Many consider San Diego an elite NFL team that’s talented enough to qualify for the Super Bowl.
But if the Chargers are to be the AFC representative, they’ll need to play better than they did last Sunday afternoon.
Despite the 23-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Qualcomm Stadium, the game wasn’t put away until the Chargers scored 13 points in the fourth quarter.
The Dolphins lost quarterback Chad Pennington, who hit eight of 12 passes for 54 yards, to an injured right shoulder when slammed to the ground in the first half.
His replacement was Chad Henne (10 of 19 for 92 yards), who saw Eric Weddle intercept and return his pass 31 yards for a score with 5:45 left in the final quarter.
The Chargers (2-1) have had trouble scoring touchdowns in the “red zone.” Over the last two games, seven field goals have been converted by Nate Kaeding.
In last week’s 31-26 setback to the visiting Baltimore Ravens, Kaeding kicked four field goals.
On Sunday, he missed a 41-yard attempt late in the second quarter but found the range on a 25-yard boot with 9:21 left in the same quarter, giving the Chargers a 3-0 lead.
Kaeding was also successful on two kicks in the fourth quarter that measured 23 yards and 26 yards.
The game was tied at the half, 3-3, when Miami’s Dan Carpenter drilled a 24-yard field goal and 2:29 left before the intermission. That score was made possible when San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers was sacked and consequently fumbled.
Carpenter added a 23-yard field goal in the third quarter that gave the Dolphins (0-3) a 6-3 lead.
The Chargers were also without the services of running back LaDainian Tomlinson, a one-time Most Valuable Player.
Taking his place is 5-foot-6, 185-pound scat-back Darren Sproles. The shortest man in the league but one of the fastest; some have questioned whether Sproles is an every-down back. His numbers were respectable: 41 yards on 18 carries and 14 yards on two receptions.
Rivers did find time to go deep, nailing wide receivers Vincent Jackson (120 yards and five receptions) and Malcolm Floyd (65 yards and two catches).
Lacking a legitimate running attack (69 yards on the ground), Rivers is being asked to throw the ball more.
Leading the league in passing yards, Rivers hit 18 of 33 attempts for 303 yards, and is coming off a personal-best 436-yard effort against the Ravens.
Not known for his foot speed, Rivers also scored the second touchdown of his career, a five-yard sneak with just over two minutes left in the third quarter. The run capped off a five-play, 75-yard drive that gave the Chargers a 10-6 edge.
Miami ranks third in the NFL in rushing, and eats up the clock with long drives. Part of the offensive scheme, beginning last season, has been the “Wildcat.”
Essentially an old formation, it’s really a single-wing. With the quarterback on the sideline, and two running backs deep, Ronnie Brown (75 yards on 18 rushes) takes the direct snap, and either runs the ball himself, or hands it off to Ricky Williams (eight carries for 55 yards). This formation has given Miami’s offense a new wrinkle.
Williams scored on a 14-yard run late in the fourth quarter that trimmed the lead to 10 points.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.