The Chargers defense struggled to get off the field on the opening drive. The St. Louis Rams used up 15 plays and nearly seven minutes of clock to drive to the San Diego 26-yard line before Shaun Phillips stripped the ball from Madison Hedgecock, with Shawne Merriman securing the recovery.
The offense was hot from the get-go. Philip Rivers led the team on a 10-play, six-minute drive that culminated in a 5-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson. The play that made the drive was authored by Antonio Gates, who picked up 28 yards on second-and-11 when freelancing down the left sideline on a broken play.
Both teams played sloppily in the second quarter. The Chargers’ defense gave up a lot of yardage but was bailed out twice: first, Clinton Hart intercepted a Marc Bulger pass in the end zone; later, Phillips tipped a third-down pass, negating a pass-interference penalty by Quentin Jammer.
The defense came up with another stop after Kassim Osgood pinned the Rams deep by downing a Mike Scifres punt at the 6-yard line. That set up the electrifying return by Sproles, who took the Donnie Jones kick right up the middle to put his team up, 14-0, with 56 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Rams drove downfield to set up a Kevin Lovell field goal right before the half. The longest play of that drive was a 34-yard pass to Marques Hagans, a play that could have done even more damage had Stephen Cooper not run down Hagans from behind.
Both teams traded punts to start the third quarter before the Rams got back on the scoreboard with a 42-yard field goal by Lovell. Billy Volek led the Chargers right back, completing five of six passes on the 10-play drive that ended with 8-yard touchdown catch by Scott Chandler.
The Rams countered with a touchdown drive of their own, but by then it was too little too late. The Chargers tacked on a 13-yard touchdown run by Germaine Race and a 22-yard field goal by Nate Kaeding to account for the final score.
Several Chargers enjoyed outstanding performances. Cletis Gordon picked off a Brock Berlin pass in the fourth quarter and returned his only kickoff for 31 yards. Phillips added a sack to go along with his forced fumble and pass break-up. Cooper led the team with 12 tackles, while rookie Brandon Siler finished second with five.
Other players had less fortunate evenings. On the top of that list is Tyronne Gross, who had to be carted off the field after hyper-extending his right knee. He had six carries for 27 yards before he was hurt.
Secondary mainstays Drayton Florence and Marlon McCree also struggled. Florence was picked on often as the Rams stayed away from Jammer’s half of the field. Also, Florence was flagged for a pair of penalties. As for McCree, he continues to be a major liability in coverage. Unless McCree is allowed to patrol the line of scrimmage, the team is better off with Hart, Eric Weddle or Bhawoh Jue on the field.
The team’s next game is Saturday, when the Chargers pay a visit to Edgerrin James, Anquan Boldin and the Arizona Cardinals.