goes amiss?
With former Los Angeles head coach Mike McCoy now calling offensive plays for the rival Broncos, Lynn got his first crack at coaching the Chargers in the regular season. Coming off of a 5-11 campaign a year ago, the Chargers definitely look to get back to at least .500 or better in 2017. Although Denver blocking the final field goal attempt is what ultimately did in the Bolts, Lynn looked a little indecisive in that final two-minute drill in when to stop the clock and/or move the offense faster. For Charger fans, that will hopefully change moving forward.
With the season opener behind them, the Chargers prepare for a pair of home games in their temporary home of Carson.
After hosting Miami this coming Sunday, the Bolts will play host to AFC West rival Kansas City to close out the month.
Although the loss to Denver is only a single setback, could it be a sign of things to come for a Chargers’ franchise that almost always seems to have luck going against it?