The job just got tougher for the San Diego Chargers following their (34-24) giveaway loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — tougher to win games, tougher to make the playoffs, tougher now to rationalize keeping people in certain jobs.
And, it is equally tough for the Chargers to win games, when their best players keep making plays that lose games and your coaching staff cannot find answers to stop the bleeding when things start going against the team mid-game.
Quarterback Philip Rivers threw two more late game interceptions into coverages where he had no hope of completing passes.
Mike Scifres, their Pro Bowl punter, had a punt blocked and taken back for a touchdown.
Top safety Eric Weddle missed a block as the up-blocker in the protection part of the punting game.
Quentin Jammer, Takeo Spikes and Antoine Cason get skewered on big pass plays.
Adding insult to injury, the Buccaneers’ biggest plays were made by a street corner free agent who was unemployed early in the year and who took a pick back 82 yards for a touchdown and a cornerback, just taken off the practice squad, who intercepted a pass, killing another late drive.
We have all of that, coupled with another Sunday of strange play calling by in-trouble head coach Norv Turner. His team dominated the first half statistically — in yards gained, number of snaps and time of possession. Tight end Antonio Gates was unstoppable, as was newcomer wide receiver Danario Alexander. Neither was to be seen in the second half, disappearing from pass routes and play calls. And the pass protection deteriorated the longer the game went on.
And as Tampa Bay rallied from getting run out of its own stadium in the second half, CBS was flashing graphics of how great all the ex-Chargers are doing with other teams.
You know, Vincent Jackson, the Tampa Bay receiver; Saints quarterback Drew Brees; New Orleans running back Darren Sproles; Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner. Right there before your eyes, as the Chargers crumbled again, the national media was calling out General Manager A.J. Smith for all the players he has dispatched over recent off seasons.
The clock is ticking away, too, on the Chargers’ playoff hopes.
On the out-of-town scoreboard, Peyton Manning is driving Denver to another road victory, putting three games between a first place standing and the Chargers’ fading hopes.
Indianapolis had already won, so they are now two games ahead of the (4-5) Chargers, leading in the wildcard hunt.
And we haven’t evened talked yet about Pittsburgh and Cincinnati — both ahead of the Bolts in the fight for the other wildcard playoff spot.
It was the typical cast of characters playing the same sorry roles in today’s loss.
Left tackle Mike Harris got beaten badly for a huge quarterback sack in the fourth quarter. Left guard Tyronne Green missed a block and Rivers got buried on another sack and all the times Rivers was flushed out of the pocket and forced to throw on the run, two of which led to picks.
Same cast, same set of stats — Rivers sacked twice, two interceptions, 12 pressures, eight hits. You don’t go to postseason doing that.
And Rivers probably doesn’t deserve to be in the postseason himself. Both of his interceptions came on balls he should have never thrown — one taken back for a critical touchdown; the other snuffing out a rally.
The Chargers had 13 big plays and plays of 10 yards or more in the game — most in the opening half. You would have thought the game would have been over at halftime. But not likely, because San Diego’s leaky defense kept giving up big pass plays themselves, — 21, 31, 43 and 55 yards to Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman and his cadre of wideouts.
Vincent Jackson, the ex-Bolt, did not come back to haunt his old club, but his fellow wide receivers, led by Mike Williams and Tiquan Underwood did. And running back Doug Martin gashed them enough to inflict some tough yardage damage, too.
When it was done, Turner’s team won it on the stat sheet, but lost it on the field. The Bolts had the edge in yardage (426-279) and ran off 65 plays to Tampa’s 43.
Rivers finished with 337 yards passing and was 10-for-15 on critical third-down conversions. But it was the horror-show passes that led to interceptions, the sacks and the terrible decisions that doomed the team.
There are no easy solutions to the Chargers’ problems. Norv Turner’s team is now (9-21) on the road in games on the Eastern seaboard, Midwest and Deep South. Rivers keeps throwing bad balls as if he were a sophomore at North Carolina State. They cannot block in pass protection. They cannot cover quality receivers.
Rivers’ interceptions told the whole story, deflating the team, taking the heart out of the fight left on the roster. If your quarterback cannot get it done and if your coach can’t lead you to victory — who can?
The Bolts were beaten by the Buccaneers, beaten by their own players and beaten by players who were on street corners just a couple of weeks ago.
It is what Chargers football has become.