The real winner on Monday night: the Oakland Raiders.
Smack dab in the middle of their bye week, Raiders fans watched on what I presume is their favorite day of the year as their division rivals sent football back 20 years with a mistake-filled disaster at Arrowhead.
The Football Gods rewarded the Chiefs, who made slightly fewer miscues than the Chargers, with the victory. But Kansas City’s fourth straight victory didn’t come without drama and extra time. This wasn’t about KC making plays, it was about San Diego failing to make plays.
And one particular failed play will linger for months, maybe years to come. It wasn’t quite the Miracle at the Meadowlands, but it was an epic gaffe from a quarterback who’s becoming synonymous with epic gaffes. With just over one minute to play and the Bolts essentially just setting up for a game-winning field goal attempt with Kansas City out of timeouts, Philip Rivers fumbled the snap from center Nick Hardwick, the Chiefs recovered and won in overtime. Worst. Day. Ever.
It was fitting that a screw-up like that did San Diego in on national television, because that’s the kind of crap Chargers fans have been dealing with since the beginning of last season. No team shoots itself in the foot as often as the Bolts do. They’re an extremely talented football team, and they’re probably better than the Chiefs, Raiders and Broncos, but they continue to flounder in the AFC West because of the mistakes they make on offense and special teams.
The fumbled snap heard ’round the world wasn’t the only San Diego error. Rivers threw two picks and had a third dropped by Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers. Ryan Mathews fumbled on the edge of the red zone, and they were called for two offensive pass interference penalties deep in KC territory. In total, they were penalized 12 times for 105 yards. In their defense, the Chargers don’t usually take a lot of penalties, but that just goes to show that they seem to find new ways to lose on what seems like a biweekly basis.
Give the Chiefs credit — despite the absence of Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki and Eric Berry, they’ve now won four straight games to recover from a 0-3 start that saw them drop to the bottom spot in our weekly power rankings. They outplayed the Chargers in the first half, and their 10-point halftime lead might have been larger had it not been for some terrible officiating from Alberto Riveron’s crew (no surprise there).
While the AFC West is now wide open, with Oakland, KC and San Diego tied at 4-3 apiece, we’re beginning to again get that vibe that the Chargers are destined to fall short in a division that should be theirs. The Raiders and Chiefs are moving in an upward direction, while the Bolts have to be wondering if it’s happening again.
I know some Chargers fans who sort of chalk it up to a curse, bad luck, whatever. But those fans have to realize that outgaining teams only means so much in football. The Chargers almost always look better than their opponents. They move the ball well on offense and they’re stout defensively. But the turnover margin is more important than yardage totals on either side of the ball, and San Diego is minus-11 in that category dating back to the start of the 2010 season. The offense has committed 45 turnovers in its last 23 games.
That’s unacceptable. Careless mistakes seem so easy to fix, but the Chargers haven’t been able to escape them for far too long. Why should I believe they’re going to figure it out now? My money’s on Oakland or Kansas City in that division, and I’d bet that costly errors once again kill San Diego.
If that plays out, major changes will be needed. Starting at the top, where the team will have to consider a new head coach.