The San Diego Chargers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 28-20 on Saturday night at Qualcomm Stadium. Don't be fooled by the score. The game felt like a loss for San Diego. The Cowboys first team completely dominated the Chargers, and San Diego loss another offensive star to a major injury.
QB Philip Rivers threw interceptions and couldn't get the starting offense to click for the entire first half. The Cowboys starters took a 10-0 lead into the half, and it could have much worse.
WR Vincent Brown made a leaping 18-yard TD reception in back of the end zone to cap off the Chargers' first drive of the third quarter. It was the type of play San Diego was expecting to see repeatedly this season from their rising star. Brown, however, broke his left ankle on the play and coach Norv Turner did not put a time line on Brown's return.
Arguably, no offensive player had shown more promise in training camp than Brown. "It's hard to replace a guy like Vincent Brown,” TE Antonio Gates said. “In my mind, he is one of the best route-runners we have on this team.”
QB Charlie Whitehurst threw the TD pass to Brown and frequently targets him in practice. “[Brown] was having a great camp,” Whitehurst said. “Obviously, he made some great plays in the game [and] some great plays last week. It's tough to lose a guy like that.”
Rivers echoed Whitehurst. “He is really coming on,” Rivers said. “He was going to be a big part of it. Guys will have to step up.” WR-KR Richard Goodman, Micheal Spurlock and Roscoe Parrish are the leading candidates to replace Brown.
RB Ryan Mathews broke a clavicle in the preseason opener against the Packers last Thursday. RB Ronnie Brown was the Chargers' leading rusher on the night. Brown only managed 16 yards on six carries in his attempt to step up into Mathews' shoes. Brown did have four receptions for 37 yards on the night.
There were bright spots in the comeback win. OLB Melvin Ingram (round one, 18th overall pick) and DE Kendall Reyes (round two, 49th overall pick) frequently helped collapse the pocket and got pressure on the QB. CB Shareece Wright caused two turnovers (INT and FF), for his third turnover of the preseason. QB Charlie Whitehurst was 7 of 12 for 122 yards and 2 TDs and looked like he could legitimately run the offense if something were to happen to Rivers.
Three players who improved their stock
WR-KR Micheal Spurlock: Spurlock was targeted three times and made all three catches for a total of 18 yards. He also had two kickoff returns for 45 yards. Before the game, Spurlock was perhaps on the outside looking in, but with the injury to Brown he appears to be a lock to make the roster.
RB Jackie Battle: He only had 4 carries for 10 yards, but he did have a TD. Battle was a winner in that no running back stood out in the quest to replace Mathews. RB Ronnie Brown and Curtis Brinkley appeared ahead of Battle coming into the evening.
WR Mike Willie: Willie (free agent, Arizona State) had one reception for 38 yards. He leapt over the defender after the catch and ran in for a TD. Willie was standout in minicamp and has occasionally shined in training camp. He's a likely practice-squad candidate, but he could shake things up a bit with the injury to Brown.
Three players whose stock fell
RB Curtis Brinkley: He had 4 carries for 4 yards. After the injury to Mathews, it appeared Brinkley could compete with Ronnie Brown for the Week 1 starting job. Brinkley now needs to have more production in the final two preseason games to just secure a roster spot.
OLB Jarret Johnson: Johnson (free agent, Ravens) has been a darling of the media in training camp and has quickly become a locker-room leader. Johnson, however, whiffed on a tackle in the backfield and wasn't able to put any pressure on Romo. Johnson only has four combined sacks in the last two seasons. Johnson could easily lose his starting job to Ingram.
TE Ladarius Green: Green (round four, 110th overall pick) had a great week in practice but could not carry it over to the game. Green was targeted one time and didn't make a reception. He also failed to catch a ball against the Packers. Green will need to prove that he can contribute if he is going to make the final 53-man roster.
What's next: The players will have Sunday off and resume training camp practices on Monday with the Cowboys at Chargers Park. All practices are closed to the public.