Since I’m a superstitious guy (at least when it comes to football), I’m going to follow the same format as last week’s installment. I can’t regale you with tales of my own visits to Arrowhead Stadium since that’s one place I have never visited. However, the Chargers have certainly had their share of big games there during the Philip Rivers era. They actually had a huge game in KC during the AFC Championship season. They lost twice after the 6-0 start in ’94 and Stan Humphries was banged up. They went down 13-0 to the Joe Montana-led Chiefs on the road. But they rallied back in the rain and Dwayne Young somehow caught a touchdown as the Bolts eked out a 14-13 win. I could lament the Monday Night loss the following year on Monday Night Football where Tamarick Vanover (who would sadly be a Charger at one point), ran back a touchdown to beat us in OT. The late Lewis (later “Lew”) Bush dropped an interception that would have won the game. However, he did go on to open a kick-ass BBQ restaurant in San Diego.
In 2004, Kassim Osgood was able to force a fumble on what seemed like a sure kick return for a TD by Dante Hall. The game featured one of the only two clutch kicks Nate Keading ever made. Sadly, both preceded giant choke jobs. The second was against Cincy in 2009. The 2008 game at Arrowhead was another huge win. As you recall, the Chargers season was all but finished. But an onsides kick, also recovered by Osgood gave them new life. Jackson and Floyd touchdowns saved the day.
2010 seemed like a sure win, but rookie Ryan Mathews fumbled and the Bolts couldn’t convert four times to beat the Cassel-led Chiefs. 2011 was the fumbled snap on Halloween, which negated a strong game by Curtis Brinkley. Antonio Gates also got called for a questionable interference call that really hurt.
But 2013 brought the miracle Hail Mary pass that kept the Chargers hopes alive. The next season, of course, seemed like the Chargers chance to lock up a Wild Card. But Mike McCoy decided to kick a field goal down 12. Yes it was 4th and 9 and yes the team had no offensive lineman and Darren Oliver (remember him?. But that was my final proof that McCoy did not try to win games, but rather lose. Even though the Chargers were stopped on 4th down in the end zone later in the game, the proof was there.
In fact, it was the loss at home to KC that Gates would later call the turning point of the season. The Bolts picked off Carr in Oakland the week before, but cracks were beginning to show. That home loss did them in. What’s my point with all this reminiscing? Playing KC is often the litmus test for this team.
And the Chargers haven’t beaten the Chiefs since 2014. This game is the biggest test of all to see if the Bolts are for real. KC may not be the team they appeared to be at the start of the year, but until the Chargers beat them they have to play them like they are. I keep writing about how the hype train needs to slow down on the Bolts. But each game they win, it will get more intense. If the Chargers can win tomorrow, I’ll stop worrying about them being overconfident. That doesn’t mean they can’t lose the last two but if they can win in Arrowhead they will have proven something to me.
Bolts From The Blue published a nice piece about how and why this team needs to make people believe that they aren’t the same old Chokers. I like the fact that even with all the accolades, this team appears to understand they haven’t yet accomplished anything. Steve Wyche interviewed Dean Spanos, who looked like he’s aged a million years since the move, and even he said as much. It’s hard to play like you have something to prove each week if success is coming your way. However, the Chargers know losing will give KC the advantage and make it very difficult to get into the postseason. Especially with Rivers seeing his last chance of really doing something, the level of urgency couldn’t be higher. But I thought the Bolts wouldn’t beat themselves going into the playoffs against the Jets both times and both times they beat themselves. Of course, they did the same thing against the Pats in ’06 and Steelers in ’08.
No one is more aware of that than Phil. But what is encouraging is that the offense could still play better. The missing ingredient has been Melvin Gordon. Wisenhunt has been wise to keep throwing to set up the run. But Gordon has been tentative early. If he can get going to start off the game, it will make the offense that much more potent. Last week, Henry got his targets. Gates wasn’t even thrown to as far as I can recall. I have no idea why Jeff Cumberland was targeted.
It seems like Lynn is getting a lot of credit for not only keeping guys unified at 0-4, but recognizing that running Gordon into the line to start off won’t do anything. We don’t want Rivers out there without any threat of the run. Remember Donald Brown getting the biggest carry of the year on 4th down in that aforementioned 2014 game? I don’t know if I trust Lynn yet in the big spots. The same goes for Coons. I don’t get why Kaser can’t do the kickoffs. Coons can’t reach the end zone, which will be a problem as games get bigger.
The Chargers haven’t beaten a team with a winning record all season. That is accurate in terms of WHEN they played teams. You could also say that since the Bolts went 0-4, the only teams they have lost to are going to the playoffs. Both of those games were definitely ones we beat ourselves, especially the Jaguars game. I will continue to try to be philosophical about the game, but it’s as big as we’ve seen in quite some time. However, being scared of it is useless. If you’re afraid of this one, there’s no point in winning since they will only get bigger going forward.
Casey Hayward, who has also gotten all sorts of individual accolades, is listed as questionable with a calf injury. I assume he’ll play, but he’ll be needed. The rush defense needs to tighten up as well. I guess the Chargers were rated NEXT TO LAST in the NFL beginning with last week’s game. I thought they were at the bottom. Liuget coming back might have helped. Perryman also had a huge stop and came back from injury. Russell Okung did as well, which was far bigger than any of us would have imagined back in September. He went from looking like an overpriced waste to a genius move. Mike Williams saw some reps last week but continues to look lost. Of course Kellen Clemens wasn’t helping any. That should make the Chargers even more focused on Saturday. There won’t be many chances left for Rivers, especially since the refs seem to have no interest in flagging those who hit him late. After seeing the backup, it’s clear that we have no succession plan in place. I don’t get a real “quarterback of the future” vibe from Cardale Jones. Baker Mayfield could be interesting, especially if the Chargers want to put apathetic Angelinos in the stands. But none of that really matters right now. What matters is tomorrow’s game.
Keenan Allen and Marcus Peters will go at it, but Allen has been rolling. He doesn’t need do it all himself. Williams had a great game, but can still be boneheaded. Benjamin is good for an end around, but obviously can’t be expected to tough out any yards. That return in New England shouldn’t be far from anyone’s memory. But Mike Williams hasn’t shown enough to challenge Benjamin’s snaps.
The defense has been getting turnovers, even without a big pass rush the last two weeks. Williams dropped an easy one (so many of those this year), but Emmanuel was there to bail him out. Ingram and Bosa have been pretty quiet these last two weeks as well. They need to pressure Smith, but respect his mobility. This defense couldn’t keep Bortles from scrambling. Like Rivers, however, Bosa doesn’t get enough calls. He gets held so much, yet has drawn flags for late hits. I don’t complain about calls much, but this has been pretty egregious.
Any Charger fan whose suffered with this team knows how quickly it can fall apart. But there’s a lot of reasons to believe they won’t melt down. I don’t know how good this team is or how far they can go. But they have a chance to do something this year instead of looking at the first four games (or the other two losses) as the ones that got away. Most teams would never get that chance. Kansas City’s drop after the hot start gave them that opportunity. I think both teams want to silence the skeptics and doubters. I’ll just try to not get too high or low and hopefully the team will do the same. That’s all you can ask for. I do understand why San Diegans are still hoping for the Chargers to lose. I’ve spent a lot of time rooting AGAINST teams. It sucks, but I won’t tell spurned fans how to feel. If the Bolts falter, they will be right there to say I told you so. Let’s not have that happen and really fuck some shit up this time.
Till next time,