Head in hands, crouched near the ground, Chargers coach Mike McCoy looked like a man near the end of his rope during another tight game late Thursday night. You'd never know that his team led by eight points with 15 seconds left at the time.
That's the kind of season it has been for the Chargers, but this time no one pulled the ball away from Charlie Brown. The Chargersheld on to a 21-13 victory over the Broncos that could serve as an exorcism for the entire AFC West. The mighty defending Super Bowl champions finally lost a division game, ending an NFL-record 15-game road winning streak in the division. The Chargers finally closed out an opponent, ending their own excruciating 10-game division losing streak.
At 2-4, the Chargers still have a long uphill battle to the playoffs. They also have a fascinating squad, as all of Football America saw Thursday night. San Diego's squad has legitimately been one of the best teams in the NFL until the fourth quarter starts, incredibly leading for 62.9 percent of their games. Only four teams have had the lead more often. The Chargers have outscored opponents in the first halves of games by 57 points, a number you might expect to see from an undefeated team.
Yes, the Chargers will be without No. 1 receiver Keenan Allen, No. 1 cornerback Jason Verrett and running back Danny Woodhead for the rest of the season. Yes, they still have a raft of dangerous players on both sides of the ball. Tight end Hunter Henry has surpassed Antonio Gates as the team's most dangerous tight end and Tyrell Williams has emerged as a legitimate threat on the outside. Joey Bosa has made a huge difference the last two weeks, pairing with Melvin Ingram to form a dangerous pass rush duo. Rookie inside linebacker Jatavis Brown is a tornado in opposing backfields, making the biggest plays Thursday with a late sack and forced fumble. This is the flashiest rookie class this side of Dallas.
San Diego's offense absolutely dictated against Denver's front, the second team to do so in as many weeks. The Chargers set the terms early for this contest with two long drives totaling 17 minutes and 29 plays to start the game. The Broncos' offense, which has struggled to get the running game going since Week 1, had only five offensive drives when they got the ball in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos' problems are fixable, but opposing coordinators now have more film on newbie quarterback Trevor Siemian (he had 58 yards in his first 19 throws Thursday). The opposition is learning how to take away Denver's strengths and Siemian will have to adjust with coach Gary Kubiak's help, assuming Kubiak returns to the team as anticipated on Monday after a medical scare kept him at home.
The Raiders and the Chiefs were surely watching this game and smiling. At 4-1, the Raiders can take sole possession of first place with a win against the Chiefs on Sunday. But it's not as if Oakland is running roughshod over teams. Their scoring differential this year (+5) is actually worse than the Chargers (+18.) This is a division of four intriguing, closely matched teams and it is folly to draw too many conclusions this early in a marathon season. At this point last year, the Chiefs were 1-4. The Chargers have hopes that they can make a similar type of run.
"Not a lot of people want to believe me, but this is a good team," a visibly relieved McCoy said after the game. "I said it all offseason."
We believe him. The Chargers were the best, most maddening, injury-prone 1-4 team in NFL history entering Thursday night. Now they are the best, most maddening, injury-prone 2-4 team in NFL history. We just wish McCoy himself showed a little more belief in himself when he was crouching down, seemingly praying to the football gods.
"I did that a lot at the end of the game," McCoy said. "Come on, there's a lot of situations that come up at the end of the game. And the way it's gone the first couple weeks that we lost at the end there I said, 'Come on, somebody make one play for us.' And that's what we did tonight."