SAN DIEGO-Inches, not feet. That’s what the 2016 NFL season has come down to for the San Diego Chargers.
A couple of inches higher on the arc of a pass intended for wide receiver Dontrelle Iman near the end of the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might have reversed the outcome of the Chargers’ 28-21 loss to the Florida visitors at Qualcomm Stadium.
A couple of more inches and maybe linebacker Denzel Perryman and defensive back Craig Mager are able to get to the football before Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston connected with Cameron Brate on a 12-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass.
It was only a couple of inches that kept running back Melvin Gordon from going to the house on several of his run attempts. A couple of more inches and maybe San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers evade those Buccaneers defenders in the second quarter and dances his way into the endzone.
This is the Chargers’ story this season. They’ve been close, but can’t seem to light the cigar. There’s still hope for a playoff berth. It is a faint one, though. If the Chargers can manage to figure out to bring execution into play with their effort, they still have a chance at the postseason.
“We’ve had a lot of them (games) like this,” Rivers said. “Not necessarily losing this way, but we haven’t gotten it done. But we have four (games) left to play and as you’ve heard me say in the past, we signed up for all of them, regardless of the situation and regardless of hoe tough it is. It’s times like this that you find out about a lot of guys and we have a lot of guys to find out about.”
The Chargers’ flirtation with winning and coming up short might be best summed up on a play that Rivers was involved with in the second quarter.
One of the darndest thing to see is Rivers trying to run the football. But at least he makes the effort to help his team by any means possible.
On first and goal in the second quarter, with the Chargers locked up in a 7-7 tie with the Buccaneers in this non-AFC matchup, Rivers reached into his inner Russell Wilson closet and made a run for the pylon.
Never mind the fact that Rivers might not be able to outrun Santa Claus, the Chargers’ all-time yardage leader decided to outrun a couple of Tampa Bay defenders anyway to the endzone on a busted play. That play stayed busted as Rivers wound up being chased out of bounds long before he could hit paydirt.
Rivers didn’t score on the play; Melvin Gordon would finish what Rivers started, scoring on a two-yard touchdown run. But what Rivers did, as he has always done throughout his NFL career, was show leadership. He didn’t give up on the play.
He showed that resolve again in the third quarter one series after throwing a pick six interception that gave the Buccaneers a momentary 17-14 lead. Momentum had swung the way in favor of Tampa Bay after LaVonte David returned River’s errant throw to Tyrell Williams 17 yards for a touchdown.
Rivers, like he always does, came right back. Rivers took the Chargers down the field 75 yards on five plays to give San Diego the lead again, connecting with Williams on a 40-yard touchdown strike.
In the end, though, for Rivers and the Chargers, effort, has not been enough to equate into victories. Rivers and the Chargers have literally smelled victory so many times this season. Those potential wins have evaporated into sudden defeat.
Just like that open turf Rivers saw in front of him as he tried to navigate his way to the enzone for what initially appeared to be a touchdown, the Chargers are seeing apparent victories snatched into hard-to-explain losses.
This game against the now NFC South Division leaders Buccaneers, was just another example of this. After Tampa Bay had taken the lead, 28-21, Rivers marched the Chargers down the field for what looked like a potential game-winning drive.
But like they’ve done all year, the Chargers got in the way of themselves. Tampa Bay defensive back Keith Tandy closed out the Buccaneers’ win with a game-saving interception of a Rivers’ pass right at the goal line (it was ruled a touchback) with a little more than three minutes to play.
“Every interception has a story,” Rivers said. “To me, going on and on about what happened, it doesn’t matter, really. It won’t change any of them. But you can’t turn it over. You can’t turn it over twice. You can’t turn over one for a touchdown and the other in that situation. I can go on and on about what I thought I saw and what I was thinking. But that doesn’t really matter.”