Like so many teams have over the past year and a half at the Mile High City, the San Diego Chargers had difficulty protecting quarterback Philip Rivers, and it led to three costly interceptions, one of which was brought all the way back for a score.
But that isn’t what broke the camel’s back for the Chargers in Week 8.
San Diego was set up first-and-goal at Denver’s 2-yard line, down by eight with just under three minutes to play. The Chargers needed to find the end zone twice (once on a two-point conversion), but they were in position to overcome the costly giveaways. However, four straight incompletions put an end to the threat and pretty much sealed the victory for Denver.
But it shouldn’t have come to that. The Chargers left five points on the field due to poor special-teams management at various points in the first 55 minutes. With all those points, San Diego could have settled for a field-goal attempt inside the Denver 5 and forced overtime.
The first, and what ended up being the most important, mistake was kicker Josh Lambo missing a 45-yard field goal to end the first half. It was his first miss of the season inside of 50 yards, and at altitude, it was a very makeable kick.
It clearly wasn’t Lambo’s day, because after the Chargers scored a touchdown inside of five minutes left in the third quarter, the Broncos blocked his extra-point attempt. The score should have been tied at that point 17-17. Instead, San Diego still needed a touchdown to take the lead because they trailed 17-13.
Denver added another touchdown to seemingly pull away, but the Chargers came up with a huge defensive play with eight minutes to go. Cornerback Casey Hayward picked off a passed tipped and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown.
Down by 5 at that point, coach Mike McCoy elected to go for two. With just over half a quarter to go, that’s an extremely tough decision, because there might only be enough time for San Diego to get the ball one more time, and it would obviously be much easier to be able to tie the game with a field goal.
That meant going for two. At that point, there was no real advantage being down four instead of five.
Well, the only situation where it would be better to be down only four rather than five is if the opposition makes a field goal with its next possession. That’s exactly what happened. San Diego missed the two-point conversion, so they trailed by five and then fell behind by eight when Denver kicked a 22-yard field goal about three minutes later.
What made McCoy’s decision to go for two even more of a blunder was the fact that the Chargers were called for an offensive pass interference penalty on their first attempt. That pushed them back to the 12, yet they still elected to go for two.
Perhaps McCoy’s decision was based upon the fact Lambo looked shaky all day. After making four field goals and three extra points last week, he missed his only field goal try and was 1-for-2 on extra points. But especially after the penalty pushed them back, going for two was the wrong choice.
In both the late-afternoon games Sunday, there were questionable two-point conversion decisions. Falcons coach Dan Quinn inexplicably went for two in the first half with the Falcons trailing 21-19. After it failed, Green Bay kicked a field goal on their next possession, so then after the Falcons scored a touchdown, rather than being up three, they were ahead by only two.
Although it was more justified going for two when San Diego did, chasing those points put the Chargers’ defense in a position where they couldn’t give up a field goal without then forcing their offense to have to score a touchdown and two-pointer.
Of course, if either team had better execution of the two-point try, then each coach would have looked like a genius. That’s how these things go. Fortunately for Atlanta, it didn’t cost them. Since the Chargers didn’t score on their first-and-goal opportunity late in the game, it didn’t cost them either, but it could have had they scored and failed on the two-point try.
In summary, the Chargers absolutely should have been able to punch the ball into the end zone from Denver’s 2-yard line. No running plays called in that situation will cause the San Diego faithful to second-guess offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt all next week.
But the offense shouldn’t have been in that situation. If Lambo converts on his makeable kicks, the Chargers send the game into overtime with a field goal. Instead, his misses led to a loss on a day when everyone else in the AFC West won.