The San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs will battle for sole possession of first place in the…
New Team, Same Story
Anyone think the Chargers don't miss LaDainian Tomlinson now? People focused so much on his declining yards-per-carry that they forgot some of his other outstanding qualities, such as the ability to protect the ball and make plays in the red zone.
His replacement, Ryan Mathews, learned a lesson in ball security when he fumbled at the tail end of a 15-yard run. It was Mathews' only run of over 8 yards -- maybe L.T. was onto something when he called out San Diego's run blocking?
It's also noteworthy that with the Chargers facing first-and-goal from the Kansas City 4-yard line with 1:14 remaining, they elected not to give Mathews a crack or two or three at the end zone (the Chargers had a timeout remaining). If No. 21 was still in the backfield, you'd have to think the ball would end up in the gut of one of the league's great all-time finishers.
Tomlinson was not the only player who was sorely missed. Vincent Jackson's absence crippled the offense's productivity, as the Chargers were unable to make the Chiefs pay for double and triple teaming Antonio Gates in the second half. Malcom Floyd, Legedu Naanee and Buster Davis each had at least one drop.
Naanee came closest to replacing Jackson's productivity, catching five balls for 110 yards, although 59 of those yards came on a busted coverage late in the third quarter. Floyd, who is supposed to replace Jackson as the No. 1 receiver, did not catch a pass until there were nearly five minutes gone in the third quarter.
San Diego's defense was solid, if not spectacular, save for Jamaal Charles' 56-yard touchdown run. The blame for that play goes to Jacques Cesaire for getting blown off the ball and Kevin Burnett for taking a terrible angle to the ball carrier.
Nonetheless, the defense gave up just 197 total yards. Matt Cassel was limited to just 68 yards passing and was utterly useless on third downs, where the Chiefs converted just one of 11 opportunities (nine percent).
But as good as the defense was, the special teams were equally awful. San Diego allowed rookie Dexter McCluster to return a punt 94 yards for a touchdown, a move made possible when Mike Tolbert slipped and fell while trying to break down and make the tackle.
Fellow rookie Javier Arenas had punt returns of 36 and 24 yards, the first of which would have resulted in a touchdown if not for a superb tackle by Mike Scifres.
Add it all up and you have a Chargers loss and another slow start under Norv Turner. His team will look to even its record at 1-1 next Sunday when the Chargers host the Jacksonville Jaguars, who beat the Denver Broncos in their opener thanks to a go-ahead touchdown reception by former Charger Kassim Osgood.
The Chargers will be favorites in their home opener, despite the setback in Kansas City. But if San Diego should fall again, expect Turner & Co. to be booed off the field.
Did Norv Turner blow it on the final series? Discuss inside the message boards.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.
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