With the two top scoring offenses in the league facing off against each other under perfect playing conditions, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the team that touched the ball last won. In overtime, after taking over on downs at Atlanta’s 44-yard line, Phillip Rivers drove the Chargers to the 24 in six plays. Placekicker Josh Lambo finished the job with a 42-yard field goal to send San Diego home with a 33-30 victory over the Falcons.
Both teams put up big numbers against the other’s defense. The Chargers amassed 426 total yards led by Rivers’ 371 passing yards, on 27 completions in 44 attempts. Atlanta’s offense totaled 386 yards with Matt Ryan completing 22 passes in 34 attempts for 256 yards.
Julio Jones accounted for 174 of Ryan’s passing yards on nine receptions which isn’t surprising for a Pro Bowl caliber wide receiver, yet ultimately that was the problem with the Falcons’ offense. Devonta Freeman caught five passes out of the backfield for 42 yards but none of the other seven targeted Atlanta receivers managed more than two catches or more than 20 yards of offense.
Of Rivers’ completions, Tyrell Williams pulled in seven for 140 yards to lead the Chargers but three other pass catchers also surpassed 50 yards of offense, including running back Melvin Gordon with six grabs for 53 yards.
With all the offense that was on display it was up to the two defenses to find a way to make a play or two to make the difference in the game and in the first half it appeared that the Falcons had done just that.
On San Diego’s second drive in the first quarter, with the Chargers holding a 7-3 lead Deion Jones intercepted a Rivers’ pass targeted for Dexter McCluster and returned it 42 yards to the San Diego 10-yard line, but Atlanta could only advance the ball one yard before settling for a Matt Bryant field goal to close the score to 7-6.
Later, in the second quarter with Atlanta already up 20-10 it appeared the Falcons’ defense had put the game on ice when linebacker Vic Beasley caught Rivers in the pocket and stripped him of the ball. Adrian Clayborn picked it up and carried it the final five yards into the end zone to give Atlanta a 27-10 lead.
The Chargers struck back before the end of the half when Gordon capped a seven play, 75 yard touchdown drive but the only time the Falcons were stopped on offense was when time ran out in the first half. Their other four drives had all been converted into points.
With just under two minutes played in the fourth quarter Bryant kicked a 31 yard field goal, his third of the game, to stretch the Falcons’ lead back to 10 points, 30-20. That’s when San Diego’s defense made the first of two big plays that would give the Chargers their first winning streak since 2014.
After Rivers connected with Gordon on a 5-yard touchdown pass to close the score to 30-27, Denzel Perryman intercepted a deep Ryan attempt for Jones to give San Diego the ball at their own 35-yard line with 3:32 left in the game. Rivers held the ball for 12 plays and used up 3:14 of that time but the Chargers finally had to settle for a 33 yard field goal by Lambo to tie the score at 30.
Before the game got to overtime though, “Matty Ice” nearly pulled off a miracle finish. From Atlanta’s 25-yard line with 18 seconds left Ryan completed three straight passes to Jones to get the Falcons to the San Diego 40 but Bryant’s 58-yard game-winning field goal attempt with one second left on the clock bounced off the left upright.
In overtime, Atlanta received and went to work at their 25-yard line. Five plays later, at their own 45, Ryan attempted a quarterback sneak on third and one but was stuffed for no gain. On fourth down, instead of punting and trying to pin San Diego back deep into their own territory, head coach Dan Quinn gambled on the success his team had shown throughout the season in converting six of nine fourth down attempts. He lost when Perryman stuffed Freeman a yard behind the line of scrimmage.
Six plays later, Lambo drove his 42 yard field goal attempt through the center of the uprights to give the Chargers a 33-30 victory and only their second win over Atlanta in the10 games the two franchises have played.
The win keeps San Diego’s hopes of climbing back into the AFC playoff race on life support. The loss by the Falcons drops them to only one game ahead of the Tampa Bay in the NFC South with a defeat in Week 1 by the Buccaneers already on their record.