Chargers win vs. Colts proves San Diego could be playoff-worthy
With Philip Rivers playing inspired quarterback and with a strong defensive effort, San Diego upended Indianapolis.
The San Diego Chargers are in third place in the AFC West, and for now, it looks like they have little chance to climb into the top half of their division. This, of course, is what happens when two teams in the same division, the Chiefs and the Broncos, go undefeated through the first six games of the season for the first time in nearly 80 years.
So, at this point, it looks unreasonable for San Diego to have a shot at winning the division and getting into the playoffs that way or taking one of the wild-card entries that also would gain them entry into the postseason for the first time since 2009.
But there is the other wild card, and considering the way the Chargers played in its 19-9 victory against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday, who's to say San Diego couldn't become the third team in the AFC West to make the playoffs this season?
Philip Rivers -- who, you might recall, had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2012 -- is playing inspired ball at the quarterback position, the duo of Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead at running back are helping keep the Chargers offense on the field, and rookie receiver Keenan Allen had a career-high nine catches (for 107 yards) Monday.
They were the eighth-best team in the league in time of possession (31:25 per game) heading into Monday, and against the Colts, they dominated that stat, holding the ball for 38:31. Not only that, but on four consecutive scoring drives Monday, the Chargers ran 10 plays or more.
That is crazy.
"We knew if we didn't turn the ball over and sustained drives that we'd give ourselves a chance to win ... " Rivers told ESPN after the game. "We didn't go into the game saying we should play ball control, but we did sustain drives. ... That's the way we need to able to run the football."
In reality, new head coach Mike McCoy -- formerly the offensive coordinator with the Broncos who had to change his offense to fit the talents of Kyle Orton , then Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning -- has run an impressive offense for much of the season.
On Monday, that offense served as the best defense as well, because for long stretches of the game, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck had to watch his teammates try and fail to stop the Chargers from gaining first down after first down.
The problem with San Diego so far this season, though, has been that the defense has been subpar. The Chargers entered the game ranked 28th in the league, and it's also failed to hold leads put up by the offense, allowing two opponents to make disheartening comebacks. The Texans scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to win in Week 1, and the Titans scored 10 points in the final quarter to win in Week 3.
Forgive Chargers fans if they were ready for another late-game disaster vs. Indianapolis.
That's what made the final 9:43 on Monday a potentially nerve-wracking scenario. The Chargers couldn't do much of anything in the red zone, relying mostly on kicker Nick Novak . Early in the fourth quarter, they held a 16-6 lead. With one of the best young quarterbacks in the league on the other sideline, 10 points didn't seem like enough.
But somehow it was. Defensive end Kendall Reyes sacked Luck for the only time of the night, leading to a long Adam Vinatieri field goal that cut the lead to 16-9. A few minutes later, with the Colts stuck deep on their side of the field, San Diego safety Eric Weddle tackled Colby Fleener two yards short of the first down to force a punt with 3:29 to play.
After a long Novak field goal extended the lead to 10 again, Chargers cornerback Derek Cox intercepted Luck after Reggie Wayne deflected it. Turns out that it's only the second time in his career that Luck hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in a game.
Defensive coordinator John Pagano's defense had showcased some problems this year, but facing his brother -- the head coach in Indianapolis -- seemed to cure some of the Chargers woes. After the game, John and Chuck Pagano met mid-field and gave each other a big embrace.
Maybe they'll see each other again. Who knows, maybe it'll be in the 2013 playoffs.
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