Bourbon Street. Ghosts, goblins, witches. The Superdome. Fans in costumes á la Mardi Gras. Hexes, curses and losses. This is New Orleans — home of “Who Dat,” the fans favorite chant. Home of the Saints.
You knew what kind of game it would be from the very first snap. The defenses went after the quarterbacks. Someone was going to wilt. Someone would get hit. In the end, the New Orleans Saints survived a brutal Chargers pass rush, and San Diego could not survive its own mistakes.
It all started badly, and it ended badly on Sunday night for the San Diego Chargers. When it was over, it was an ugly 31-24 loss to the winless Saints.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers got pounded on the very first pass play of the game. Then, he got sacked and fumbled away the team’s last chance on the last play of the game. In between, San Diego took control of the game, then gave it away with a pitiful second half performance, letting Saints quarterback Drew Brees go wild throwing the football.
You knew what the night would be like when the Saints spent the entire opening drive blitzing and hitting Rivers. Eventually the Chargers figured out how to attack the worst defense in the NFL. Sadly though, San Diego, which blitzed Brees relentlessly, never got to the New Orleans quarterback. He eventually got them.
When he was done, Brees not only set an NFL record, throwing touchdown passes in his 48th straight game, breaking the record of legendary Baltimore Colts icon Johnny Unitas, he also carved up the San Diego defense and riddled his ex-teammates with big play after big play.
Instead of posting a win against a troubled Saints team that was (0-4) — whose coach was suspended, whose top linebacker is still out, and who lost their top tight end — the Chargers handed the game to the Saints with a shabby second half filled with big pass plays, stupid penalties and poor pass protection.
By the end of the second half, it was hard to tell which was the winless team, and which was the team that was in first place in its own division.
Brees wound up throwing for 370 yards and four scores. Big wide receiver Marquis Colston, playing with a foot injury, ran circles around cornerbacks Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason, finishing with nine receptions for 131 yards. If not him, then teammate Devery Henderson latched onto eight more receptions.
A woeful Saints defense, which had come into the game giving up 446 yards an outing in its (0-4) start, got tougher as the night wore on. They shut the Chargers out of the end zone the final 25 minutes. The Bolts blew a 24-14 lead in the third quarter and seemingly ran out of defensive gas in the second half.
John Pagano, the new defensive coordinator, dialed up a ton of blitzes against Brees. They called 31 blitzes, got just two sacks early, but as the game went on, Brees moved about the pocket, found receivers and eventually turned the plays into big gains.
For Rivers, it was a lost opportunity, wasting a 354-yard passing night. He was sacked five times, threw another pick, then fumbled the final snap of the game. Numbers don’t mean anything if you don’t win.
There were goats everywhere. First round draft pick Melvin Ingram, who seems to relish playing on the edge, went over the line with a blow to Brees’ face in the 3rd quarter. That triggered a scoring drive and put the Saints back into the game, emotionally.
Antonio Gates was flagged for a pass interference call, negating a big reception on the final drive. Nick Hardwick, the cornerstone center, had a holding penalty right after that. The back-to-black flags wiped out pass plays of 25- and 20 yards.
The Chargers are (3-2), but have gotten torched by the two quality offensive teams they have played. The bad taste from the 27-3 home field beating at the hands of the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons still lingers. This one cannot taste good either, blowing a significant lead to a team with a lousy defense, whose top two coaches have been suspended because of the Bounty Club scandal.
The glaring deficiencies are still there for the Chargers. The secondary of Cason, Quentin Jammer and Marcus Gilchrist got burned.
The offensive line play could not hold up and left tackle Jared Gaither pulled up lame in the 4th quarter.
For all the skill that Rivers has, there still seems to be something missing. Malcom Floyd catches passes in bunches and disappears. So does Robert Meachem. Eddie Royal was hardly seen. Ryan Mathews made plays, but not throughout the entire game.
And Norv Turner is still Norv Turner with another lost lead and another loss on the road. They won’t put it in the press release, but Turner is now (9-19) as the Chargers head coach in games on the East Coast, the Midwest, and the Deep South. It does not read like this is a Super Bowl type team.
Next up, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. San Diego could have ended the AFC West race had they won on Sunday night on the Bayou, and then followed up with a win next Monday at home. Instead, they may be about to let everyone back into the divisional race now with this Saints loss and if they let Manning throw wild next weekend.
The Chargers catch-phrase this year is “Bolt Up.” Maybe it should be “Man Up.” They still have not figured how to put teams away — even winless, dispirited teams like the New Orleans Saints.
Sadly, an ugly loss.
New Orleans, house of horrors for San Diego. The voodoo hex of Norv Turner’s leadership is still there. You wonder if the costume the Chargers are wearing, that bolt jersey, is nothing more than a team masquerading as a contender, when it really is a pretender.