It’s almost as if they didn’t watch that infamous Seahawks-Patriots Super Bowl.
When you’ve got a goal-to-go situation from the opponent’s two-yard line and four plays to punch it in the endzone, conventional wisdom says to try and bully your way to pay-dirt with at least a couple of run plays. Or at least that’s the precedent for goal-line strategy that was generally-expected before Pete Carroll took a chance and let Russell Wilson throw the ball.
Now — Carroll had plenty of reason to trust his third-year quarterback with the ball, just as Mike McCoy is plenty entitled to believe that putting the ball in Philip Rivers’ hands with the game on the line in the fourth quarter was the best course of action.
But four passing plays and four incompletions later, the second-guessing of McCoy’s decision-making is rampant. Owning a first-and-goal from the Denver two, the San Diego Chargers threw the ball on four-straight downs and the Bronco defense made sure they all hit the ground, preventing the Chargers from climbing back to within a two-point conversion of a tie ballgame.
It’s easy to look at Melvin Gordon’s stat line this season and in Sunday’s game against Denver — he rushed for 111 yards against Denver and entered the day tied with David Johnson for the league’s lead in rushing touchdowns at eight — and argue that he should’ve gotten a chance to try and push his way through for the touchdown. Heck — all of his rushing touchdowns this season have come from goal-to-go scenarios anyways and he was already gashing the Broncos’ defense for 4.8 yards a carry.
The magnifying glass in the postgame frenzy was placed directly on McCoy’s decision-making on that climatic fourth quarter drive, but one only needs to trek back as far as the second quarter to find the stretch of plays that put San Diego in the position of needing a fourth quarter comeback to complete the season sweep of the Broncos.
It started right after San Diego took its first drive of the game and marched 85 yards in seven plays to take an early 7-3 lead. The Chargers defense — after giving up a field goal on the opening drive of the afternoon — settled down and forced a Denver three-and-out, giving the Chargers the ball back at their 27-yard line with the chance to stretch their lead to a two-possession advantage.
That was where the Chargers should’ve made Gordon an emphasis. He got one carry on the drive before San Diego resorted to trying to pick apart the Denver secondary, a task few offenses achieve. In a game that saw Rivers pressured on 31 of his 51 dropbacks, the Chargers still tried to pad their lead by throwing on the Broncos.
After punting and getting the ball back thanks to another defensive three-and-out, the Chargers refused to maintain a dominating tone in Mile High, throwing the ball on all three downs on another three-and-out. San Diego’s defense got the ball back again for its offense and rather than let its bellcow back tote the ball, tried to throw on the Denver secondary again.
This time, the Denver pass rush got to Rivers and forced a tipped throw that was returned by Bradley Roby for a pick-six.
Rarely can an offense say that it lost the game for its team. Especially in San Diego, where offense has been the only bright spot on this team for a number of years.
But the Chargers had their chance - -multiple chances rather — to stretch out a 7-3 lead into a two or three-possession advantage. Instead the Chargers downed a few shots of courage and tried to beat Denver’s defense at its own game, a strategy that only ended up putting the San Diego offense in a position of necessary-aggressiveness in the second half.
The entire fourth quarter of Sunday’s game can be analyzed piece-by-piece and bit-by-bit, as it should be.
One play swinging a certain direction differently (a holding call on Joey Bosa being properly-called in the end zone for starters, Rivers missing a wide-open Tyrell Williams coming over the middle on the fourth-and-goal are a couple of the notable ones) would’ve altered the outcome of the game. But San Diego had its chances in the first half to put away the Broncos, and chose to play into Denver’s hands instead.