The San Diego Chargers have seen their early road schedule play out like ancient Greek theater, and it is a tragedy.
On Sunday came the third act: a rendition so predictable from beginning, middle to end, the audience could be forgiven if it forgot it was supposed to be watching an improv. Surely, this performance was scripted. The cast of characters had to be following an outdated set of stage directions.
It had all been seen before.
Again, like in Kansas City and Seattle, special teams breakdowns and untimely turnovers played the roles of villain, and a late, salvaging scoring drive by protagonist Philip Rivers fell short as the star-crossed Chargers repeated their road woes in a 35-27 loss to the Oakland Raiders.
The show had a fateful beginning. Enter stage left: special teams.
After an opening three-and-out, Chargers punter Mike Scifres was blocked into the end zone. Linebackers Antwan Applewhite and Kevin Burnett were engaged in blocks at the left of the line, and Rock Cartwright sprinted through the gaping hole between them.
His team trailing 2-0, Scifres then booted the safety kickoff out of bounds, giving the Raiders possession at midfield. The position led to a 50-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal.
The Chargers received the ball and had another three-and-out. Scifres had another punt blocked. Another giant hole separated Applewhite and Burnett, and another Raider bursted through it. It was Brandon Myers, and teammate Hiram Eugene scooped the blocked ball for a score.
Less than five minutes in, Oakland led 12-0. The Chargers, who saw their 13-game winning streak to the Raiders snapped, have allowed four special teams touchdowns in three road losses.
“Let's take the light off special teams,” Burnett said. “It was a team loss. We missed tackles on defense, we turned the ball over on offense, and we did our part on specials teams as well.”
Exit: special teams. Enter stage right: turnovers.
The Chargers offense drove to the red zone on its next two possessions. Both resulted in lost fumbles. Mike Tolbert botched the first at the 1-yard line, and Rivers was blindsided and stripped for the second.
More points lost. Exit: turnovers.
As in its first two road losses, the Chargers (2-3) were late to work but nearly made up for it. Rivers orchestrated the offense with grace. Rivers to Antonio Gates — touchdown. Four-yard plunge by Tolbert. Rivers to Malcom Floyd — touchdown.
Floyd may have been the greatest subplot. With the Raiders (2-3) keyed on limiting Gates, Floyd found space downfield and finished with eight catches for a career-high 213 yards. His touchdown gave the Chargers a 24-15 lead midway through the third quarter.
Their largest road lead of the season was short-lived.
The defense, which had been dominant, allowed the Raiders to string together 97- and 72-yard touchdown drives and take a 28-27 lead with less than four minutes remaining in the game.
Rivers, who threw for 431 yards, had his team marching downfield, but then turnovers made a grand re-entrance. He was sacked just before his arm was moving forward, and Tyvan Branch returned the ruled fumble 64 yards for the clinching touchdown.
“We keep saying we need to clean things up. We just have to do them now,” said cornerback Antoine Cason. “They mixed it up. They executed. We need to execute better.”
The show must not go on.