Lopsided games are no fun to watch, even for the most hardened fans. And seeing as how the last three Sunday night games had a combined score of 135-24, Monday night's Chargers-Chiefs contest was a welcome relief. Though not well played, Chargers-Chiefs was entertaining, and it satisfied the No. 1 requirement of a MNF game for those who have to work the next day -- it was suspenseful enough to lose sleep over.
For Philip Rivers and the Chargers, of course, it was extremely disheartening. Everyone loses in the NFL, but the Chargers seem to give away more games than most any other team. In this game the Chargers showed heart and toughness, the team never quit, and both coach Norv Turner and Rivers showed incredible resiliency. Had they won, these are the type of team wins that can propel a season to great heights.
Rivers will take all the heat this week for fumbling the snap at the end of regulation, as will Turner -- because no matter what happens in a game it is always Turner's fault. The good never seems to come his way. Yet Monday night there was plenty of good, starting with Rivers and Turner working together.
Playing in a hostile environment is never easy, but Kansas City on a Monday night is as hard as it gets, so this was always going to be a battle. Naturally the Chargers started badly, and were down 10 points at the end of the first quarter, but they fought back and had a chance to win the game at the end because Turner and Rivers found a way to make their offense work. They kept working their play sheet, trying to solve the problems created by the Chiefs' coverage units. When the Chiefs doubled Vincent Jackson and rolled the coverage over to Malcom Floyd, it left few options for Rivers, but he never got discouraged. You could tell from Rivers' demeanor that he was going to do everything in his power to find a way to win this game.
Sometimes quarterbacks play great, even though their quarterback rating is not over 100. Rivers played great Monday night. Dealing with pressure from Tamba Hali all night, Rivers moved around, slid from right to left and made clutch throws from awkward positions. As poorly as he played in New York the week before, this night Rivers played great -- up until the fumbled snap. All that's left is to pick up the pieces, listen to everyone talk about his touchdown-to-interception ratio and take the heat for the Chargers' two-game losing streak. Yet the reasons San Diego is losing run deeper than Turner or Rivers.
A few years ago the Chargers gained a reputation for being an extremely talented team that underachieved. But now it seems everyone still thinks they are that elite team, while in reality they are a team in transition, in need of more talent. Look at the defensive players on the field Monday night. Who in their front seven is a problem to block like Hali is for the Chiefs? After the Week 7 loss to the Jets, I wrote that the Chargers looked slow on defense. Monday night, that lack of speed showed again and I doubt it will get better this week at home against the Packers.
The Chargers know they need an influx of talent on defense. They drafted Corey Liuget and Marcus Gilchrist this year. They hoped Antwan Barnes, a former washout in Baltimore and Philadelphia, could help their pass rush, but he has been inconsistent all season. Cornerback Antoine Cason, a 2008 first-round pick, has been benched, and outside linebacker Larry English has been placed on injured reserve, forcing the Chargers to sign players off the street to help cover their inadequacies on defense. Make sure you have a defensive roster handy when watching Chargers games, as there will be plenty of new faces wearing the powder blue.
All these problems lead us back to Rivers. If he does not carry this team, San Diego won't be in the playoff hunt.
The Chargers need tight end Antonio Gates to regain his old form, which seems doubtful at this point. They need running back Mike Tolbert to get healthy and be the complement to Ryan Mathews, and they need pass rusher Shaun Phillips to get back on the field. But most of all, Rivers must play well. This does not mean he can't throw interceptions, because they are not always the fault of the passer. Rivers continues to compete at the highest level each week, but even if he plays brilliantly the Chargers still might not win. Just look at Monday night.