Week 13 Game Recap: San Diego Chargers 24, Buffalo Bills 21
What you need to know
Once again, Tomlinson was the catalyst behind the San Diego offense. He dominated from start to finish, and scored two more touchdowns to give him 26 on the season. He now sits just two away from the all time single season record of 28 set by Seattleís Shaun Alexander last year.
TE Antonio Gates had his second consecutive big game, this time hauling in a game high seven receptions for 90 yards and his sixth touchdown of the season.
QB Philip Rivers had to deal with very tough weather conditions, as this was really the first time heís played in freezing conditions as a pro. Rivers was adequate, but far from outstanding.
RB Willis McGahee did score a touchdown but outside of that bright spot, he struggled mightily.
QB J.P. Losman looked good enough moving around in the pocket, and saved the team from numerous sacks and negative plays. On the other hand, he didnít look very good throwing the ball and was unable to lead any scoring drives when he wasnít either A) Given great starting field position, or B) In pseudo-garbage time.
WR Lee Evans was quiet, with just five total receptions. But he got more involved as the game went on, and actually led all players in the game with 11 targets.
What you ought to know
|QB Philip Rivers, Pass: 17 - 29 - 160 - 1 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 2 - -1 - 0|
Rivers had an uneven performance. He wasnít terribly accurate for the most part, and misfired on several occasions on plays that could have gone for big gains (or scores). In fairness to Rivers, the weather was awful with very strong winds and light snow throughout, which certainly could have negatively impacted his performance. And it wasnít as if every pass was awful. He did make a perfect pass to TE Antonio Gates down the seam late in the game for a big first down, and his touchdown to Gates earlier in the game was also perfectly placed. But he made a number of mistakes that havenít been seen very often from him this season. He was short on a fade pass to Gates in the end zone that could have gone for a touchdown, a drive that stalled after a missed field goal. Rivers was very nearly intercepted by LB Takeo Spikes in the second quarter, but Spikes couldnít hang onto the ball. Rivers also inexplicably lost a fumble in Chargersí territory early in the third quarter that really started Buffaloís comeback. Rivers dropped back to pass, but when he raised his arm the ball simply popped out and was recovered by the Bills. He wasnít terrible in the game, but it was clear on this day and especially in these conditions that the Chargers were very content to let LaDainian Tomlinson either win it or lose it for them.
With backup RB Michael Turner inactive, Tomlinson carried nearly the entire workload in the running game (28 of the teamís 35 rushes). And as is usually the case, he got stronger as the game went along. Tomlinson had runs of 23, 51, and 18 yards, with each one getting more impressive-looking than the one before. The 51 yard run was a touchdown, and he displayed some terrific open-field moves to make DB Ko Simpson look pretty bad. He relied heavily on cut-back runs to get the defenders all leaning one way, and it typically worked to perfection. He went over 100 yards rushing by the ten-minute mark of the second quarter, and the 178 rushing yards marked his second-highest total of the season. It was Tomlinsonís sixth consecutive 100 yard rushing game, his seventh 100 yard game of the season overall, and the 35th of his career. He also took over the league lead in rushing yardage along the way. Additionally, his two touchdowns moved him past both Emmitt Smith and Marshall Faulk on the all time single season touchdown list (he trails only Priest Holmes and Shaun Alexander), and now needs just three touchdowns over the remaining four games to break the record. He also joined Eric Dickerson as the only running backs in league history to start their career with at least 1,200 rushing yards in each of their first six seasons.
Parker had some trouble early on, dropping the first two passes intended for him. In fairness, he was hit hard on one of them and it would have been a nice job to hang on. He later DID hang onto a first down reception late in the third quarter for an 11 yard gain, his longest of the day.
McCardellís contribution was minimal early on, with just three receptions through the middle of the third quarter. Then, on a third and four pass, McCardell came up with a first down on a seven yard pass (which was then negated by a Nick Hardwick penalty). But immediately after the play, McCardell briskly limped off to the sideline and didnít return.
The Chargers once again made a conscious effort to get the ball to their big tight end, which was made all the more necessary by Eric Parkerís inability to hang onto the ball and Keenan McCardellís injury that forced him out of the game in the third quarter. When the Chargers got near the goal line, it was either Tomlinson or Gates who the team targeted, much like last seasonís strategy. On one pass, Gates was unable to hold onto a fade pass in the end zone for what would have been a touchdown (a drive that ended with a missed FG). Gates did redeem himself by hauling in an 11 yard touchdown in the back of the end zone from Philip Rivers later in the quarter. Gates also showed great hands late in the game on a sideline route that resulted in a key first down conversion.
Kaeding connected on a 42 yard field goal in the first quarter with the wind at his back. But in the second quarter when going up against the wind, he had a 36 yard attempt go way wide to the left. Clearly, the miss was at least in part due to the wind. It was obvious from the replay that the ball didnít hook naturally, but rather took a sharp turn as it headed towards the goal post.
San Diego absolutely shut down the Buffalo running game. RB Willis McGahee never had anywhere to go, and averaged little over one yard per carry. They did allow McGahee a rushing touchdown early in the third quarter, but it was more of an aberration than what went on for most of the game. In this case, the stats do not lie. About the only problems the Chargers had were on the occasions when J.P. Losman scrambled out of trouble. His athleticism gave them some trouble, as evidenced by his team-high 26 rushing yards. But his scrambling ability rarely created havoc for the Chargers, and was more of a blip than anything. LB Randall Godfrey injured his calf in the first quarter of the game, and did not return.
San Diego did well enough in this phase, though it certainly could have been more productive from a fantasy angle. There were a number of balls that bounced off the hands of San Diego defenders, namely CB Drayton Florence and S Bhawoh Jue. Florence in particular showed that he has the ability to become a world-class boxer since his hands are made entirely out of stone. He dropped one interception that would have been a tough (but catchable) pass. His second near-interception could have been a touchdown as he had no one in front of him, but he dropped that as well. S Clinton Hart completed the rare double turnover, as he intercepted a late J.P. Losman pass, only to fumble it away without being touched during the return. The pick came with Buffalo facing a third down and 22 situation, and the Hart turnover gave the Bills a first down and allowed them to eventually drive downfield for a Peerless Price touchdown.
The team allowed a late touchdown to Buffalo that cut the lead from ten to just three, a drive that saw the Chargers defense really soften up and allow a 67 yard drive in under three minutes. Prior to that drive, the Chargers did a very good job of keeping the Bills from sustaining their offense. The two previous touchdowns were only allowed when the Chargers turned the ball over near their own end zone, and then allowed a long punt return to set up the second score. The Chargers got off on the right foot when CB Quentin Jammer made a diving grab of J.P. Losmanís second pass of the game. Shawne Merriman, fresh off a suspension, immediately made his presence felt by rushing Losman into making the errant pass. Merriman made an impact in other ways as well, forcing two fumbles, registering two sacks, and nearly coming up with an interception off a batted ball that Merriman himself knocked up in the air. At times, he did seem a bit too aggressive, allowing Losman time to side-step the oncoming rush and either scramble or get the ball away to avoid a sack.
|QB J.P. Losman, Pass: 21 - 37 - 184 - 2 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 6 - 26 - 0|
Losman began his day very inauspiciously, as his second pass of the afternoon was intercepted by CB Quentin Jammer. And despite getting relatively good pass protection for much of the game, his day didnít get much better. He alternated looking good in the pocket with some very poor throws and decisions. One particular sequence that pretty much typified his day: he did a great job to elude the defender and throw the ball away after he appeared to be in the grasp for a sack, which saved his team five yards. But on the ensuing play, he couldnít get the snap off in time and was whistled for a delay of game penalty that cost them the five yards anyway. He would later go on to fumble during a sack, nearly get picked on two separate occasions, force the ball into double coverage to Lee Evans on an ill-advised deep ball, and was intercepted twice. In fairness to him, fellow QB Philip Rivers (who is having a Pro Bowl caliber season) didnít fare well either. There were wind gusts that had a significant impact on the passing game and affected numerous throws, though it wouldnít account for the short, quick throws that were still off-target.
Despite the overall poor play, there were a couple of positives to take from the game. He first found the end zone after a Philip Rivers fumble gave the Bills outstanding field position, and Losman found TE Robert Royal in the flat. He came close to scoring another touchdown on a sneak inside the five yard line, but was down at the two. RB Willis McGahee scored on the next play. Finally, with the Bills trailing by ten and facing a soft Chargers defense, he lofted a perfect fade pass to the back of the end zone to WR Peerless Price for the score. Losman also looked good moving around, and was able to avoid oncoming rushers with some regularity.
If not for the third quarter touchdown, McGahee may as well have stayed at home. He had basically no impact on the game, as there was never any room to run. And on the rare occasions that there appeared to be a hole, it was closed up rather quickly. Yardage wise, it was the second-worst performance of his career (in games in which he got at least ten carries), and with no real threat of a running game, San Diego was able to send extra pressure or drop extra coverage and affect the Buffalo passing game all game.
Thomas, not known for his receiving prowess, was surprisingly active in the passing game. He caught several screens, and only Lee Evans had more receptions than Thomas. In fact, Thomas totaled 44 yards on his six touches while starter Willis McGahee had just 27 yards on 17 touches.
Evans was noticeably quiet in the first half of the game, with just one reception for two yards. He didnít light it up in the second half, but he was far more active. Eight of his eleven targets and four of his five receptions came after halftime. The biggest aspect missing in Evansí game was the opportunity for deep balls. He was targeted three times on passes that would be considered deep, but all three fell incomplete.
Reed was pretty active early on, but caught just one pass after halftime. Considering 23 of his 50 receiving yards came on the first pass of the game, one could certainly make the case that his impact on the game from start to finish was pretty minimal.
Priceís day was nearly cut short midway through the first quarter. An errant pass from J.P. Losman was a bit too high for Price, who leaped to make the catch only to leave his body exposed to a punishing hit. He was helped to the sidelines and looked to be in some pain, but luckily for him he was able to return. Price was the recipient of the final Buffalo touchdown of the game, a fade pass from Losman to the back line of the end zone. Price did a fantastic job not only of catching the ball with CB Antonio Cromartie in his face, but he also managed to tiptoe the back line and get both feet inbounds.
Price was also involved in arguably one of the biggest plays of the game that did not go in his favor. With the Bills trailing by three early in the fourth quarter, he was ruled out of bounds on a sideline route despite getting both feet inbounds. The problem was, his toes were pointing away from the sideline when he came down and the back of his heel touched the sideline. Buffalo was unable to sustain the drive and was forced to punt. And LaDainian Tomlinson scored on the next drive to basically seal the win.
Royal caught just one pass, but he made it count. Following a Philip Rivers fumble, Buffalo took over possession on the San Diego 19. Following two short runs and a completion over the middle, Losman found the TE Royal in the flat for a five yard touchdown.
Lindell didnít get any opportunities to attempt a field goal in the game, but connected on all three extra points.
Itís probably no fault of Buffalo, because LaDainian Tomlinson is having one of the best offensive seasons in the history of the NFL, but they could do nothing to stop him Ė at all. If the 51 yard touchdown wasnít good enough, consider that he had 27 carries for 127 yards without that run! He simply wore them out, running over and around just about every Buffalo defender on the day. On the aforementioned 51 yard run, he broke through the first two lines of defense with Ko Simpson the last man between Tomlinson and the end zone. Two quick moves, and Simpson was finished as Tomlinson streaked down the sideline. Whenever the Chargers needed a big first down, they knew they had that trump card in Tomlinson to bail them out. And when Buffalo started gaining a bit of momentum during the third quarter to cut the lead from 17 to just three, it was Tomlinson who put the game out of reach once more with yet another touchdown.
Clearly, the Bills were trying to sell out early on LaDainian Tomlinson to stop the run, or at least contain it somewhat. That opened up passing lanes for TE Antonio Gates and the receivers underneath to exploit. The Bills didnít allow San Diego too many deep attempts, and the Chargers were content with spreading it around on short dump-offs and seeing what the running game could do. The Bills got decent pressure on Philip Rivers, managing to sack him twice. They got a gift fumble when Rivers lost the handle on a pass attempt and flipped the ball straight up in the air (recovered by DL Chris Kelsay). The Bills had several chances to make big plays, but could never capitalize. LB Takeo Spikes dropped a sure interception right in his hands. And on several occasions with Rivers under pressure, he managed to get the ball away with Buffalo defenders inches away from forcing a fumble.