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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chargers fall to the Chiefs??

— At least it isn’t all that surprising anymore when the Chargers find new, shocking ways to flounder in the early part of a season.

They were going to start fast, set the tone early by being physical on defense, running the ball on offense.

For almost the entirety of the first quarter, they seemed on the way to doing all those things, and their defense perhaps ultimately did signal it is on the path to being what it hopes to be.

They spoke afterward of the sloppy field, the positives of fighting at the end and the fact there are 15 games remaining, a reality of which they are adept at taking advantage.

"I don't see this as a slow start," Philip Rivers said. "It's one game out of 16. We can still get off to a fast start. We can still get this thing rolling early."

True, this wasn't so much a slow start as a broken one.

As rain began to fall and lightning flashed all around Arrowhead Stadium, things got muddied.

Whether it was the horrible conditions, a surprising Chiefs team or what has come to be the Chargers’ typical September sloppiness, the end wrought a 21-14 opening-game loss.

"We had our opportunities to win the game," linebacker Stephen Cooper said. "All three phases can't play the way we did today."


It was a complete loss – a long touchdown run allowed by the defense, a fumble setting up another touchdown, and a record punt return for yet another.

With big plays, the Chiefs literally sprinted to a two-touchdown lead at halftime despite the fact they had not converted a third down in six tries.

The score that put the Chiefs up 21-7 was a 94-yard Dexter McCluster punt return for a touchdown – both the longest-ever such return by the Chiefs and longest ever allowed by the Chargers.

Two would-be tacklers slipped at the start, and then McCluster ran untouched to further a Chiefs lead with 1:43 remaining in the first half.

The Chiefs would end up 1-for-11 on third downs, going three-and-out on half their 12 possessions and totaling just 197 yards.

But one play -- a 56-yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles -- gave Kansas City more than a quarter of its yards and also tied the game.

On the first Monday Night Football game in Kansas City since 2004 and first anywhere for the Chiefs since 2005, a refurbished Arrowhead stadium made its debut in a raucous manner. What had been a relatively serene place for visitors as the Chiefs struggled to 10 victories in the past three seasons, was loud until a vicious rain and the fact it was 11 p.m. locally at halftime, drove away at least half the announced crowd of 71,297 by halftime.

They missed a Chargers’ comeback that was ultimately a dash to defeat, as Rivers’ final pass sailed untouched through the end zone on fourth down from the six-yard line with 39 seconds to play.

"On the road, with this environment, this weather, you can't make those mistakes," Rivers said. "You're asking for it to be tough, and it was."

It may have been the rain blowing in circles, or maybe it was that Vincent Jackson wasn’t there to catch some of the passes Rivers might have thrown a little better, or a combination of those things, the Chargers’ offense was uncharacteristically horizontal until it had to not be.

A 59-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Legedu Naanee brought the Chargers to within 21-14 with 2:23 to play in the third quarter.

The defense continued to effectively stonewall the Chiefs, who had just nine first downs on the night and just 70 second-half yards.

After stalling on fourth down at the Chiefs’ 32 with 7:09 remaining, the Chargers got another chance with five minutes to go.

The Chargers took over at their 33 with 4:52 to play. Two plays later – after successive 22-yard passes to Buster Davis and Malcom Floyd – they were at the Chiefs’ 23.

Naanee made another catch over the middle on fourth-and-3 from the 16, getting down to the 4.

But an incompletion, two-yard loss by Darren Sproles and two incompletions ended the Chargers’ hopes.

The Chargers took a 7-0 lead with a little less than two minutes remaining in the first quarter, consummating a nine-play, 60-yard drive with Rivers’ three-yard pass to Antonio Gates. That followed by three plays a 34-yard gain by Gates.

Gates was double-teamed much of the night but still finished with five catches for 76 yards. Naanee had five catches for 110 yards. Malcom Floyd caught three for 38.

But while Rivers finished 22-for-39 for 298 yards and a 98.0 passer rating, it was not a cohesive night between he and his receivers. There were a number of passes he was a little off, and some that simply went off his receivers' hands.

He took blame, as did his targets.

"It hits your hands, you have to catch it," Floyd said.

The one real defensive breakdown was costly.

After having gone three-and-out on their first two possessions, the Chiefs’ tied the game three plays after the Chargers went up 7-0 when Charles burst through a gigantic hole and zigzagged 56 yards for a touchdown.

The teams traded three-and-outs for four more drives (two each) before a Ryan Mathews fumble set the Chiefs up for their second touchdown.

The rookie, who finished with 75 yards on 19 carries, made a nice cut, barreled through two tackles but after gaining 15 yards, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson wrapped one arm around Mathews and with the other dislodged the ball. It bounced once and into the hands of Brandon Flowers, who returned it 23 yards to the 12.

"I've got a lot of stuff to work on," Mathews said. "This game showed me my weakness I need to come back and fix."

The Chiefs scored three plays later on a two-yard pass off a play-action fake that essentially every Chargers defender bit on, as tight end Tony Moeaki was all alone near the back of the end zone.

The Chargers offense continued to stall.

After gaining 106 yards in the first quarter, the Chargers had 21 in the second. After a first quarter in which the Chargers converted four of their five third downs, they were fruitless on four such tries in the second quarter.

After the Chargers' fourth straight three-and-out (not counting the Mathews’ fumble on a first down), McCluster returned the fifth of what eventually be eight punts by Scifres to the end zone.

Opening with the late Monday Night Football game for the third time in five years, the Chargers fell to 2-2 under Turner in openers. Even the victories, however, have featured more rough patches than the Chargers would hope for, and even those wins have been followed by struggles.

The Chargers have started 2-3 each of their previous three seasons under Norv Turner . They return home to play Jacksonville on Sunday with the likelihood Qualcomm Stadium will be as empty as it has in at least seven years. Furthermore, a schedule that was perceived to be easy at its start features three straight opponents who won their season openers.