Scott Mruczkowski #63 of the San Diego Chargers is seen dejected on the bench in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium on December 5, 2010 in San Diego, California. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 28-13.
The San Diego Chargers lost something on Sunday greater than any rivalry game, winning streak or perfect December record. They forfeited an item more precious than momentum, more meaningful than the standings, more substantial than any onlooker's optimism.
For 11 games, the Chargers controlled their own. Not anymore.
The visiting Oakland Raiders ambushed what, based on crowd turnout and reception, at times felt like the road team at Qualcomm Stadium, using a large early lead to pound the running game and reduce the dynamic Chargers offense into a one-dimensional passing attack in a 28-13 landscape-changing defeat.
If the Chargers (6-6), now two games behind the Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) in the AFC West with four remaining, are to win their fifth straight division title, winning won't be enough. They will need outside help.
It is a fact they are trying to ignore.
“That was the approach we took early in the year,” coach Norv Turner said. “Let everyone else worry all the (playoff) scenarios. Obviously, we've made it very difficult on ourselves, but I know the way we give ourselves a chance, and that's to go out, play at a high level, and win a game.”
In this game, the Chargers, who had won their past 18 games in December, hardly gave themselves a chance with two turnovers leading to two first-quarter touchdowns.
The first mistake was a botched punt return catch by Darren Sproles, and the second came on a Philip Rivers pass that floated above Malcom Floyd into safety Michael Huff's hands. A 4th-and-1 run by quarterback Jason Campbell preserved both ensuing drives, the first of which was a 9-yard bootleg touchdown off play action that broke contain on San Diego's right side.
The back-to-back drives spanned a combined 59 yards, and the Raiders marched a full 80 on their next drive to lead 21-3 with 4:07 remaining.
The Chargers ran 35 offensive plays after that. Only two of them were designed runs. They had eight rushes altogether for 21 yards.
The Raiders (6-6), who swept San Diego for the first time since 2001, protected their lead by pounding the ball 52 times for 251 yards. If that didn't seal the game, a controversial holding call on cornerback Antoine Cason did.
Cason was whistled on a third-down incompletion. The offense would have taken the field for a potential touchdown and game-tying two-point conversion with over eight minutes remaining. Instead, the drive was prolonged, and Campbell, working off play action again, hit wide receiver Louis Murphy on a 47-yard strike.
Two plays later, running back Darren McFadden broke an Antwan Applewhite tackle on a seven-yard run for the game's clinching final score.
In the locker room after the game, Cason disagreed with the holding call. So did safety Eric Weddle.
“He played it perfect,” Weddle said. “You can't call a penalty on that. I mean, they did, but there's no way. (Cason) jams (the receiver) up, pushes him to the side, and gets called for a holding penalty. And he's in cover 2 — pushing him to me. But they called it, and we've got overcome that and get another stop.”
No more stops. No more destiny.