Another great start.
Another frustrating finish.
The Chargers let one get away in Tampa, losing to the Bucs 34-24 on Sunday. The Buccaneers only scored 20 of their points on offense. The other two touchdowns came in a way that's all-too-familiar for Chargers fans.
The Chargers scored three touchdowns on five possessions in the first half. However, a blocked punt was returned for a touchdown. An interception was returned for another score. It's the same old story for the Bolts, and they're all left looking for answers why they can't play a 4-quarter game.
"You play really good for 58 minutes and have a couple of bad minutes and you lose," said quarterback Philip Rivers. "That's the way it goes."
For most of the game, the Chargers were very good. In the first half, Rivers threw three touchdown passes and did not turn the ball over. San Diego's 3rd play of the game was a short slant to Danario Alexander, who broke a couple tackles and ran 80 yards foe a touchdown. It was a glimpse at the kind of talent the youngster has.
"They brought me in to make plays," said Alexander. "That's what I try to do every week. It's a good thing to know they have the confidence in me to actually give me the ball. It's a big deal for me."
Alexander finished with a career-high 134 yards on 5 catches in his first start with the Chargers.
However, his effort was not enough to overcome the two massive mistakes.
In the first half, a blown blocking assignment on a punt allowed Bucs linebacker Dekoda Watson to come clean and block Mike Scifres punt, which was returned for a touchdown by Adam Heyward. Watson was in so fast, he nearly grabbed the ball before Scifres even got it to his foot. Mike hurt his kicking leg on the play, but did stay in the game, even though he was limping noticeably.
The problem came when the wrong guy was blocked on the right side of the protection.
"The blocker sets will take care of the outside guy," said special teams captain Darrell Stuckey. "So, stay in tight, block inside-out, let the outside guy go because he won't have enough time to get there."
Watson was the inside guy. He made the mistake hurt.
Still, the Chargers led 21-17 at halftime after Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd both caught touchdown passes. In the 3rd quarter, the Bucs took the lead on a Josh Freeman touchdown pass to Tiquan Underwood.
The Chargers were marching again, something they did almost at will against Tampa Bay's awful pass defense. But, on 3rd down, already well in to field goal range, Rivers rolled right and threw arguably the worst pass of his career.
He threw it right to Leonard Johnson, and the rookie corner high-stepped his way to an 83-yard touchdown, all but deciding the game.
Rivers was trying to loft the ball over a defender to Eddie Royal.
"It stayed in my hand too long, and kind of nose-dived right to him," said Rivers. "In hindsight, I wish I would have thrown it over his head. I probably shouldn't have thrown the ball, period."
Another inexplicable decision by a man who was, at one point, one of the best quarterbacks in football.
The Broncos also won, so Denver now has a 2-game lead in the AFC West with 7 games to play. Head coach Norv Turner still believes his team can accomplish its goal of reaching the playoffs.
"This is as tough a group of guys as I've ever been around," said Turner. "We've got guys that have responded in every kind of adversity. I know this group. It's going to respond."
That's all fine and good, but the fan base can only stand effort without results for so long. It seems like the message we're being sent is, it's acceptable to lose, as long as his team is trying and playing hard. I asked Coach Turner if that's the case.
"What do you think?" said Turner, visibly agitated. "What do you think the answer to that question is? No, it's not acceptable. You know the answer to that. Is it acceptable having a blocked punt and an interception for a touchdown? no. That's not what we're trying to accomplish out there. We're trying to win games and those things are keeping us from winning. No, it's not acceptable to play hard and not win, but that's what happened."
I admire the coach for showing that kind of emotion. Hopefully it transfers to the field on Sunday in Denver. If not, the Chargers 2012 season is, for all intents and purposes, over.