Top 20 Games of 2011

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Game 16: Chargers at Chiefs Week 8

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What’s a surefire sign a quarterback is trying to do too much?

Pushing the ball -- or “aiming” it toward the intended receiver -- is one tell. Hitting the 20-interception mark is usually a warning beacon, as well.

For Philip Rivers last season, it was check and check on both counts.

And two of Rivers’ career-high 20 picks -- plus one totally unexpected giveaway -- came against the Chiefs in our No. 16 game of 2011.

All that being what it is, it’s tough to completely disparage Rivers. He’s a helluva player, and pretty much has been since his first start back in 2006. There’s a reason the Chargers have averaged at least 25 points per game every year he’s started.

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Not to mention (but we will), the Chargers’ offensive line had injury problems, starting tailback Ryan Mathews is an injury problem and Malcom Floyd missed time on the outside. Oh, and don’t forget Antonio Gates and his persistent foot (and weight) issues.

The Chiefs sure didn’t. Despite Gates’ issues, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel made sure the all-world tight end was not only covered by a DB (not an LB), but often had him bracketed. Sometimes he was even doubled right on the line -- forget that safety over the top stuff. Simply put, Gates was not going to beat Kansas City on this Halloween night (although he still caught four balls).

Nor was Rivers, especially with its best weapon hobbling through double coverage. Despite 369 yards passing, Rivers couldn’t even get his club into the end zone in the first half. What he did do was throw two first-quarter picks, with the second coming after the Chargers had marched all the way to the Kansas City 26. That would be key, as the Bolts didn’t penetrate the Chiefs’ red zone until the late stages of the third quarter. While the Chiefs were getting into the end zone, head coach Norv Turner and Rivers had to keep settling for field goals. That was a big reason this game was 20-12 with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The others? Mistake, after mistake, after mistake. If ever a game should have been played on Halloween Night, this was it. It was a horror show.

San Diego continually shot itself in the foot with 12 penalties, as well as four turnovers. The injury-riddled Chiefs came in playing good football -- having won three games in a row -- but they matched San Diego’s ineptitude with four giveaways and nine penalties of their own.

Eight turnovers … 21 penalties … Are you kidding me?

And yet, that was a big part of what made this game so entertaining. It was truly a back-and-forth affair, with what ended up being major playoff implications. If San Diego had won this game, they would have bested Tebowmania for the AFC West title. Just sayin’.

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Trailing 20-12 in the fourth, Rivers engineered an 80-yard march resulting in a touchdown run and two-point-conversion catch by Curtis Brinkley (who?). With less than five minutes to go and the score knotted at 20-20, Rivers was at it again, driving the Charger offense down the Arrowhead grass one more time, all the way to the 15. He converted a third-and-18(!) to Patrick Crayton (of all people) to keep the drive alive.

Think about it: Patrick Crayton, Curtis Brinkley -- no wonder Rivers felt like he had to put the team on his back.

Inevitably, he tried to do too much.

With the Chargers well within range for a game-winning field goal and less than a minute remaining, Rivers got ahead of himself, pulling out from under center too quickly and fumbling the snap. The Chiefs recovered and eventually the game headed into overtime.

San Diego won the coin toss, but Crennel’s stout defense, which was a big reason he eventually replaced Todd Haley as head coach, forced a three-and-out. Fourteen plays later, Ryan Succop ended a wild affair with a 30-yard field goal.

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Can’t-miss play: Rookie wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin had his difficulties adjusting to the pro game from the University of Pittsburgh. But there was no issue with his adjustment to the ball on a spectacular, 39-yard touchdown reception to give Kansas City a 10-0 first-quarter lead.

Controversial call: The Chiefs had a whopping four replay rulings go against them, but the most relevant might have been Brinkley’s two-point conversion, in which he baaaaaarely broke the plane. Watch it again: It looks like the booth got it right.

(Boneheaded) Play of the game: Any time a quarterback fumbles away the snap when his team is already in position for a game-winning field goal, it has to be play of the game. I feel your pain, Philip.

Best player on the field: The Chargers’ defense played well enough to win, and the best player on that defense was safety Eric Weddle, who picked off two Matt Cassel passes and made seven stops.

Why this game is No. 16: Just because a game has a ton of turnovers and penalties doesn’t mean it’s an unenjoyably game to watch. This is the one slot in our Top 20 for the quirkiness of pro football: Twenty-one combined penalties, eight turnovers and a meaty overtime period gave this game the perfect amount of awkwardness and back-and-forth drama to merit its inclusion. It was also perfectly appropriate for Halloween.

Why not higher?: Chargers-Chiefs Week 8 is easily the most controversial pick in the Top 20 games of 2011, what with all the mistakes and a fumbled snap costing the Chargers the game (and a playoff spot). Always know that penalties, fumbles, interceptions, center exchanges and special teams plays are every bit a part of the NFL as 400-yard passing games and highlight-reel touchdowns.

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