What a difference a year makes, huh? Last year, the San Diego Charges came into week 13 with a 6-5 record, before winning their next five straight, then losing in the second round of the playoffs, while the Atlanta Falcons came into week 13 at 3-8, to then go onto to loss their next five games, ending their season at 3-13. Now in 2008, the tables have most certainly turned. The Chargers came into this game at a pathetic 4-7 in a division they were expecting to win handily, and the Falcons came in at 7-4 on the shoulders of their rookie superstar quarterback, Matt Ryan. In their last 5 meetings, prior to Sunday's game, the Falcons won 4 out of 5, even though the Chargers were ahead in rushing and passing yardage. The only difference in this 22-16 victory for the Falcons is that they finished the game ahead in rushing and passing.
Chargers came out of the gate, at least pretending to be a team hungry for a big win at Qualcomm Stadium, in front of their home crowd. On their opening drive, they had 4th and 3 at the Falcons 34, which they decided to go for rather than kick the field goal. Philip Rivers pass was tipped at the line by Falcons Jonathan Babineaux, and they turned it over on downs. On the contrary, the Falcons started off very conservative with easy pass plays to get Matt Ryan's arm game ready, which setup an easy field goal.
LaDainian Tomlinson has all but put up the white flag of surrender. In my opinion, his ass needs to be benched - he is not playing like a team player. His running has about the same intensity as waiting in the line at the DMV. Tomlinson literally only had one powerful run, which came up in the third quarter, resulting in a 6-yard rush where he actually finished the run. At the end of that run, Tomlinson put middle linebacker Curtis Lofton on his ass, which was his longest run of the game. By the end of the game, he had 24 rushing yards on 14 carries, and it was not his offensive line that didn't come to play, it was all LT. The only impressive thing Tomlinson did all game was get his 500th career reception. On the other side of the ball, Michael Turner ran all over the Chargers defense. He could get 4, 5 and 6 yard gains at his leisure, which made very manageable third downs for the Falcons. Michael Turner just did whatever he wanted, whether it was a powerful run up the middle, or getting around the edge to the outside; he had a Marion Barber type of game, owning up both the defensive line and the secondary. Here is an example of the type of holes and the type of running until the end of the play that Turner had:
Matt Ryan had a solid game, and looked very comfortable in the pocket. His favorite target, Roddy White, accounted for 112 of Ryan's 207 passing yards. There was very little pressure on Ryan other than a few times where he was hurried with someone in his face. He threw a couple amazing balls, including a 28-yard touchdown pass to an outstretched Justin Peelle. His most impressive drive was at the end of the third quarter, when the Falcons started at their own 28, and went down the field to score. Not only did this end up being the winning drive, but it showed off why the Falcons are now 8-4. Ryan went to four different receivers on this drive - of the five receptions, three of them were wide fucking open including a 25-yard pass to White - Turner was also involved with a nice 15-yard run (his biggest run of the game), and Ryan got a crucial first down with a quarterback sneak on 3rd and 1. His counterpart, Philip Rivers, really could not get anything going after the opening drive. Chargers had a pitiful 69 yards passing in the first half, and 43 of those yards came from their opening drive. In the second quarter, after Tomlinson was crushed on a run for a loss of three yards, the Chargers were pinned to their 1 yard line, and on the next play Rivers is called for intentional grounding in their own endzone which results in a safety.
|Tomlinson Getting Pushed back to the 1-Yard Line by Strong Safety Lawyer Milloy|
Philip Rivers big problem has always been, and continues to be holding the ball too long. Look at how long Brett Favre or Kurt Warner hold the ball - usually out of their hands within a second and a half - Rivers holds the ball into the 3 or 4 second mark, which always ends up badly. In general, Rivers did not look sharp this game. His poise and decision-making were nowhere to be found; couple Rivers' play with Tomlinson's obvious lack-of-spirit, and some "interesting" decisions by Norv Turner (going for it on 4th down on their first possession, and going for 2 when it wasn't necessary), and it is no surprise the Chargers potent offense came up flat, moving the team to a record of 4-8. Chargers only bright spot came on the defensive side of the ball when free safety Eric Weddle picked up a fumble and returned it for an 86-yard touchdown. Here is the video of Falcons wide receiver Brian Finneran coughing up the ball after getting hit by Chargers corner Quentin Jammer, allowing Weddle the highlight reel opportunity:
Chargers playoff hopes are now all but over. They do have a shot though, but it would be a very "if all the stars aligned" sort of outcome. The Chargers would have to win all of their next four games, and the Denver Broncos would have to lose all of their next four games. Now that would make for an incredible finish, considering the last game of the Broncos season is at Qualcomm Stadium. It is an unlikely finish, but it could happen considering the Broncos will be facing Carolina and Buffalo, while the Chargers big test is at Tampa Bay in week 16. If I were a Chargers fan, I would not bet on getting into the postseason - this team is just not the same team it was last year.