Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers walks off the field after throwing a interception during the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs on October 31, 2011 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.
The game was in quarterback Philip Rivers' fingertips.
Did they curl too soon? Were they a centimeter too deep for delivery? Was the ball expected to be hiked sooner? Later?
The most basic element of this sport — a simple snap between center and signal caller — shook the midseason balance of the AFC West on Sunday night, as one miscue turned the game on its head and, for the San Diego Chargers, morphed Arrowhead Stadium into a Halloween house of horror.
A disastrous fluke in transfer between Rivers and center Nick Hardwick derailed a would-be 23-20 regulation victory into a 23-20 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The game was on ice. Nick Novak, the Chargers' practically perfect kicker, was loosening on the sideline for a gimme. But for one play, those fingertips, which have handled thousands of snaps, may have well belonged to Freddy Krueger.
On first and 10 at the Kansas City 15-yard line, with 63 seconds remaining, the game slipped away.
"It looked to me like Philip came out a little early," coach Norv Turner said, "but it's hard for me to tell, particularly from where I was. For those of us who have been doing this for a long time, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out that. Between those two guys, you very rarely see one."
Said Rivers on the mishap: "We hadn't had an issue all game. We hadn't had an issue in years. This one's rough ... It's unfortunate. I dropped it."
The Chargers, whose offense looked their best with Rivers and running back Curtis Brinkley leading the way late, won the overtime toss but went three-and-out. The Chiefs then marched down the field against their shell-shocked opponent, and kicker Ryan Succop sealed the win from 30 yards away.
With 4-3 records, the two teams join the idle Oakland Raiders in a tie atop the division.
"It's going to be an all-season deal," Rivers said, "and we've got to find a way to bounce back in a hurry."
McNeill Has Long Night
Mammoth left tackle Marcus McNeill could probably palm a watermelon, but even he had his hands full with Tamba Hali.
On the road and working primarily against the top-shelf pass rusher, McNeill was penalized a career-high six times, one more than his total in his previous 19 games. He also allowed a sack to Hali in the third quarter.
Before the fumble replayed all around the world, Rivers had one of his best stretches of the season.
Standing as strong in the pocket as he has maybe all year, he completed 10 consecutive passes between the second and third quarter. During the sequence, a should-have-been touchdown pass to tight end Antonio Gates was nullified with a tick-tack offensive pass interference call.
Rivers opened the first quarter with two interceptions in the first three drives.
But he didn't throw a third pick; he hasn't in a single game since his freshman season at North Carolina State in a 58-14 loss to Florida State on Oct. 28, 2000.
The Gilchrist Experiment
Cornerback Antoine Cason lost his starting job after allowing three red-zone touchdowns last week to Jets wide receiver Plaxico Burress.
Rookie Marcus Gilchrist started in his place and didn't fare any better, allowing eight catches on 11 targets for 138 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown to wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin in the first quarter.
Cason, a four-year veteran, has never allowed that many yards in a game during his career.
Aside from those three touchdowns to the 6-foot-5 Burress, Cason was amidst the best three-game stretch of his season. Including the Jets performance, quarterbacks were 8-for-20 for 45 yards and three touchdowns on passes thrown in his direction. Cason also had two pass deflections in the span.