SAN DIEGO-A tough loss. An unthinkable defeat. A hard to explain meltdown. Let me see, how to do you spell out give away? The San Diego Chargers did a pretty good job of doing that Sunday afternoon against the New Orleans Saints.
It was not a good look.
For three and a half quarters, the Chargers looked like they had everything in control on their way to what should have been a second victory for the team. The offense, even without four of their top playmakers, had put 34 points up on the scoreboard.
Defensively, the Chargers had a done a pretty decent job of keeping Saints quarterback Drew Brees in check. Through the first three quarters of play, Brees was limited to just 168 yards through the air. When Josh Lambo kicked his 47-yard field goal through the upright with 8: 39 left in the game, it seemed just a matter of time before the Chargers brought down the curtains on the 34-21 advantage they held.
Then everything that had been going right for the Chargers suddenly went wrong. No, it went all bad. Running back Melvin Gordon inexplicably got fumblitis and put the ball on the carpet. All of a sudden the door wasn’t completely shut on a possible win for New Orleans. Gordon’s fumble provided Brees and the Saints a crack in the door.
When Michael Thomas hauled in a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brees, the Chargers had to feel the hair on their necks rise. That double-digit lead had just been cut to 31-28 with 4: 50 left on the clock. No worries. It was just one miscue.
The Chargers still controlled the outcome of the game. They had the ball. All they needed to do was get a couple of first downs, run out the clock, keep the ball away from Brees and walk into the tunnel at Qualcomm Stadium with a win.
Better pump your brakes on that. Chargers wide receiver Travis Benjamin then dropped the ball on the turf on the very next series to hand the ball to New Orleans deep in San Diego territory. Miscue No. 2. Christopher Williams’ 1991 hit song “I’m Dreamin” probably began spinning in the minds of Chargers fans everywhere.
Shortly after that, running back John Kuhn finished the deal for New Orleans with a one-yard touchdown run to complete the Saints’ comeback. Saints win. Chargers lose, swallowing an unimaginable 35-34 defeat at home. This type of loss can get under a coach’s skin. Chargers coach Mike McCoy was more than a little ticked off.
“That performance in the second half is flat-out unacceptable,” McCoy led with his opening statement to the media after the game. “From the very opening kickoff return, all the way to the very end. You cannot turn the ball over at a critical time in the game when you’re trying to put it away-two times in a row-so we absolutely gave this one away.”
McCoy didn’t stop there. He was just getting revved up about his team’s mistake-filled debacle at the end of the game.
“Mistakes. Bad decisions,” McCoy said. “It starts with me as the head coach. Everything falls on me. I’m the head football coach here. I did a terrible job. But we can’t turn the ball over; we can’t make poor decisions in the kicking game.”
Gordon and Benjamin both took the loss hard.
“It’s sickening, frustrating knowing that we had the opportunities,” Benjamin said. “We put the ball on the ground two times and I was a part of that. I am just numb right now.”
Watching everything unfold from the sidelines was difficult for Gordon, who rushed for 36 yards on 19 carries.
“After I made the mistake, I just prayed that we would go back out there and win the game,” said Gordon. “I think that was everybody’s mindset. We knew the game wasn’t over. We thought they were just trying to seal it.”
In regards to his coughing up the ball, Gordon said the Saints simply put a good lick on him.
“They got their hands on the ball. They got a good hit,” Gordon said. “You know, I just have to better in that situation and know what they are trying to do. You just want to make the play and help seal the game, and sometimes you kind of just want it too bad. And you have to just be calm and just let things play out. And, you know, you get ahead of yourself and that’s what happens.”
The Saints, of course, welcomed the mistakes by the Chargers wholeheartedly. That’s because New Orleans was staring down the barrel of starting the season at 0-4. The Chargers’ generosity gave the Saints an out to their first win of the year.
“It means a lot to us,” New Orleans linebacker Nate Stupar said. “Yeah, we’ve been struggling, but we came in and stopped the run like we wanted to. We just continued to play. It’s not about the yardage. It’s about how many points we score, and today we scored more points than them. We got the W (win) and that’s all that matters.”
This was one of those games where you scratch your head and disbelief take over. The Chargers are probably all scratching their heads right about now trying to figure out how their 13-point lead late in the game evaporated into such a perplexing loss.
They can’t dwell on it too long because they have a game next Sunday at Oakland against the Raiders.
“The good thing we can take from this is we know we are capable of beating any team in the NFL,” Chargers nose tackle Brandon Mebane said. “It is just going to come down to the fourth quarter and executing as a team. That is a positive we can take from this.”